New York, New York, it’s a wonderful town… providing you aren’t being mugged, of course. Or shot. That can really take the zing out of an otherwise top night out. Still, we’d rather be both mugged and shot, then set on fire for good measure, than have to sit through Tycoon City’s cut-scenes again.
From the “awesome dude” students of Greenwich to the “offer you can’t refuse” pizza restaurateurs of Little Italy, it’s a veritable avalanche of “New Yoike” stereotypes. You have been warned.
The main campaign of this business sim is dubbed “Build New York”, and it divides the city into thirteen districts which you unlock one by one as you develop your empire. The basic idea is that you build up housing and businesses, then sit back, light a big fat cigar and revel in your plutocratic genius as the bucks roll in.
In theory, you decide where to construct businesses by examining the desires of nearby folk: clicking on apartment buildings reveals a detailed graph of their needs. In practice, these details are more for show than anything else. It’s more important to group related businesses together near well populated and appropriate areas. For example, in a suburb which is dense with student flats, it would be smart to develop a block full of cheap bars, alternative clubs and pool halls, creating a nightlife area with considerable pull.
However, the real key to success is simply to realise which businesses have the most effective profit ratings in certain districts, and go for them in spades. When Soho (the second district) opens up, art galleries bring in a mint and you’d be a fool not to cash in by flogging some canned soup portraits.
These business mechanics are pretty basic, a theme which continues into the building upgrades. This is the decorative “Sims” portion of the game, whereupon after construction you can adorn your shop with neon signs, potted plants or bargain bin displays. Each of these elements effects your business’s rating in various categories (appeal, customer satisfaction and so on).
The system falls down because there isn’t much strategy involved in the process. You can pretty much max out most categories, and the only real decision to be made is how much you want to concentrate on expanding the business’s catchment area. There are exceptions, though, such as cafés where seating capacity issues must also be taken into account.
Upgrading buildings can also get a little tiresome when you’re building your twentieth department store and are clicking out the exact same arrangement of benches and hat racks; the ability to create templates would be useful.
There’s more to Tycoon City than these basics, though. Multiple challenges crop up in each district, such as building a ferry link to Liberty Island or creating a record shop to promote a punk band’s new CD, then staging a concert in Washington Square Park. It’s also possible to construct famous landmarks and build up chains of businesses with sky-scraping headquarters that exert a positive influence on your profits.
A good effort has been made on the presentation front, with monthly lists of the richest tycoons, most profitable businesses and so forth; not to mention the visuals themselves. The variety of buildings, landmarks and fancy upgrades (from video billboards to searchlights) are all rendered with some rather flash 3D graphics.
The city feels alive, too, with citizens bustling down the pavements and taxi cabs cutting each other up on the roads. Building up your empire and taking stock of the visual result is very satisfying, apart from the odd glitch with the 3D view camera which can be fiddly at times.
Ultimately, the game’s business mechanics are superficial and not very challenging; the computer-controlled rival tycoons don’t put any real pressure on you. There’s an alternate mode of play – the sandbox – which lets you set the opposition up to build at a quicker rate on a completely blank city canvas, but even that won’t satisfy hardened number-crunchers.
However, more casual players with stronger leanings towards world building will find Tycoon City compelling in some measure. It’s quite absorbing initially, although as you get further into the lengthy campaign, repetitiveness creeps in with many of the same tasks having to be performed over and over again. There isn’t much draw to replay the game and with no multiplayer mode, the appeal is on the short side.