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The Corporate Machine

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Take Two Interactive
Developer: Stardock Entertainment
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Real-Time Strategy/ Simulation

Graphics & Sound:

One thing that will definitely not wow most people when they look at The Corporate Machine is the game's graphics. Looking like something from the mid-nineties, the game engine will most definitely not push your system to the max that it can handle. Sure, the pre-rendered 'sites' look pretty nice, but the map of the 'world' and the interface are all definitely pretty weak graphically. Mind you, a game like this isn't really trying for blazingly-cool graphics, but titles like Europa Universalis have shown that even strategy games can have some nifty graphical panache.

The game doesn't have much going for it in the sound department, either. The music is surprisingly good, and it turns considerably more pulse-pounding when you're on the brink of victory or defeat. The actual music isn't particularly memorable, but it generates an appropriate mood, so it definitely succeeds at its task. However, the sound effects are strictly super-minimalistic, with the occasional wild laugh or warning klaxon but mostly nothing but silence. You can tell that The Corporate Machine is more of a 'garage game' rather than the massively-budgeted titles of recent history.


Which makes it all the more amusing that the game is more fun than most of those overblown titles. While it does have its quirks, and it could really use an online help system or a true tutorial, The Corporate Machine is a must-have title for any real strategy aficionado. Once you get past the dated presentation, there's a lot of fun to be had with the game.

There's absolutely no introduction to the experience of The Corporate Machine. You pick one of three concentrations--production, marketing, or engineering--and then you choose from a number of arenas and various products to compete in. The game defaults to four computer opponents, and the 'battlefields' range from the US to the entire world to some made-up locations with different tactical considerations.

The game can best be described as pseudo-realtime. Time flows constantly, but it flows in discrete steps of a week at a 'click', and you can pause the game at any time to carry out price adjustments, decide what to research, and move around your marketers. As such, it's more like a version of Civilization where you don't have to click the Next Turn button; the game's mechanics are still very turn-based despite the constant flow of time.

The object of the game is to gain a monopoly in whatever field you decided to participate in. The game comes with a number of different product types to play with--airplanes and computers, for example--and each has their own tech tree and different events that occur as the game progresses. The whole thing plays out as a complex economic simulation. You can build factories to produce your product, labs to research new features, marketing offices to set up ad campaigns (and FUD attacks if you're evil), and so on.

At first, the whole thing is confusing. The interface isn't particularly intuitive, and you'll find yourself clicking around a lot as you try to figure out what you're doing. But soon you learn some of the nuances of supply and demand--if you can't produce enough to meet demand, sometimes it's smart to raise your prices temporarily so you can at least take the ones who buy your stuff to the cleaners. As the game progresses, though, you'll find that a number of different territories won't buy anything if it's too high-priced, and you'll have to start lowering your costs. Of course, to be able to afford lower costs, you have to have researched price-lowering items, you need to produce more, and you need a wide marketshare. These sort of interconnections between the various sections of the game are what makes it interesting.

Unlike most strategy games, there isn't much of a concept of a 'unit'. The only real units are your marketing people, who can strengthen your product base just by being in a location, and the various ad campaigns, which can slander your opponents or boost your credibility. Both can move between various territories 'instantly', although the animation takes a variable length of time to show.

And so it goes. Depending on the number of opponents you play against, the market share that you have to control to win varies (the less opponents, the more share you need). There are a lot of different strategies to follow, and the tech trees are quite massive, which means that each game can play out completely differently.


The game has five levels of difficulty that you can choose from, from Beginning to Master or thereabouts. The first game I ever played I did on the first difficulty level, and I won handily. The second game I played was on the Normal difficulty level (the middle of the five), and while I hung in for a long time, in the end the red opponent thrashed me after about two hours of back-and-forth market share. Ah, well. I don't even want to touch the higher difficulty levels right now; they'd probably stomp me into oblivion in a matter of seconds.

Game Mechanics:

The Corporate Machine is mostly mouse-controlled, although you do have to type in some things (like price adjustments). The interface is rather confusing, unfortunately; hot buttons pull up menus on top of the main screen, and the sidebar shows you the sliders for the last type of building you selected, regardless of whether that's the data screen you're looking at, which can be confusing when you're trying to adjust the number of workers you have and you end up taking researchers off of your projects. D'oh! The game could definitely use an interface overhaul, as it's a little confusing right now. The lack of in-game documentation does nothing to help the situation; having to jump out of the game to read the 'walkthrough' is frustrating, but after a few hours with the title there really aren't any problems with the controls. A few things seemed a little flaky to me, such as the speed of traveling advertisements and marketers, but those are fairly minor gripes.

It may look like something from a time period long ago, but The Corporate Machine has more gameplay than most recent flashy titles. If you can overlook the weak presentation and the clumsy interface, you'll find one of those time-sucker strategy games that'll have you playing until 3:00am wondering just how much more you have to do to take over those last few territories with your marketing strategems. While the graphics-obsessed would be wise to stay away from this game, those of us who desire gameplay over glitz will find many hours of enjoyment by becoming a part of The Corporate Machine.

-Sunfall to-Ennien, GameVortex Communications
AKA Phil Bordelon

Minimum System Requirements:

Win9x/Me, Pentium 75, 32MB RAM, 4x CD-ROM, 300MB HD Space, 16-bit video card w/ 8 MB RAM, sound card, keyboard, mouse

Test System:

Athlon 1.1GHz running Win98 SE, 512MB RAM, GeForce 2 GTS w/ 32MB RAM, SoundBlaster Live!, 8x DVD-ROM

Windows Comanche 4 Windows Cossacks: European Wars

Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated