Reviews

Big Pharma Review – There’s No Cure For Being A Money Whore

maxresdefault

Platforms: PC
Reviewed On: PC
Developer: Twice Circled
Publisher: Positech Games
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: No

Inevitably when you base a game around something as controversial as the pharmaceutical industry people are going to talk. Reading the forums on Steam it’s funny to see how some people are calling the developers out for daring to base a game on such an evil market, and some have even said the game shouldn’t be sold, and yet stuff where you shoot a lot of people or run over civilians is quite alright. Humans can be very strange sometimes. Regardless Big Pharma almost completely avoids getting into the extensive morality debate surrounding the pharmaceutical industry which is probably for the best, opting for a couple of subtle comments amidst its puzzle gameplay . However, it can’t escape it entirely since ultimately the game is about producing the most profitable medication possible, and in the process removing side-effects can damage that profit margin, meaning to complete objects you’ll often find yourself shoving a cream out of the door that could potentially cause paralysis.

To achieve great wealth you must spend many hours moving Evaporators, small Hadron Colliders and pill pressers around oddly shaped buildings in order to pump out your medical pills, creams, satchets and syringes. The basic building block of every potential medication is the concept of an ingredient’s concentration, which can be raised or lowered using a variety of different machines hooked together by conveyor belts. From one of the randomly generated wall ports you pick a basic ingredient which is then pumped out to your conveyor belt and through the myriad of contraptions that may as well be powered by magic for all that I know about them. Each ingredient comes with at least one positive effect, such being a painkiller, plus some troublesome side-effects like dizziness or a rash. Each of these traits have specific concentration ranges where they become active, thus to effectively create a painkiller you might need to raise or low the overall concentration to 12, for example, or lower it from 18 down to 15. Side-effects can sometimes be removed entirely from a drug by getting the concentration right and then running it through a special machine, other times you’ll find that you can activate the good without setting off the bad if you get it just right, or sometimes it’s better just accept that side-effects are inevitable before turning the drug into a pill and shoving it out the door for profit. Removing side-effects can greatly increase a cures rating, sure,  but it can also massively increase production costs, so you have to weigh up the pros and cons and at the end of the day money tends to outweigh all.

2015-08-31_00003

Things quickly become complicated. A medication can be upgraded to treat more serious and potentially profitable illnesses by getting it within the designated concentration range and then passing it through the specified machine, at which point it’ll be buffed up into something new and you’ll need to use a few more machines to get the concentration right once again. But after that you can probably upgrade it again, and maybe even again and again, meaning you have to get the numbers just right and pass it through yet another machine or five, like maybe a Autoclave or a Dissolver. Sometimes an upgrade can’t be achieved without a catalyst, though, meaning you have to mix together two ingredients, one of which includes the catalysing agent you’re looking for to trigger the correct reaction. A multimixer lets you do just that, but the kicker is that each ingredient sports a total of four effect slots, and when mixing them together the effects in the selected “base” ingredient take priority. To put it simply when combining ingredients the “base” ingredient’s traits priority and will simply overwrite effects in conflicting slots, meaning you could find your required catalyst being banished to the mystical ingredient void. To avoid this you have to use a cunningly named Shaker, which knocks all effects down one slot, thereby hopefully letting you carefully position the desired side-effects before mixing it all together. In this way you can even create pills, creams or syringes that boast more than one positive trait. There’s even a UV machine that will simply drop the concentration level to one no matter how high it is and even a Hadron Collider that activates every trait. And because upgrades demand you use certain machines a production line pumping out a top-level cure can become quite a monster that munches through ingredients like a fat man at a free all you can eat pizza and steak buffet. Before long you’ll have rooms full of crisscrossing belts, dozens of machines, several mixers and three or four ingredients, all to create just one high level drug.

But Big Pharma is a game of two halves. The second part of the game is a space management simulator, where you have to pack your machinery into tight spaces, fiddling with placement in order to waste no space. It’s like playing a much more malleable version of Tetris. As you unlock more advanced machinery you’ll find yourself rebuilding and repositioning earlier contraptions to take advantage of being able to use just one or two pieces of technology rather than five or six, the higher process cost and larger size of the powerful machines offset by how much faster you can pump products through the line. As you begin to understand how upgrading, catalysts and the benefits of cream over pills you’ll start to learn more advanced tricks, like how to use part of one production line to help another. There’s never a point where the screen doesn’t make it look like you’ve got the least ordered factory in existence, but you’ll always know that the seemingly chaotic mass of pumping, whirring machinery has been calculated and thought out from beginning to end. It may not look pretty, but it’s pumping out the medication. As you progress you’ll go from using technology that simply bumps concentration up by one point or down by one point to using more advanced stuff that can halve it or double it, or increase it by ten when it’s already at a certain level or decrease it by ten when it’s at another.

To discover and use new ingredients with potentially larger profit margins you need to hire adventurers and dispatch them to seek out new plants and animals that can be eviscerated in the name of science. When these adventurers aren’t out hunting down new components for your production line they’ll generate points that can be spent to bring down the price of ingredients. Scientists work in much the same way in that you hire them and then pick out something for them to research from the straightforward tech tree. Whenever they aren’t actively researching they’ll generate points that can be used to upgrade your machinery, usually decreasing the processing cost.

2015-09-04_00001

Outside of putting down new machines and sewing them together with conveyor belts your influence feels like it’s a little weak, as does that of the rest of the world. Other corporations exist within your and they too are creating new medicines and exporting them, which can in turn influence the market, raising and lowering prices. World events can do the same, shifting how much profit your basic painkiller can make because suddenly there’s no many headaches on the go. I never felt I needed to pay great attention to these things, though, because while they might result in some of my medications losing value it was never enough to force a rethink of strategy. The exception is the ability for both you and your competition to fill patents for cures, which can be incredibly frustrating as there’s no way of telling when a competitor has patented a medication before you construct the entire production line and suddenly get a patent warning the first time a pill gets exported. Aside from simply flooding the market with a specific time of medication or deliberately producing a better version of a competitor’s drug, though, there’s no much you can do. You can’t choose, for example, how much to charge for a specific medication, thus if you managed to cure HIV you can’t opt to sell it for barely any profit to help rid the world of a horrid disease, nor can you try to undercut your enemy’s better appetite suppressant by charging less for yours.

The singleplayer is composed of a sizable selection of challenges, ranging from the simple, like maintaining a certain level of profit or becoming a big name in creating numerous over-the-counter drugs, to more challenging scenarios such as having to pump out and maintain several high-level cures, or even having to create a series of medications with absolutely no side-effects. The difficulty ramps up quite nicely with new technologies becoming available to help ease you into it all. Should that prove annoying you can always jump into the sandbox mode with unlimited money in order to ensure you’ve got it all properly figured out, ot you can toss together custom scenarios, too.

It seems that the time spent in Early Access was entirely beneficial as this is an impressively flawless game in terms if bugs, glitches or other problems. Not once did I encounter any problem or error, which is a most welcome surprise considering how expectant I’ve become of finding at least one or two glitches in any given game. The lack of graphical options is something of a shame, but that’s mitigated by the fact that Big Pharma really isn’t a demanding game, so even a potato should be able to run it without any hiccups, although its demand for a minimum of 4GB of Ram is a little surprising. Of course that does mean that Big Pharma really isn’t much of a looker; it’s pretty basic, even down to the fact that your employees don’t even move around or clock in for work or anything of the sort. There’s a slight hint of commentary in the fact that no matter how big or powerful your company becomes the buildings you work in are always dank, slightly grubby places. Still, a nice touch comes in the form of how ingredients gradually change as they pass through the machines, altering in color and form as they go. Like the graphics the audio work is completely forgettable, to the point where I honestly can’t think of anything to say about it.

Ultimately Big Pharma’s big problem is that while it’s initially a complicated game to grasp that hints at a deep and varied strategy experience, once you’ve figured out how the system’s work you quickly come to the realisation that underneath the surface complications that stem from understanding how the systems slot together there really isn’t anything else to it. It’s the difference between something being complicated, and being complex. Once you’ve got concentrations, upgrades, catalyst’s and the like sorted out in your mind and how they all fit together there’s nothing else to learn or do. Different missions have slightly different goals, but they all feel much the same. You simply go through the motions, altering them slightly to adjust for whatever the ingredient randomization has decided to throw at you. Thus I found that around the five or six-hour mark I was growing tired of the game. Luckily the fact that you’re free to leap from challenge to challenge rather than complete them in a linear fashion helps somewhat, so by cherry picking which missions I took on I was able to enjoy the game longer.

2015-09-03_00001

Like any truly good management game Big Pharma succeeded in turning me into a cold, calculating boss intent on max efficiency and profit over all else. However, despite its own claims I wouldn’t really call Big Pharma very big or even a simulation. Truthfully it’s a small-scale puzzle game based around maximizing the space you have available and working out the order in which ingredients must pass through machines in order to turn the biggest profit possible. You start with a randomized room in a randomized building and import randomized drugs, quickly doing the mental calculations needed to achieve the desired effect before spinning the needed machines around so they fit together as closely as possible. If the market isn’t flooded you perhaps made a second production line and use a packer to combine both lines into one export port. And that’s about it. There’s no feeling that you’re running a business or helping cure horrible illnesses or even competing with other companies.

It comes down to expectations, then. If you want a true simulation title where you have to run a business around the idea of producing various cures then Big Pharma really doesn’t do the job, despite how it seems to market itself as just that. If you can accept it as a much smaller scale puzzle game then Big Pharma is actually really good, and while you might find yourself tiring of it quite quickly the hours you do spend spinning machines around and planning out new production lines are satisfying, especially when you first begin putting together the vast collection of equipment and belts required to create the most powerful drugs, such as a cancer vaccine. At £20 it’s a bit too expensive for what it is, so on a completely personal level I’d probably wait for a price-drop on this one, but it’s worth checking out.

Advertisements

Categories: Reviews

Tagged as: , , , ,

1 reply »

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s