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East India Company

Score: 83%
ESRB: Teen
Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Nitro Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1; 2 - 8 (Online)
Genre: Simulation/ Strategy

Graphics & Sound:

East India Company is an acquired taste. I know the same can be said about most games, but here, if you don't "get it" you probably won't like it.

Overall the game looks great, but isn't without some drawbacks. The game plays out through port, tactical and combat views, each with their own visual look. Planning out routes looks more like Civilization, while port view is mainly run-through menus. Combat is the more visually impressive of the three and features nicely detailed ships and some really cool combat FX. Other than the loading screens, which happen way too often, the only major visual drawback is menu design. Information isn't always "at your fingertips" and requires some digging.

Sound is composed mostly of laidback melodies and combat sounds. Nothing stands out, but this is just as much a good thing as it is a bad one.


Gameplay:

East India Company is set around the 17th Century and follows the European trade conquest of Asia. After the defeat of the Spanish Armada in 1588, the Indian Ocean was opened to free trade. This led to the creation of the East India Trading Company, an English joint-stock company formed for pursuing trade in the East Indies. Eventually, Dutch and Portuguese companies challenged the East India Company, leading to one of the more interesting, and overlooked, ages in history.

While I'm no expert on the period, from what I can tell, East India Company sticks as close to history as a game will allow. You can choose from one of eight nations and are placed in charge of a merchant corporation. Your task is to navigate trade routes in the pursuit of fortune and domination of Asia.

Although you are "sponsored" by a nation, your actual affiliations are limited to certain statistical traits. Nation building is a non-issue, as are issues like slavery and period politics. On one hand, I didn't see this as a major shortcoming; your goal is what happens on the high seas and really, the companies were out for themselves. At the same time, these elements would add flavor to the game's blander moments.

Several campaign options are available, though you'll want to play a 100-year campaign to get a full idea of what East India Company offers. You begin with start-up money and a small fleet and set out to trade with Africa and Asia. Gameplay is built around completing objectives, most of which involve trading and selling commodities between ports. It's a simple matter of "buy low, sell high," though your decisions will directly influence profits and, more importantly, the difficultly.


Difficulty:

Choosing trade routes is simple. You find a port, click on it and your fleet sets off. Once you reach port, items and money are traded and you're off to the next port. Ports only trade in one object, so you'll need to figure out who needs what and who is willing to pay top dollar. This is easier said than done as rivals will also do everything they can to outfox you, even if it means direct conflict.

Rival companies will inevitably attack your fleets. While you can split up your fleets to maximize the number of ports you can hit, doing so leaves you vulnerable to attack. A.I.-controlled rivals are fairly aggressive and will prey on smaller fleets. You're given the option to automate or enter a 3rd-person battle view, though even the most skilled sailors will fall to bigger fleets.

One of the great things about East India Company is its flexibility of play. You can take an aggressive approach and rule through combat or sit back and negotiate your way with rivals. Taking one of these extremes is tricky, but its nice to have options.


Game Mechanics:

In addition to automating battle, you can also automate your trade routes. The option is great, though automating anything is usually a good way to trip up progress. Leaving trade on autopilot will quickly flood the market for items, cutting into your profits and the all-important "volume traded." Profit is a good thing, but the game places more emphasis on how much you trade, which seems to go against the game's core concept. The only real motivating factor behind a strong economy is the ability to purchase more ships.

Purchasing new ships opens up another of the game's issues. New types show up as the game progresses, rather than through good old R & D. As odd as it sounds, this lends an "arcade" feel to progression. Topping it all off is the ability to hire new commanders with special abilities. Considering the era ushered in a number of naval innovations, I expected a little more from progression.

Automating battle is unnecessarily harsh. Defeating opposing fleets offers experience and loot, though if you decide to bow out of direct control, you gain nothing. I could understand a penalty of some type, but to completely lock players out of rewards is just forcing failure and shortsighted. You aren't likely to notice much of a difference earlier in the game, but as resources begin to dwindle later on, you'll want everything you can get your hands on.

Taking the battle in your own hands isn't a major feat, however. Battles are 3rd-person skirmishes using the WASD and mouse to navigate and attack other ships. Similar to ship development, it feels sort of "arcade-y", though here I didn't mind it as much since true naval combat simulation would take forever. One really cool aspect of combat is the ability to board and capture rivals ships. It's risky, but completely worth the trouble.

East India Company has a clear goal and, for the most part, accomplishes what it sets out to do. At the same time, the game is not without issues. Though many can be overlooked, others go against the game's core goals, diluting the experience.


-Starscream, GameVortex Communications
AKA Ricky Tucker

Minimum System Requirements:



Windows XP; AMD AthlonXP 1600+ /Intel Pentium 4 1.6Ghz; 6 GB HDD space; 128MB DirectX 9 video card with PS2.0 / 128MB DirectX 9 video card with PS2.0; 1024MB
 

Test System:



Windows Vista; 1.6 GHz Dual-Core processor; 2 Gig RAM; DVD drive; 120 GB HDD; GeForce Go7600

Microsoft Xbox 360 Call of Juarez: Bound in Blood Microsoft Xbox 360 The King of Fighters XII

 
Game Vortex :: PSIllustrated