Sometimes the name of a computer game is downright misleading. Contrary to what you might think, French developer Monte Cristo's soon-to-be-released Gadget Tycoon (a sequel to its earlier release Start-Up 2000) is not another clone of Microprose's RollerCoaster Tycoon, nor is it in the genre of Dynamix's Return of the Incredible Machine: Contraptions. So what kind of offering is this? In many ways, it defies categorization. The title actually has more in common with a pure business simulation like Enlight's Capitalism Plus. Gadget Tycoon is a management simulation that transports you into the world of assembly line manufacturing, where what you do is a lot more like running a plant than being an inventor.
In a most depressing backdrop, you start out as a low-living college dropout who has every characteristic of a complete loser. You control an abandoned warehouse at the edge of town, and hope to start from that humble beginning to construct your own industrial empire. It is sad that Gadget Tycoon seems to be telling you that it is perfectly acceptable to be like the lame hero, or even worse (by implication) that those who play computer games are social losers. Moreover, the background story ends up having little to do with your strategic decision making as you play.
You may hire a total of 17 employees who may vary in morale, efficiency, salary, and overall qualifications. The higher are employees' qualification levels, the larger the number of actions they can carry out. Possible professions include accountant, human resources manager, lawyer, publicity officer, sales manager, researchers, supervisor, technicians, security guard, spy, and Mafioso. After hire, you have to be very careful to make sure that your workers stay efficient and do not leave your company. You may give them training (or send them to a motivational seminar) after you hire a human resources manager, but you need to follow this up with a pay raise. Oddly, getting a higher-level desk is a key first step to upgrading employees.
For solo offline play, Gadget Tycoon offers campaign, free play, or tutorial modes. In campaign mode, ten missions are available, testing your management skills in different scenarios which you unlock sequentially. In free play mode, you have wide latitude in your actions and are able to set the level of competitor artificial intelligence, the amount of initial cash, and the victory conditions. In tutorial mode, you learn through application all of the basic ways of accomplishing tasks in a series of multiple assignments. You may use either tutorial or free play modes to bone up for the rigors of the campaign.
You may construct three different kinds of bizarre products - space-age latrines (futuristic toilets), jet-powered roller blades, and android home helps (domestic robots) - but there is never any explanation of why these particular retail creations are all that is available to you. Each product has more than 30 components and is thus quite multifaceted; you can even develop, for instance, toilet paper of multiple colors and perfumes. Some components may require a specific lab machine unless you have completed researching another component. The first lab to finish researching a particular component registers a patent, resulting in your color logo being displayed on the component and royalties coming your way. Once another company's lab completes the research, the patent falls into the public domain, and the holder of the patent loses its privileges. All this would make more sense if more traditional product lines were involved.
Your company's success is based on a variety of elements, including the amount of money you owe, the number of days remaining before your loan is finally paid in full, the difference between your cash and your debt, the price of your shares on the market, your fiscal risk, the security in each of your buildings, the public perception of your company's credibility, the price at which the distributor sells your product to the public, your advertising budget, and the number of units you produce, sell, and have in stock. If your product rating is too low for consumers, your sales suffer. Even rumors started by your competitors may cause your popularity to plummet. It is satisfying to see sophisticated multivariate roots of how well you do instead of the usual simple bivariate relationships incorporating just one or two contributors to boom or bust.
There are two types of consumers - techies and emotives - and each has distinctly different preferences in evaluating your product. Techies are obsessed with technology, so for them you must choose products made from sophisticated components, always stay ahead of the competition in research, and have solid coverage in the specialist press and a high advertising budget to create a positive company reputation. Emotives are most impressed by the appearance and designer components of a product, not its technological advancement; you need to emphasize your product image and advertise it on television. The wackiness embedded here is reflected in the ability of your publicity officer to increase the number of potential buyers using an airship ad for the emotives and a lunar ad for techies. While techies and emotives are very different kinds of consumers, greater realism would probably have come from encountering a greater diversity of types.
In perhaps the most imaginative aspect of this offering, you may use either savory or unsavory means to achieve your goals. You may take the legitimate route by utilizing respectable banks and heavily funded research-and-development, or alternatively you may take the underhanded route of turning to the Mafia or corporate spies. You may freely resort to bribery, poach employees from others, or engage in the most vicious forms of industrial espionage. For your own protection against others, you may hire guards, upgrade safes, and strengthen armored doors. Actually, these security-oriented aspects of the game are a lot more fun than managing the financial dimensions of the plant because they add a charming adventure flavor to otherwise mundane economic transactions.
Gadget Tycoon has intriguing cartoon-style graphics reminiscent of JoWooD's The Sting!. The 3D isometric visuals are colorful, detailed, and stylish. The gadgets themselves - mostly kooky machines - look quirky and wonderful. There is a nice horizontal scrolling ability to let you see what is surrounding the room in which you are located. While most of the game takes place inside of a production plant, it is quite convenient that you can get a view of the outside and see your competitors. However, the animation is quite limited and repetitive, and the absence of support for 3D hardware video acceleration is definitely noticeable.
Little special visual effects add to the enjoyment of the gameplay. For example, what employees do when they are idle is kind of fun - they may be swatting flies, jumping rope, or reading newspapers in an amusing manner. Even in the most routine situations, there is something unusual to observe, such as watching your sales manager using a joystick or looking at graffiti on the walls. The Mafia desk is a false coffin, and the spy workstation is a fancy gangster car.
You use the mouse as an input device, and making products boils down just to doing a lot of left button clicking. Nonetheless, at first glance the interface seems downright unintelligible, with lots of unlabeled items which are not at all intuitive; without a lot of experimentation or scouring of the manual, there is no way to figure out what to do.
Despite the problems with the specific indicators, the general layout of the game screen appears to be sensible. The score bar at the top of the screen shows the date, the amount of cash available to you, the number of employees, and the positive or negative trade balance. A mini-map allows you to navigate the view of the company, with rectangles representing your workstations. At the bottom of the screen are the control tabs for strategic moves, including those involving personnel, action, and materials.
Although the gameplay in Gadget Tycoon exhibits considerable style and flair, what is really sad is that you cannot exhibit any creativity in designing novel gadgets, and instead you are completely stuck with a stock set of options dealing with the the three options - toilets, roller blades, and robots - provided. You might as well be producing standard widgets as innovative gadgets for all the potential this title exploits regarding innovative creations.
Some of the concepts are rather obscure for those not savvy about business; for example, not everyone would know initially what it means for patents to go public domain. You are constantly bogged down by having to make too many micro-level decisions, including virtually always needing higher level workstations to manufacture products. Things can get a bit confusing: when you are trying to hire sales and publicity employees, you have to discover by trial and error which half of a room is for one and which half for the other.
The on-screen actions can get tedious and repetitive, as for instance you cannot renew a whole building at once. You must be patient and very attentive to detail, going one small step at a time, to succeed. Too often while working hard you can end up going bankrupt, with too little warning ahead of time about this ominous outcome.
Up to eight players may compete in Gadget Tycoon over a LAN or the Internet. Given that this title is not yet released (but is code complete), it is impossible to evaluate the quality of the multiplayer competition, but it looks promising given the variety of tactics corporate rivals can use against each other.
The sound effects are both plentiful and effective in Gadget Tycoon. There are lots of ambient environmental effects, including bubbles, tinkles, and electronic buzzes, beeps and whirs. These noises really help to make the gameplay more immersive. The vocal effects are largely just grunts, as if to minimize the need for localization. There is no implementation of 3D sound.
The soundtrack is downbeat, and not in the slightest way memorable in Gadget Tycoon. The tone of the music relates to your success, as the tunes will be bland if you are doing okay, joyous if you are doing really well, and depressing if you are doing poorly. But the music is rather infrequent. The theme song itself is off-putting and somewhat off-color, using bad language, and frankly this does not fit in well with the lighthearted nature of the gameplay.
Intelligence & Difficulty:
The interactive tutorial teaches you all of the most important gameplay concepts, but it is itself still more than a little bit inscrutable. You may also play the campaign without competition to learn what works best. As a result, both novices and experts can play with confidence, assuming they can figure out the Byzantine interface.
The products become increasingly difficult to manage as you progress, with the toilets fairly easy; the roller blades more challenging, and the robots really hard. The artificial intelligence opponents include a variety of types, including entrepreneurs and anarchists, who pose distinctive types of threats. Your competitors' actions become very predictable over time, but no more so than in real life.
Gadget Tycoon is a downright weird title. As a construction simulation, it does not give you enough opportunities to be innovative; as a financial management simulation, it permits too many possibilities for unorthodox intrusions (spying, corruption, and coercion) into the smooth economic workings of a free market system; and as a whimsical escapade into the world of invention, it keeps you too bogged down tending to the tediousness of plant management. As a result, Gadget Tycoon does not hit the mark and ends up being rather disappointing. If you want an offbeat stab at competition in the business world, you may want to give this one a try, but otherwise steer clear of this escapade into the rigors of the assembly line.
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