Setting Things in Motion
All right, let me first say that I am not the biggest simulation fan. I usually play video games to… erm, escape… from reality. However I have enjoyed some sims over the years, such as the Civilization franchise, Maxis’ line of Sim games like Sim City, Sim Ant and Sim Farm, along with others of their era like Roller Coaster Tycoon, Theme Park and Transport Tycoon.
Now, you might have never heard of that last one on the list (Which was made in 1994 by Chris Sawyer, who later made the original and much more well known Roller Coaster Tycoon, and it’s sequel, which actually share similar game engines). It was a rather fun and challenging yet not-overly-complex game where you ran a transportation company where you buy vehicles, invest in infrastructure, and make money moving goods and people to where they want to be.
Now the reason I’m pointing all this out is because this is the game that I immediately recognized when I began to play Rise of Industry, developed by Dapper Penguin Studios and published by Kasedo Games, and released on Steam on May 2nd, 2019 for $29.99. Having remembered Transport Tycoon, and noticing this game uses the same sort of isometric viewpoint with a simple, colorful art style, my expectations were set high, since it almost seemed like a spiritual successor from almost the moment of launching it. Well, let’s see how well those rose-tinted glasses fit.
Building an Empire
In Rise of Industry, your mission is to build a industrial corporate empire from essentially nothing, researching technology, gathering resources, producing commodities, and eventually controlling enough industrial sectors to be able to research and produce a fancy new prototype high-tech product to win the game. Being a simulation, it doesn’t have any story to speak of; it’s all about being a monopolistic, money-making corporate machine.
In the main Career mode, you start off by picking a city in a procedurally-generated world map to serve as your headquarters. Here, you automatically have the rights to build resource-gathering facilities; infrastructure including roads, warehouses, railroads, and the like; and, of course, farms and factories.
This is where the game diverges from what I expected after picking up that Transport Tycoon vibe. That game, despite seeming strikingly similar, is all about the logistical side; you don’t control the industries directly, but rather you focus on getting those goods, people and raw materials from where they originate to the best place for them to be delivered. Rise of Industry does this as well, but you don’t buy, maintain, and upgrade vehicles and such. The game conjures up the trucks and trains automatically as needed by the industries you build.
You also have to deal with a tech tree of research and upgrades. Most of it makes sense, but there are some awkward aspects to this. For example, initially you can only build dirt roads, and you have to research paved roads to build them. This doesn’t make a lot of sense because right from the start of the game, every city is built with and connected by a network of nice paved roadways. Why I have to research something that clearly already exists before I can build it, I found confusing.
Because the game goes far beyond the logistics of moving goods around, it is much more complex of a game. I initially tried to jump right in, and I was bankrupt inside of an hour, before I really could figure out how anything worked. This is definitely one of those games where you really have to view the tutorial and look for some guides online. That disappointed me a little bit because, while it had intricacies that made it challenging, Transport Tycoon wasn’t too hard to understand in order to get started and not fail right off the bat.
The game also has a Sandbox mode, where you have unlimited money and can customize more features of the game to your liking. It also unlocks all technology. This proved to be very helpful for learning the ropes. I definitely would recommend to any player to jump in to this mode after going through the tutorial so you can learn how to make and distribute products and such without the risk of failure while you’re getting the hang of things. Otherwise, you most certainly will fail a few times, as I’d say the overall difficulty of the game is very high regardless of the settings you choose for career mode, due to the game’s complexity.
If the main game and its sandbox aren’t enough for you, you can also create customized scenarios to play the game under special limitations. If you manage to master the deep gameplay of this title, you can crank up the challenge further. And if that still isn’t enough, the game has Steam Workshop support, and the game is fully moddable with potential for new buildings, features, and such.
The Look and Sound of a Corporation
Rise of Industry features a simple-yet-detailed visual style that looks almost primitive when looking over the map from a distance, but you can zoom in real close and the detailed models of the vehicles and buildings come to life. It looks blocky with lots of angled shapes, but it does so in a good way, and the visual style is what initially brought back those Transport Tycoon memories (although that game’s visual simplicity was more owed to the hardware limitations of 1994).
A minor detractor would be that the vehicles that power your industries are basically the only things moving through the world. You never see (or have to deal with) civilian vehicles, people, or anything else that doesn’t have anything directly to do with your industrial empire. This is a bit of a disappointment because it makes the world feel very static outside of the places your corporate gears are whirring. For all the game’s complexity, managing a fleet of ships, trains, and vehicles almost seems like a missing feature, although the game is complex enough without that layer.
In the sound department, Rise of Industry offers a friendly, relaxed musical score, the sort of musical style common to simulation games. It’s very appropriate and high quality. The soundtrack is available as a DLC purchase and, if you buy the game, it wouldn’t be a bad extra purchase as the music is great as “chillin'” music. The effects are equally spot-on and appropriate to the experience, and add a sense of satisfaction to building (or bulldozing!) your structures, much in the style of the Sim City series.
Missing Cog in the Machine
While the visuals and sound are great, there are a number of issues that bogged the game down. The first one I discovered very quickly as I began the tutorial. As I looked around the map, I noticed a bug that apparently occurred with the world generation (or design of the map, if it was actually fixed in nature). It is reflected in the image above: a bridge that wasn’t properly generated, with roads leading from two directions directly into the tile where a bridge ramp should be, except it isn’t there. That wasn’t a good sign, though after generating multiple maps, I didn’t see the issue a second time.
The other issue I found was the biggest one. This game is far more resource demanding than it seems like it should be. While Transport Tycoon managed to achieve a similar sort of look (albeit with pixel graphics rather than 3D models) that ran fine on the hardware of the mid-90s when RAM was still measured in MB and not GB, Rise of Industry is a memory hog. It can use several GB of RAM, especially when the large map size is selected.
The game warns that you should have at least 16GB of RAM, and with only 8GB as well as limited disk space on my OS drive, it caused a ton of issues and I had to resign myself to the medium map size, even with my otherwise modern system on a Ryzen 7 1800X CPU. With enough space available for your swap file, it should work fine, perhaps with some loading hitches. This isn’t too serious by itself, since the game does tell you that you need a lot of RAM, but I have played many high-end games that really stress my system in every way and they use less RAM than this game.
The game did note on its map generation screen that it is in an alpha state (at least with the Press build I was told to use), however, this game was not released as Early Access, so selling it as if it was complete when it’s supposedly in an alpha state seems iffy to me. I can only hope that this designation will mean the game will become more optimized in the future, but with an officially launched game that isn’t using Early Access, I don’t expect to see the product telling me it’s in Alpha. (Note: After switching off the “press” version, the Alpha notice was gone, but not much else seemed different).
Rise of Industry offers a very detailed industrial corporation sim that will certainly appeal to serious simulation game fans who will undoubtedly get a huge number of hours of play out of its different game modes and then some with its mod support which is present from the beginning. That being said, it is not an easy game and, for those with a more casual interest in sims, it may be hard to get into. If you get past the difficulty and are able to learn all the subtle nuances of managing and optimizing a supply chain all the way from natural resources to parts to complete products, you will have a good time with this. Personally though, the learning and difficulty curves were just too steep for me, and it ended up just making me want to fire up DOSbox and play that relatively little-known classic Transport Tycoon.
~ Final Score: 6/10 ~
Review copy provided by Kasedo Games for PC. Screenshots taken by reviewer.