While the challenge in many real-time strategy games is to take over the world with swords and siege weapons, this title instead arms the player with sales executives and stock quotes. Corporate Machine represents an update to developer Stardock Corporation's Business Tycoon, released about a year earlier. As in the earlier game, Corporate Machine puts the player in charge of building a mammoth corporation to reap massive profits and squash the competition.
Virtual CEOs are presented with a map representing different territories and the authority to decide what money-making enhancements to develop in which areas. Focus on engineering to make better products faster, develop the technology that opens the door to the next goldmine invention, or devote resources toward marketing to keep the orders coming in and product moving out. Use any influence wisely to corner the market and take over the business world in Corporate Machine.
The premise of the game is simple -- become the best at selling your product, whether it be cola, computers, aircraft, or automobiles. Achieving this goal is a little bit harder, though. You start the game as a fledgling company with one production site, one sales rep, and a factory. Gameplay is very similar to the board game Risk. By controlling different regions on the game map, your goal is to become the market leader for your commodities.
Making your business a success requires you to manage a number of different variables at once -- managing your employees, balancing price and production, enacting effective marketing campaigns, keeping your employees happy, making your products more attractive to the masses, locating factories in favorable regions, and so on. This can be a daunting task when you first step into the game. There are dozens of menus, graphs, and charts to peruse, and while the manual does a decent job of explaining the concepts behind the game, it's hard to understand everything until you're controlling it first hand. A tutorial would have been a nice addition, but you can just write off your first few games as a "learning experience," as you'll probably end up losing because there's so much to do.
Fear not, though. It's actually really simple, elegant, and addictive once you get the hang of it. And just because it's called The Corporate Machine, don't expect a bunch of stuffy business meetings with the District Manager -- there's plenty of humor in the game as well. For example, your sales reps are the stereotypical yes-men who praise your every decision, and they're not afraid to tell you so. Much of the game's humor and charm also plays out in the event cards. As you control certain districts you'll acquire resources such as media, political influence, and labor. These resources can be used to enact event cards, which may give you a quick influx of capital, shift control of a region from one corporation to the next, or force a rival player's workers to go on strike, and are usually accompanied by amusing opponent reactions or cartoonish sound effects. Sure, it's cheap humor, but it still works on me.
While the graphics and sound are certainly dated by today's standards, they work fine for the game. The Corporate Machine is a board game at heart, so there's no need for flashy visuals or positional sound. What the game does offer up is a stylish look with colorful maps, charts, and graphs, some funny voice work, and a few catchy tunes.
Of the few complaints I have with the game, the biggest is that the game can usually be won using the same strategies over and over. I can generally get through a "Normal" game with little difficultly if I can get my sales reps to regions that connect to several others, get a lot of factories built, build up a stockpile of wealth, and undercut my competitors for a few years. However, the AI is pretty strong and actually does adapt to your strategies, and I still find the game challenging in the upper two of the five difficulty levels.
All in all, The Corporate Machine is a charming board-style game, albeit a bit simple, with a whole lot of character. I wasn't so sure about it in the beginning, but now it has me hooked and has earned a permanent place on my hard drive. The game is more than a whole of its parts, and it's well worth a look if you're looking for a non-action offering that's elegant, fun, and addictive.
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