I am in love with puzzle games, especially those ones that are counter intuitive in a way where you have to think, but at the same time you don't. Intense bursts of concentration are required with the occasional light bulb moment so I can catch up on Mr. Robot while I play is the kind of puzzle game I relish, and in that respect, Big Pharma hits the spot.
Big Pharma is a puzzle game by Twice Circled, where you need to build a big pharmaceutical corporation from the ground up, using wits, conveyor belts, weird and wonderful machines, and the occasional desert expedition. Not only is this a puzzle game, but it is also a pseudo-business-simulator as well. The combination of the two is not something I have personally played before, so let's dive in together.
Loading up the game, the first thing you notice is the background, which is a busy workshop with lots of different things going on. It is somewhat overwhelming on first glance, but the tutorial missions do a good job of letting you know what's what. The graphics of the workshop are very clean. It is a mix of crisp, clean lines, and low poly models. Opening up the options menu, you see a plethora of options, but most importantly, fully re-bindable keys—not that the original layout is bad, but it is good to get your preferences into the game.
Hitting the new game option, you are faced with a literal wall of missions: Six tutorial missions and the 35 main missions. On first glance, this seems like a small amount, but after you jump in, you realize exactly what you are in for. The tutorial missions will set you back about an hour worth of your time and do a very good job of teaching you the basics of the game. The tutorials being in-depth are a necessity, as this game is complicated, but not in that "why do I need to push down and select to jump" kind of way, but in the "there is one puzzle and 1,000 ways to do it" kind of way.
The interface is laid out in a very easy to use way. You have your building materials on the left, your speed control down the bottom left, as well as your money status, and the five game play tabs: Production, your main view where you can look around your factory and build machinery and belts; Ingredients, from here you can hire and fire explorers, explore and find new materials, and upgrade existing materials; Cures, where all your currently discovered cures are listed, and how you can upgrade them to bigger and better cures; Research, the same concept as the ingredients tab, except you hire scientists who can upgrade and research new equipment and technologies; and the Company Tab, here you can check up on how your business is doing, as well as check up on your competitors. There is a lot to take in, and it can be somewhat intimidating for a newbie, but it is laid on in a very intuitive way, that definitely plunges the learning curve.[caption id="attachment_53354" align="aligncenter" width="528"] These are better than what I could come up with[/caption]
You start off every mission by making your own company. You can select a name and pick from 8 avatars. It's all pretty standard fare and doesn't have any real affect on the game. Each of the missions has a different objective: Attain a profit, make X amount of Y, have no debt, etc., all within some time frame—once again, all pretty standard fare.
There are also different ranks for each mission, which need to be completed within the same time frame, but usually with some sort of multiplier on the win condition. When you fire up the first mission, you get a feel for just how big this game is. I only had a limited amount of time with the game prior to this review, about fifteen hours, and I was only able to make it through the first few missions.
Jumping in you are given control of your own factory, a large wad of cash, and access to a set of basic supplies and equipment. As I had only got through the first few missions, I was only given a basic set of equipment and ingredients to research, but I did not realize this straight away due to the massive amount of options I had in front of me. Jumping into free-build mode is where I found out what I was missing.
With this mode, you are also given access to a bottomless bank account, which can create some fun options for you as you are not restricted by the business side of this game and can create something reminiscent of a Rube Goldberg machine if you liked. There is also a custom game mode, which allows you to set your own win conditions, restrictions, and time limits. It's pretty much a mini level builder mode, without the building of the levels.
In the end, this is a very serviceable puzzle/simulator, or a sizzle game if you will. It's somehow complicated and relatively simple at the same time, while being enjoyable to a person who likes puzzle games, as well as someone who likes sim games as well. The three tiers of completion for each mission make the game challenging in a way that makes you want to go back and keep trying to make this game quiver at your skill, and the addition of freebuild mode and mod support means you can keep going back and make weird and wonderful contraptions that somehow will cure what ails you.
What do you think? Will you break bad when this game comes out? Let me know in the comments below.
Big Pharma comes out on Steam and standalone for $24.99 US on the 27th of August. This game was obtained from the developer and reviewed on the PC.