Aspiring real estate moguls can test their business savvy by building a commercially viable shopping center and then supervising its management and growth. Mall Tycoon 3 offers players more than 40 stores to create their dream mall, from restaurants to multiplexes, before they are put to the test by throngs of 3D shoppers. The main game includes a series of progressively challenging scenarios, over 20 in total, which players must complete within the time allotted. New shops are unlocked after expanding the mall, and like other games in the sales-oriented series, profits can be spent on advertising, upgrades like bigger parking lots or escalators, and improving staff through training. The end-result is to keep existing customers happy while attracting as many new ones as possible. Unlike previous titles in the Mall Tycoon franchise, players can now zoom in on their mall to customize each shop's décor or to click on animated patrons and view their needs and happiness levels. Once the scenarios are complete, players can create a mall without any restrictions in the sandbox mode.
Much in the way that reality shows like Survivor and The Apprentice feel like the direct descendent of the classic game show - stuff like Wheel of Fortune, The Price is Right, and The Newlywed Game, Tycoon games feel like they evolved from the classic simulation games like Sim City and Civilization. This analogy also works because both both reality shows and Tycoon games absolutely exploded when the first one proved to be a hit (that being, if my memory serves me, Roller Coaster Tycoon - a brilliant game at the time, and Survivor, on the other hand). The PC game market became flooded with all kinds of tycoon games just like every channel on television seemed to have a reality show (or several). The differences kind of end here, because while both have somewhat died down over the years, several other reality shows did go on to be quite successful. This is not really the case with Tycoon games.
In fact, I'm not even sure Roller Coaster Tycoon garnered continued success. After several expansions, a sequel that reeked of rehash, and finally a 3D sequel in Roller Coaster Tycoon 3, I don't know that too many people were still interested in the series. Especially when they've been burnt out on a dozen other Tycoon games - everything from Railroad Tycoon to Casino Tycoon and Ski Resort Tycoon and Golf Tycoon and Zoo Tycoon and even just-for-PDA-games like Lemonade Tycoon. There's literally something for everyone. And this stuff doesn't slow down because it's perfect for the very casual gamers that like a slow pace in their games.
Mall Tycoon has managed to make it to a third installment, and in all honesty, it isn't a horrible game. That's not to say it's great or even exemplary in the genre - far from it. Everything here has been done before, and it doesn't really offer an intuitive interface, or a compelling reason to build the best malls, or even the satisfaction of happy customers when most of them seem quite indifferent to the whole affair.
There are two main modes of play that the game offers: sandbox and challenge. The former lets you do whatever you wish indefinitely, be that simply screw around or try to build the most gargantuan mall the world has ever seen. It's a much more relaxing pace than the challenge mode, which asks you to complete a goal before your resources (money and customers) run dry.
You start off with a little bit of cash, a few available shops (literally, maybe a half dozen) and access to some pretty inadequate staff. Your mall is going to look like a vast expanse of emptiness at the beginning and will probably continue to be that way for a while. The stores that rent the space you supply can pay you in one of two ways: a monthly flat rate fee, or via profit sharing, where they must give you a percentage of the profits they make. Obviously having successful stores profit share is a great way to make cash, but if your mall starts to fail the cash flow is going to take a big hit.
Really, though, there's a third method of getting cash, and that's through loans. You're either going to spend many precious hours patiently nurturing a new mall or you're going to go for quick and dirty loans - and really, this is a video game, so who cares if you've raked up so much debt you won't possibly be able to repay it all in your life time? At least you'll have an interesting mall.
With cash in hand you can start spending it on some of the shops, and while you only start with a few, about 40 are available by the time you reach the "end" of the game. There's everything from clothing stores to hardware stores and music shops. You can slap in a pre-designed store in your mall if you'd like, or you can intricately go over every detail, from the wallpaper and floor to the layout of the cash registers, shelves, and even lighting. While there are a number of different options seemingly available for everything, it soon becomes apparent that the same sort of stuff is available for every store, and picking out wallpaper is not getting to browse through exciting styles so much as browsing through a catalog you're entirely too familiar with.
You're going to have to hire some staff if you want to keep this place operating, and that includes janitors, maintenance men, and security. The janitors strangely only cover extremely tiny areas of floor, and people have a strange tendency to throw their trash on the ground, even when a trash can is a few yards away, making for an annoying situation. The maintenance men are fixing what seem to be a never-ending stream of malfunctions in futile devices - even tables are constantly breaking! The security guards help keep people in line, and they also fend off bizarre zombie attacks a la Dawn of the Dead. You can't deny that the game has a bit of a sense of humor.
The graphics in the game are acceptable. They're bright and chipper, and look nice from a distance. Since the game is fully 3D, you can zoom in quite close actually and watch people perform fairly detailed tasks - clerks tending the register, people trying on shoes, browsing around shelves, and so forth. The character models are simplistic and leave a lot to be desired with their huge heads and tiny bodies, but at least they're lighthearted and not supposed to look realistic. The level of detail in the environment is actually somewhat impressive in the end.
The sound in Mall Tycoon 3 is less than stellar but it never becomes nerve-racking. The background music is just that - background music. It isn't intrusive and rarely even noteworthy, but it provides a subtle bounciness and actually helps the game feel more fun than it is in total silence. There's not much in the way of voice acting, or even sound effects, so the audio experience on the whole is a little underwhelming, but at least the background music is a positive.
The game's interface is less than great, with 2D icons lined up on the right side of the screen for important actions and smaller boxes popping up - like, for example, the store editing utility. The game feels quite unpolished in some ways; when browsing through lists of available objects, for example, they're listed as vague, undescriptive filenames like "b_couch_01" instead of "Brown Couch 1." I also wandered around looking for what I thought would be simplistic actions at first, and I discovered that the tutorials, while good at teaching a few certain tasks, don't really give you a good impression of how to build a successful mall.
Even if Mall Tycoon 3 was the first Tycoon game the world had ever seen, it probably wouldn't have gone over terribly well. The economics of the game simply feel shoddy. The AI is frustrating. The bleak emptiness of your mall initially and the fact that the best way to build a satisfying mall is by taking out loans seems a little funny. The game is pleasant to play and does sport a lighthearted attitude - all told, it's far from offensive, but it just isn't really that exciting.
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