I’m a sucker for a good tycoon game.
Prison Architect, Cities Skylines, Tropico; it doesn’t matter what type of simulation I’m foolishly left in charge in, it will no doubt amass an ungodly number of hours on my Steam page by the end of the week. It’s why I’ve been eagerly anticipating the early-access release of Tech Corp, the debut project by developer Mardonpol Inc that hands you the keys to your very own tech firm and allowing you to build it from scratch.
Plunging headfirst into your first role as CEO, two things become abundantly clear. While the addictive genre beats that make tycoon games such a ruthless time vacuum are definitely present, it’s without a doubt an early-access title. There are crashes, features that flat out don’t work, and the game lacks refinement in so many areas that it can frequently descend into an absolute chore to play. Like it or not, that’s the curse of early access; what you’re getting is a work in progress.
With that in mind, is it worth climbing aboard Tech Corp early? While the answer is by no means a resounding no, your patience with its current state will depend entirely on how much you can cope with tedious micromanaging over fast-paced decision making.
Starting your company in a small office with a few employees, the crux of Tech Corp’s gameplay quickly becomes as much about staff management as it is creating bankable products. You begin with a small team of rookie programmers, sales executives and marketers, while the beginning of the game follows a slow, arduous tutorial that teaches you how to design the components for products, put them into production and then, eventually, sell them to the public. It’s a sluggish start that, while does cover the basics, feels like it holds your hand a bit too tightly for a game that’s all about freedom of choice.
From here the game opens up, allowing you to start devising your own products. Initially, it can be quite daunting. In typical tycoon game fashion, money is one of the main resources you’ll be trying to manage as you grow as a tech giant, with products costing thousands to put into production without any assurance that you’ll see return profits. When you first get handed the reigns to the company, you’ll barely have two pennies to rub together. This makes for a confusing initial venture as you try to discover a cost-effective way to ship more products. However, that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
A lot of the fun I had with Tech Corp was figuring out how my company would make its name. With so many different areas you can specialise in, there really is a lot to get stuck into, even if some areas are less fleshed out than others. Eventually, I elected to make my tech company into a video game giant, buying some first-party studios and putting my own console into production. Before long, I had a home console that could rival anything from Sony and Microsoft, with the hours I’d clocked building my multi-million-dollar enterprise feeling slightly repetitive, yet, consistently enjoyable all the same.
It didn’t take me long to realise that was because the path I’d opted to follow came with the least amount of micromanaging. Starting the game again and attempting to build a television provider made me realise how laborious Tech Corp’s central grind can be. For one, making different components for your products warrants combining multiple electronics, the likes of which must be made by your team of programmers. While most tycoon games would merely allow you to assign staff to make a product and notify you when they’re done, Tech Corp’s method is much more finicky, asking you to personally instruct each staff member to work on a certain electronic before electing a designer to combine them.
Staff members are often incapable of working independently, forcing you to consistently go back and change their assignments every few minutes to reach simple outcomes. Researchers, for example, must be told to continue doing their work every time they complete a new step, while marketers will stop promoting a product at the end of every thirty days or so, tanking your new product’s sales if you forget to reassign them.
Before long it becomes a confusing mess, remembering which of your team was doing what task becoming an infuriating, needless chore. While similar games such as Game Dev Tycoon utilise these systems, Tech Corp lacks the same refinement that made them work so well. Every system, contraption and management element is made to feel more complex than it should, simple jobs becoming monotonous instances of tight handholding as you switch around assignments and babysit your seemingly mindless staff.
It’s all the more frustrating because the freedom Tech Corp gives you in other moments is extremely liberating. Being able to customise the look and brand identity of your products makes for a fun excursion from the dull grind of the main game, while certain side mechanics – such as the ability to design your own online platform akin to Steam – come with plenty of interesting business strategies to employ.
It’s worth reiterating that Tech Corp is still rough around the edges. Over my time with the game I was hit with numerous bugs, ranging from mild inconveniences to full-on crashes. I will say, however, that the game has a diligent autosave system that meant I rarely ever lost progress and the devs’ drive to patch as many bugs as possible meant most of my issues have already been wiped from the game.
Overall, Tech Corp struggles with the same issues that plague pretty much every early access diamond in the rough. There’s a great game nestling inside its overly complex exterior, it simply needs a little polish and a whole lot of refinement to strip its issues away and find its niche. As it stands, I can’t really recommend Tech Corp in its current state, but I can tell you with confidence that if its developers keep striving to work on the game with the same passion they’ve shown since launch, this has a real shot to be something special.
Game: Tech Corp
Developer: Mardonpol Inc
Publisher: 2tainment GmbH
Release Date: July 25, 2019 (Early Access)