East India Company PC
Published by: Paradox Interactive
Developed by: Nitro Games
East India Company is one of those games that gives a good first impression but as more time is spent with the game, the more obvious it becomes that elements of it just aren't as good as it could have been. The game is essentially a mix of trading goods with primarily Indian ports and your home port and naval combat. Those who have played games such as Patrician III or Port Royale will have a pretty good idea of what to expect here. The problem is that East India Company isn't anywhere near as engaging as those games and in some respects is much more limited.
The single-player content in the game includes a selection of campaigns and a couple of battle modes that throw you into some naval combat. There are four campaigns in total: Grand Campaign 1600-1750, Struggle for Domination 1700-1750, Battle for Resources 1650-1700 and a Free Campaign 1600-1750. Regardless of the campaign you choose your goal is to either complete all of the available missions, conquer all of the twelve Indian ports or force the other companies into resigning. Prior to starting a campaign you can select the difficulty for the campaign (Easy, Normal or Hard) and the battle realism (Arcade, Normal, Simulation). The game allows you to play as one of eight nations: Britain, Holy Roman Empire, Netherlands, France, Denmark, Sweden, Spain and Portugal and there are some diplomatic options open to you allowing you to agree pacts and alliances with other nations.
In any given campaign you'll need to sail your fleets from your home port, making sure to take some of the goods your home port has produced, and head for such exotic locations as Madras, Goa and Calcutta. You can also trade with various African ports at locations such as Natal and Mozambique and it can be highly profitable to do so. Goods don't have to be traded right away and you can store goods in a warehouse until you feel the time is right to sell. Your company's directors will set orders for you to carry out and it's in your interest to do so. You'll have an assortment of primary and secondary objectives and you'll need to complete some of these before a specified date in order to progress. There are many African and Indian ports that can be conquered and you can even construct and upgrade various facilities such as docks, shipyards, forts and trading posts provided the required materials are available in the port.
The ships available to you range from the humble Sloop to the grand Ship-of-the-line 90-gun. Whilst you won't want to use the slower battle ships in the early phase of the game too much (as they are rather slow) you will need them eventually to fight your enemies and conquer Indian ports (to prevent your opponents from trading with them or to satisfy one of the victory conditions). Over each of your fleets you'll have a fleet commander and these will have their own special abilities. One of mine for instance had the ability to organise which allowed me to store an extra two units of cargo on the ship. Fleet commanders can also gain experience from battles.
Sooner or later you're going to be involved in naval conflict and it has to be said that the battles are visually impressive. You're given the option of being able to use RTS controls (the default option) or you can directly control your vessels. If you've played a game that involves naval combat before you'll be familiar with the tactics and shot types (solid ball, chain shot and grape shot) that are available to you. Battles can be drawn out affairs when using the smaller battle ships although it's difficult to be critical of this because it can be regarded as realistic. Should you want to opt out of taking part in the battle you can leave the AI to auto-resolve it. Unfortunately there definitely seems to be a bias towards the AI when you auto-resolve a battle and you won't gain any experience or booty from the battle. Essentially then, whilst it's tempting to use the auto-resolve option it's far from beneficial to do so.
With extended play you begin to realise the game's limitations. Whilst you can setup an automatic trade route, you can't setup one exactly how you want to which is frustrating especially when older games such as the aforementioned Patrician III and Port Royale allowed you to do so. Whilst you can visit various African and Indian ports to purchase and sell your goods, you may only dock at your home port. You don't have the freedom to trade with any European city you want to and this just seems to be a nonsensical restriction. There is no focus on events in the game world with the focus being on the ports only and this is to the game's detriment. I really liked the way you could setup industries and do things that would help develop the towns in Patrician III but sadly you can't do anything like that here. Whilst there are multiplayer options it's a shame that they only include the ability to battle. Having no online campaign mode definitely makes playing against human opponents a less than thrilling proposition.
Graphically speaking the game is quite good. The highlight has to be the naval battles with great looking ships and decent representations of ship battles too. You can even see the ship's crew doing their various tasks which is certainly pleasing. Outside of naval combat things don't look quite so good. The campaign map isn't as detailed as it could have been and the ships that sail the oceans are much more basic than those in battle. The ports in the game look decent although you will have to endure a loading screen if you have the 3D port view enabled. Thankfully, with the game's latest update (v1.06) you do gain instant access to a port with the 3D view disabled.
All of the crucial information in the game is shown in text and you'll be fully aware of what's going on between the other nations and which ports they have taken control of and pacts and alliances that have been made. All of the game's tutorial information is shown in text so you'll have no problems in getting to grips with the game. All objectives are in text too and can be recalled at any time. There are some omissions however, such as the comments made by your fleet commanders when you issue orders to them, but none of the omissions are important.
East India Company is one of those games that feels as though it could have been better. That's not to say the game can't be enjoyable but it just feels clumsy in some respects (auto-resolving battles shouldn't punish you) and lacking in others. The real problem is that games such as Patrician III and Port Royale (which are old games now) did things in a much more impressive, comprehensive and enjoyable fashion. If you haven't played those games then you'd be better advised to pick those up first, especially as they available on the cheap. East India Company just doesn't do enough to keep you engaged over the long term which is a shame as there was definitely potential here to create a game that could have been as special as those aforementioned Ascaron titles.