Review | East India Company
Format: PC | Genre: Strategy | Publisher: Paradox | Developer: Nitro Games | Release Date: 31/07/09 | RRP: £34.99
By Lewis Denby
Ultimately, the most memorable thing about East India Company is how unspectacular it is.
There are plenty of battles between opposition ships, but they’re not quite the awe-inspiring, epic events we might imagine them as. No, these are slow, arduous affairs, fought mainly at a distance, and never entered into lightly.
These battles are by no means the focus of East India Company, but the pace at which they play out somewhat sets the tone for the whole game. This is not a twitchy RTS, nor a particularly suspenseful one, even as the clock ticks down on your campaign. It’s an in-depth but nevertheless leisurely title, and that’s where East India Company leaves its most distinct impression.
Cosmetically, it’s Total War all over. From the 3D, aerial view campaign map, right down to the look and feel of the interface, it’s familiar territory all round. In many ways it’s an improvement over the occasional clumsiness and unfriendliness of The Creative Assembly’s otherwise exemplary series. Tutorial screens are brief but useful, and the slightly less intense array of campaign map options makes for a more immediately forgiving experience. The whole thing, despite the sort of impressive historical accuracy that gets the hardcore wargaming elite all flustered, is undoubtedly geared towards a more casual audience, and the result is a game that’s happy to plod along at its own pleasant pace.
But although the presentation and penchant for naval warfare may induce a little deja-vu, this is a very different kind of strategy game. For starters, its premise is based firmly on the water. Land battles aren’t present; indeed, the land is largely irrelevant, with only port towns mildly customisable to boost your trading and ship-building efficiency. The majority of the game is spent out at sea, sailing between the Indian coastline and various European nations, maintaining the trade balance between East and West and, slowly but surely, sucking the financial indemnity out of the rest of the world, rival or otherwise.
Much of your time will be eaten away by sub-menus of the campaign map, tweaking diplomatic relations or organising new trade routes. Irritatingly, options for ship and building construction, as well as buying and selling items, are buried unnecessarily within the 3D Port View, which loads agonisingly every time you need to do a damn thing. It’s an attractive addition, one that – presumably – intends to break up the possible monotony of maps and menu systems. But once it’s loaded, the visuals are redundant, as all your options are still accessed via 2D menus. Instead of shaking things up, it’s the cause of the annoying repetition.
Indeed, it’s the lack of thought behind these small design decisions that make East India Company an occasionally frustrating experience. It’s a grind, for example, that time pauses when navigating any of the multiple menus you’ll use on a regular basis. While there will undoubtedly be occasions when you’ll want to stop the action and spend some time tweaking things, there are others when it would be nice to leave the clock running – say, when a fleet of ships is on its lengthy travels over to India. The journey from London to Bombay can take a good few minutes, even with the speed increased to maximum, and having to simply sit and wait while it all takes place is irritating to say the least. Suffice it to say, you’ll have plenty of time to put the kettle on.
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