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.