Developer: Deep Red Games
Release Date: February 21, 2006
I heart NY. So does British developer Deep Red Games, who has bucked the trend of depicting the dystopian violent underbelly of the Big Apple. Tycoon City: New York is a game that celebrates a fantasy utopian side of the city that never sleeps, where citizens are always happy, crime is nonexistent, and the only way is up. If you like building but hate finances, and love the end result but aren't that bothered on how you get there, keep reading.
Like tycoon building games that have come before it, your task is to create a thriving metropolis from the ground up. You start with $500,000 and the task of turning Greenwich Village into the Bohemian hotspot it is supposed to be. So that you don't overreach or become overwhelmed with taking on the entire city, Tycoon City limits your entrepreneurial activity to one city district at a time, unlocking areas as you progress. Actually crafting your city couldn't be easier. You build according to the local residents' demands for goods and services. If you find they need luxury goods, build them a lingerie store or an antiques dealer. If they're craving food and drink, why not plan a French restaurant or family diner? The range of businesses you can put down is pretty extensive and varied, and it only grows as you progress.
Enter micromanagement. Once a building is in place, it's your job to make it more attractive by adding trees, shrubs, bushes, flower beds, fountains and a range of other civic paraphernalia. You can also increase the business's area of effect by adding signs, pennants, and billboards, for example. Some of the additions are really novel and detailed, and you'll enjoy exploring these upgrades. The range available is again copious and only grows as your city does. Goofy mascots, multicolored canopies, satellite dishes, rotating spotlights – the designers really thought of it all, which is good because you'll find a great deal of your time is spent upgrading. In the beginning, it's really quite satisfying to set down a bench outside your travel agency and watch New Yorkers sit down and chew the fat with each other.
Despite all this applause however, the act of adorning your new stores with fancy frills can soon become tiresome. Just how many times can you add a flower bed outside of a new computer game store before the novelty wears off? Finally, you'll discover that it doesn't really matter what you add, just as long as you do add something, so unless you have a lot of patience for detail, you'll end up littering random upgrades here and there simply for the sake of improving the property.
This formula of build and upgrade forms the bulk of the game. Tycoon City structures and directs your activity through business opportunities. Make a parade route desirable, increase resident's happiness, help a famous author sell his books, or create an alarm shop empire. These missions are imaginative and fun to pursue and great at giving you a sense of accomplishment, even if they are mindlessly easy to complete. Once you build a certain number of one type of store, you qualify for building a towering downtown office plaza to represent your retail empire. These buildings are lavishly designed skyscrapers that grow as your businesses do well.
The gorgeous graphics are Tycoon City's strong point and make you remember just how long it's been since Sim City 4 was released. The fully rotational isometric 3D environment allows you to zoom all the way out to the wind-whipped bird's eye view, or all the way down to the pedestrian crowded sidewalk. Even with so much scale, the designers have been careful to not lose sight of the small details. The shoe racks, marble fountains, soft glow of street lights, and sunlight reflecting off office windows all contribute to the diverse beauty of this New York. The game transitions between night and day, and the sharp neon glow of business signs, pinpricks of white light from distant skyscrapers and soft haze of taillights all look incredible. In fact, there are so many neat visual touches to discover that you'll want to use the downtime while you're raking in money to zip and zoom around exploring the city environs. The architecture and building brick textures are perfectly evocative of a New York cityscape, and randomly dispersed pieces of street furniture, like newspaper booths and hot dog concession stands, do a wonderful job of contributing to the overall urban appeal.
The developers have done a great job of adding personality and charm to the rather impersonal act of creating a metropolis. For instance, in October, people start lining up along the route for the Halloween parade hours before it's due to start. When it finally does, a garish assortment of freaks and monsters dances down the road, and a news reporter covers the event for your viewing pleasure. These are fantastic additions that alleviate the tedium of the build-upgrade cycle and add depth and texture to the city-building experience.
Second to the great visuals is a superbly smart sound system. From a distance high above New York City, you'll hear the wind whistling and get a great sense of height, grandeur and perspective. Zoom in to the ground level, and the ambient noises of the city hit you in stereo. Outside the French restaurant, a quaint accordion tune is playing. The jazz club, burger bar, taxi cab service and others all have their own uniquely tailored sounds. If you've ever stood outside a nightclub, you'll know the heavy bass beats the game uses are perfect. From the buzz of cars zipping through your streets to the chirping of birds in the park, the sounds are detailed and spot on. The idle banter of residents will let you know just how well you're doing. "A homeless person! Who'd go there?" "Hey, you and me, we should have a beer." "I've just found my new favorite spot." "I'm as giddy as a school girl!" These one-liners are amusing for a while and a really welcome change from the deranged gibberish of the Sims.
There are plenty of charts and graphs to let you know how your empire is faring, but it hardly makes a difference. In the same way, it is possible to get plenty of details on what's happening at ground level with the individual citizens, each of whom has a role: goth, artist, humanities student, lecturer, grandfather, and poet, to name a few. Beyond the initial curiosity and interest, however, these particulars don't appear to have any bearing on gameplay. Tycoon City encourages macromanagement and lets you really forget about the nasty little details.
Perhaps the developers never went to New York, though. The streets of Tycoon City are always spotlessly clean; the news is always good news, and you can't fail. There's also no way of going into debt and losing. In fact, you'll find you soon have more money than you can possibly spend. Seeing that money is no object, the sky's the limit. There are no problems of any sort for you to worry about, no crime statistics to stress over, no discontented citizens protesting in the streets, no natural disasters, taxes, traffic snarls, fires, invading aliens, or anything else that might ruin your perfect day. Your businesses are always making profit, and your competitors aren't really in the picture. You're the greatest land developer there ever was, and no one is going to tell you otherwise. This is ultimately what lets down Tycoon City. It never really takes the kid gloves off and makes you deal with the realities of running a real estate empire. If you're the sort of tycoon gamer who hated the nuances of city management found in games like Sim City 4, Tycoon City might be just the thing for you. With a bit of time and not too much effort, you can build an expansive, sprawling, densely populated and beautiful to behold New York City, replete with character and none of the gritty nuisances of real life.
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