In the real world I’m a salesman. Not only am I salesman, I’m also the type of salesperson that each and every one of you despises. For example, I’ve been the guy knocking on your door as you sit down to your evening meal and somehow manages to convince you that you need a full set of new windows and, why yes, a conservatory would indeed add value to the house. I’ve also been the mobile phone salesperson that subtly ushered you towards a tariff that made me the most commission and gave you the hard sell with insurance. These are just the things I’m willing to commit to print, but I’ve pretty much been as unscrupulous as they come.
It’s for the reasons above that I generally find tycoon style games to also be a bit of a disappointment. Sure, you can be a bit of a tosser in them, but none have ever really managed to hone in on my desire to gamify my day to day urge to be a money driven utter bastard. On the face of it, Big Pharma, a game set within the world of pharmaceutical development, has the potential to finally satiate me. A game where I can put profit first? Count me in.
One of the major themes of Big Pharma is that it’s a game about processes, and it’s drilled into you every step of the way; from your production lines that snake through the isometrically displayed levels, to the tech trees that you need to gradually send your researchers out to develop to allow you access to necessary equipment, to the steps you take to take to turn a simple base ingredient into a flawless cure for cancer that contains no side effects.
At the lower levels, Big Pharma is relatively simple. The base medicines normally only take minor tweaking to reach the desired effect. A drop in concentration here, an increase in concentration there and voila, you have a bog standard painkiller. What if you want to elevate that painkiller into something more complex, and therefore profitable, such as a migraine cure? Well, then things become a little more complex. You might just need to shift it to a certain concentration and then a specific machine to switch it to the new effect or, as you start to progress a bit further on, you might need to combine that ingredient with another in the form of a catalyst, mixing them together to create a new drug. Things get tougher from there in, sometimes needing you to shift the order of effects within the ingredients to choose which elements combine together. In all honesty, the latter elements do tend to get a bit confusing and, despite there being a tutorial at the start of the game, never feel thoroughly explained enough. My initial attempts at these tougher elements took me a good few tries to get the hang of and took a bit of research on the Big Pharma wiki and sub-Reddit.
Much life real life medication, each ingredient or drug you create can have a variety of side effects, for example nausea, and whether or not you decide to remove these problematic effects is at your own discretion and, of course, additional cost. This is where your individual persuasion comes into play; do you cheaply manufacture a side effect-laden medicine that’s cheap to produce and generates a mass of profit, or do you want to spend the time and money to research your base ingredients, or to add in catalysts, or keep tweaking the concentration to make the best medicine you can? While it’s tempting to pump out cheap and nasty drugs, there is a large sense of satisfaction from taking the time and effort to create a perfect cure.
With so many diseases available to be cured, how do you know which ones to make? Thankfully the game presents a handy screen letting you know what the current demand for each disease is. In addition to this, there’s also world events that dynamically alter the demand. For example, if there’s a natural disaster somewhere in the world there’ll be sharp rise in the need for painkillers, while conversely if there’s a move toward healthier eating then the demand for diabetes cures will fall. It’s a fun mechanic, and it keeps you on your toes in terms of watching the world events and paying attention to the changing demands.
In addition to changing demands, another thing that may affect how many pills you’re selling is your competition. They will develop new cures in the background and, if you’re unlucky, may well release an alternative product to your own, therefore dropping demand for a corner of the market you thought you had cornered. There’s a couple of options when this happens. You can, as mentioned above, spend some time and money creating a superior version of the cure. Alternatively, when you’re further along in the game, you can decide to patent your medicine. This stops your competitors from selling the drug you’ve stamped your name on but there is still a way around this for your competition and, thankfully, for you if you’re on the bad end of a patent. If the patent is for, as an example, a medicine in pill form, you’re able to tweak the recipe into a cream instead. This does take a lot of research and development of new machines though, so it’s up to you whether to decide whether or not the time and effort is worthwhile.
Big Pharma will win no awards for presentation but it’s perfectly serviceable throughout. Each machine is distinctly different from the rest, so you’re quickly able to visually understand which is which, plus watching your production line at work is oddly mesmerising as you watch the machinery churn away and the staff diligently work. The score is potentially less positive as it’s rather repetitive, but I was paying so much attention to what was happening on the shop floor that it was barely noticeable.
Big Pharma didn’t necessarily satisfy my need to be a horrendous, money driven pharmaceutical magnate, in fact I was surprised at how often I was happy to absorb the additional costs to make better medicines, however it was a thoroughly enjoyable experience none the less. For those with a penchant for tycoon games, I would highly recommend it.
Midlife Gamer Rating: 7/10 Format: PC Release Date: 27/08/2015
Disclosure: Midlife Gamer were provided a copy of Big Pharma by the publisher for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of ten days. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.