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East India Company (PC) artwork

East India Company (PC) review


"It frequently surprises me just how broad the range of concepts are that get made into full fledged games now, especially on the PC. It probably shouldn't anymore, but if I was asked, I would probably list concepts for new games for several hours before getting to 'realistic simulation of the Indian spice trade in 17th century Europe'. And yet none of my ideas are being made and here's a realistic simulation of the Indian spice trade right in front of me."



It frequently surprises me just how broad the range of concepts are that get made into full fledged games now, especially on the PC. It probably shouldn't anymore, but if I was asked, I would probably list concepts for new games for several hours before getting to 'realistic simulation of the Indian spice trade in 17th century Europe'. And yet none of my ideas are being made and here's a realistic simulation of the Indian spice trade right in front of me.

And damn it, it's not bad..

East India Company is all about business. It's pretty easy to look at any of the promotional art and think "boats boats boats", but that will get you into trouble. You have to carefully manage your inventory, monitor the prices of various goods all over Africa and Asia, and figure out how to turn the highest profit. If you don't you'll fall behind in fleet size and simply be pushed out of the market by other companies. Of course, there are plenty of other ways for you to fail, the open ocean isn't kind to fledgling companies. Rarely in my life have I been so convinced of my success, only to be brutally reminded that failure knows where I live.

My first attempt at the game ended after less than a half hour when I failed to produce enough boats to keep up with the other bigger companies. One random ambush sank the entirety of one of my fleets, basically crippling my ability to ever catch back up to the big boys. Since reserved business tactics didn't work, I focused on production early and was able to keep up with everyone else, and I did a lot better. Then the enemy captured a bunch of ports, making the journey harder to complete by denying my ships access to supplies on the trip and ultimately squeezing me out of the competition by forcing me to spend too much money regaining a foothold.

That montage of failure could go on for several more paragraphs, but what really is important to note is that in order to be successful you have to manage a lot of things. There's the route and combative nature of up to twenty individual fleets, upkeep on all your boats after every battle, the battles themselves, upkeep on all of your captured ports, your diplomatic standing with all the other companies, and of course all of the business of buying low and selling high.

Now, to be fair the player has the option to automate a lot of this using automatic trade routes that buy any given town's signature item exclusively. This frees up a lot of player attention towards other important tasks, but it can flood the market and lead to reduced profits. Generally speaking, it's probably worth it regardless, but the real micromanagement freaks out there can get even more bang for their buck if they want it.

Of course, all of the above is just on the easiest campaign setting where your investors aren't constantly breathing down your neck to move vast amounts of specific cargo in certain time periods. Yes, the game can get even more complicated if you want it to. But so what? While it's easy to not make the same mistakes twice and the game is formulaic to a point, it still requires you to keep on your toes. Other companies can be flighty when it comes to alliances and declaring war, and there's nothing like a pirate attack to shake up your comfortable trade routes.

But all of that a little misleading. After all there's ship combat to be had! Where are the cannons and the open waters and the screams of angry sailors? Well they're there, and admittedly the first thing I did when I loaded the game was open up quick battle for some quick battle. It turns out that the term was somewhat misleading. The game's combat feels really slow, and while I realize that's the point to an extent, it still feels like any given battle takes forever as your ships inch their way into firing position, open up with an admittedly impressive barrage of cannon fire, and then settle into silence for like ten seconds before firing again.

At first it feels real and the impressive water effects and ship graphics make the battles really cool. Sails are shredded by flying shrapnel, and masts will break off and drop into the water as the battles drag on. The ship damage feels real and dangerous as gaping holes in the hull hamper mobility and let the water in. But really, it gets old rather quickly. If combat was all this game had, it'd get a much lower score.

Luckily all that other stuff was there to get in the way. In the same way, sometimes it's fun just to run down and attack something to catch a breather from the stifling pressure of business. The two halves of the game work pretty well together to hold each other up where either would fail alone.

As a complete package East India Company is a challenging strategy game that manages to be fun even within the bounds of actual history. Go figure. Running your own trade empire is a pretty brutal experience. So many things can go wrong at any given time that one of them is probably going wrong right now, but the rewards are great. There's fame and fortune and maybe even some pretty exciting ship to ship warfare on the open ocean. The game has as much to do as there are ways to fail at doing it.

Rating: 7/10

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Freelance review by Josh Higley (September 07, 2009)

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