The Tenants is an up-and-coming simulation game available for Windows. It was developed by Ancient Forge, a 2-person company operating out of Poland, and produced by Frozen District—the same indie publisher responsible for Mr. Prepper and House Flipper. It’s currently in Early Access, which basically means that the developers know it’s a work-in-progress and are creating regular patches to update and improve the game.
The Tenants is all about renovating apartments and renting them out to tenants to make a profit. You have to keep your tenants happy and regularly negotiate contracts. Between working on your apartments and satisfying your tenants, you can also make money doing renovations around town or helping out other landlords.
And So, Our Story Begins
The Tenants has a story progression to it — what I might call “Story Mode” in a different simulation game. You always start out in the Slums with the same starter apartment, left to you by your aunt, and you progress through certain tasks given to you by your uncle.
The first time you play the Tenants, this Story progression makes a lot of sense. It operates like a tutorial where you learn as you play, and it’s not so in-your-face that you can’t go off and do other things as you’re playing. But my biggest gripe is that for a simulation game that is clearly supposed to have a Sandbox feel to it, this way of playing through the game gets frustrating after the first time. This is largely because you are forced to progress through certain steps, even if you aren’t ready yet.
On my second playthrough, I wanted to spend more time in the Slums and perhaps buy up every property before moving on to the Suburbs, but once your Uncle has decided you’ve progressed far enough, the game forces you into the ‘Burbs to start the next step in their predetermined story.
While you can return to the Slums at any point if you want, the new story progression bar is exclusive to the Suburbs. This means it ends up feeling weird to try to go back to the Slums once you’ve been forcibly moved out, and that you can’t necessarily accomplish everything you want to in your preferred order.
I’m hoping that in a future patch, they separate this tutorial-like Story Mode from a Free Play mode where you start in a random apartment in the Slums and see how long it takes to make a certain amount of money without any other goals or distractions directing your gameplay.
That Damn Green Rug
For an Early Access game, The Tenants has a lot of furniture and decor, and you can almost guarantee that more options will become available as they develop the game further. With the furniture they do have, they managed to do some interesting things already.
One thing I like is that the best objects are only available once you reach the prerequisite level. When you first start out in the game, you only have access to low-level objects. As you level up, you get better stuff in your store.
I also enjoy the fact that people care about the quality of things. Basically, the more expensive an item is, the more people will like having it in their house or apartment.
However, people’s expectations of the item quality you can offer directly coincides with your actual level. If you only have Level One wallpaper available in your game, no one will be disappointed that you used Level One wallpaper in their home. Once you have access to Level Two wallpaper, their expectations automatically increase. I would prefer it if levels were a little less perfect. For example, if people in the Slums always expected one quality — perhaps slightly higher than the baseline for Level One, but not particularly high — while people in the Suburbs expected a slightly higher quality, and so on. This would prevent you from always being able to achieve a 5-Star rating on your renovation job, especially early in the game, and would also make levels feel more rewarding.
The other downside to this system is that, because people only like the higher-priced items, you basically HAVE to use those items if you want people to like your apartments. And since they don’t come in different colors, you get stuck with the same objects at every apartment. I can’t tell you how tired I am of the gaudy-ass pea-green rug I’ve been stuck placing in apartment after apartment after apartment after… well, you get it.
There’s an easy solution to this problem. If they just had each item come with several color variants, it would be possible to create a cohesive apartment that you’re proud of AND that your tenants appreciate.
Until then, I hope you enjoy this pea-green rug on a stone floor with hot pink polka-dot walls, because that’s basically the only way to get a five-star bedroom rating.
Accessibility is a Missing Key
The Tenants has a top-down view, and your jobs are assigned via messages on your in-game phone, with additional details in a drop-down panel on the left. Overall, the point of view makes sense, and I enjoy the cartoonish art style they chose, as well as the white-on-black font choice.
My only issue with the way they assign tasks and give updates in the game is that all the font is small. My eyes start getting tired after 30-40 minutes of playing The Tenants, which makes it hard to get into a long gaming session with this game the way I normally do with sandbox games like The Sims.
I’m really hoping that, in the future, they offer some more accessible features for those of us with distance vision issues, such as the option to use a larger font size or the ability to zoom in further on the rooms themselves while playing.
Controlling the Controls
When I first started playing Tenants, I thought the controls were really clunky. However, I blame this less on the controls themselves — which, if I’m remembering correctly, were a standard WASD set-up — and more on the fact that the Sims is my go-to simulation game and the controls were just different in this game than in that game.
I told myself what I always tell myself when dealing with change…
Luckily, they do allow you to reroute the controls in the Options menu. This let me set up keyboard controls that made sense to me, and allowed me to quickly get accustomed to playing The Tenants.
One thing I do wish is that they had spent more time in the Tutorial showing how to do keyboard shortcuts for activities unique to this game. Your Uncle says something in an early tutorial about how you can “look at rooms to see what you need to do to get a high score,” but it took me a really (embarrassingly) long time to figure out that you either needed to go to the third tab in your store and click on the individual rooms OR you needed to hit ALT to make that happen.
For a game with such a comprehensive tutorial, this is one area where they really dropped the ball and could have spent a little more time walking the player through the game itself.
What’s My Goal Again?
Although the Tenants does have story progression, and you always have a small goal that you’re working on, I really wish I knew what my character’s reason for buying and selling apartments was. You jump into the story with your uncle telling you how to renovate homes, but you’re never given information about why you’re in the renovation position or what your ultimate end-goal is.
This is one of those times I really wish we’d gotten a Stardew Valley or YouTubers Life-style introduction to the game. If they’re going to guide you through a story, I want to know that I just moved into town after my grandma died, took over her apartment, and am fulfilling her lifelong dream of buying up every apartment in town… or owning the biggest house in the nicest part of the city… or making a certain amount of money…
Instead, I’m just sort of flipping apartments to flip apartments, and while that’s fun, it’s hard to feel a sense of satisfaction without some sort of overarching goal that I’m working toward.
I’d even enjoy it if they offered 3 or 4 different “modes” of the game with different goals, as well as a goal-free sandbox version for those people who just want to putz around.
A Promising Simulator with Room for Improvement
I’m really enjoying playing The Tenants, but I think more than that, I’m excited to see where they take the game. If this was the final release of the game, I’d feel like I could get $20 worth of enjoyment out of it, but I wouldn’t be super impressed. Since the game is in Early Access, my little heart can dream that they’ll patch in some fixes to make this game even more fun.
If they do it right, The Tenants has the potential to be my new favorite building and interior designing game. For now, I’m giving it a lukewarm 6/10 with high hopes for a better score when the final version of the game is released and I can give it an updated review.
Until then, I’m off to try to make an ugly-ass green rug look natural for the 1,000th time.