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Urban Flow Review


I’m sure we’ve all heard the tale that if you flash your car high beams at traffic lights late at night you can get them to change to green quicker. I even had a taxi driver once perform the trick to ‘prove’ it was true. Well, I’m sorry, but this ‘fact’ is a complete fabrication. The truth is that each junction – or intersection for those of an American persuasion – actually has a little person in the clouds monitoring it. That person must go through months of training before getting their own intersection, and that training is completed on the videogame called Urban Flow.

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On paper, Urban Flow sounds like one of the most boring concepts ever committed to a videogame, but it is actually a good bit of fun. Each level plays out as a different junction and requires the traffic lights to be manually controlled to ensure vehicles flow through as efficiently as possible. Fail to keep your eyes on what is happening around you and you could end up crashing cars into each other. Cause too many crashes in quick succession and you will end the level prematurely.

These aren’t your average junctions though. You will need a few extra pairs of eyes to control everything from feeder lanes and roundabouts to even trains and trams. And spend too long neglecting one traffic light and the people behind it will get angry and ignore them altogether.

The types of traffic you will encounter also plays an important role in deciding which lane to open next. Ambulances should be given priority, as indicated by the time above their vehicle whenever one arrives. Likewise for fire engines. If you see a tank on the other hand, considering this ignores traffic lights, your best bet is to just let it roll through.

Urban Flow has a number of different modes for you to control the flow of traffic. Campaign mode – and this includes the Snow Flow and Other World levels that can be found in the Special Levels section of the main menu – will be where you learn the ropes. Each level will have you controlling traffic; keeping track of how many cars successfully pass and will award stars based on this number. You only need one star on a level in order to progress.

Snow Flow and Other World follow this same progression path but also present new experimental modifiers into the mix. Here you can play with exploding cars, icy roads and fog amongst other things.

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There is also a Challenge mode which, unsurprisingly, contains the trickiest levels. Urban Flow has some very peculiar junctions for you to monitor that require your complete concentration.

If things do get tricky though, there is a slow time option. You are usually given one or two of these to use per map and they can briefly slow time for you to have a bit more time to think. They can really make the difference.

Finally, there is Endless mode, which is also pretty self-explanatory. Whereas once you reach the max score needed in the regular levels, Endless mode allows you to continue for as long as you can. These aren’t as difficult as Challenge mode, and if you can get into a groove where Urban Flow almost becomes a rhythm game as you input buttons sequentially, you can spend a lot of time here. Or you can finish early, which my wife has told me is a problem I have that isn’t limited to just Urban Flow.

Progress far enough in the main campaign and you can even unlock Chill Mode where lives, score and any other parameter don’t matter. Just you and a junction for as long as you like.

Completing levels awards stars, and stars unlock new items in the gallery. When playing a level you don’t get much opportunity to look at the buildings surrounding the junction, but in here you can. There is a certain charm to how Urban Flow looks. Pair this with the lo-fi soundtrack and you have a very aesthetically pleasing little game.

Urban Flow can also be played in local co-op mode, where each player is in control of a specific light or lights. It’s a very nice touch, however it is like playing Overcooked! whilst being red wine drunk (ie. The angry drunk); controllers will be broken once the cars start crashing.

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In all fairness though, Urban Flow is quite lenient. Perhaps too lenient at times. Just like how the odd car will slip through even when you switch the light back on to red, cars do regularly bump into each other without registering a proper crash. In Urban Flow you can some times see a crash coming a mile off if you make a mistake; it is always a relief to see the cars touch but not crash.

What is on paper a boring concept, makes for a very cathartic gaming experience. Urban Flow shows that you can gamify anything, and more importantly, have a good time in doing so. The breadth of the junctions ensures its longevity lasts too, and if that fails, the various other modes can more than keep you occupied. The pricing is a little on the high side, but between friends it works out cheap enough. Those same friends may be asking for their money back after playing though; Urban Flow is more of a friendship breaker than maker.

Control the flow of traffic in Urban Flow via the Xbox Store

Richard Dobson
Richard Dobson
Avid gamer since the days of Sonic the Hedgehog 2. Grew up with the PS1 and PS2 but changed allegiances in 2007 with the release of Halo 3.
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