Big Pharma

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This one was hot stuff on Broken Forum for a while and I thought that the idea of combining substances in a factory to make pharmaceutical products was pretty novel. It’s really just a matter of running the inputs through the correct sequences of machines and it plays out on a two-dimensional factory floor, so it’s not anything too complicated. With all of the conveyor belts going everywhere and the strange shapes of the machinery, there’s even a Rube Goldberg quality to the art style.

It’s a fairly standard tycoon game setup. You usually start with access to a couple of ingredients. Each ingredient has a good medicinal effect and at one bad side effect. A given substance has a concentration rating from 1 to 20, and each effect, whether good or bad, has a band of such values during which they are active. Passing the substance through machines allows you to adjust the concentration rating, so you ideally want to arrive at a rating at which only the good effects are active. You hire prospectors to uncover new ingredients and scientists to do research. Research can unlock many new types of machines, make existing ones cheaper to run and give you some nifty options, like patenting your formulas to prevent competitors from manufacturing the same products. Like in any respectable tycoon game, while you’re doing all this your competitors are doing the same thing. Multiple companies mass producing the same drug will bid up the cost of the ingredients and bid down the sales value. Some AI opponents will even patent their cures and lock you out of them.

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This comes with a ton of scenarios, so many in fact that you’ll likely be sick of the game before you even get half way through them. Objectives range from straightforward ones like earning a specific amount of money within the time limit to trickier ones like creating a single product with a sale value of over $1,500. This can only be done by creating a compound drug that has more than one medicinal and they had both better be high-level ones to be worth that. The game’s available achievements on Steam give you some idea of what’s possible: one of them is awarded for creating a wonder drug that is a cancer vaccine, cure’s Alzheimer’s Disease and cures HIV, all at the same time. You’ll need to juggle a lot of different ingredients and catalysts to get that one.

The game mechanics aren’t that deep and my opinion is that it takes a very simple system and tries to make it do too much work. There’s some challenge in figuring how to combine different ingredients in the most efficient way, but for the most part what you need to do is pretty straightforward. The only real constraint is figuring out how to do it within the available factory space. There may be a lot of sophisticated machinery at the end of the research tree, for example, the ultraviolet curer instantly zaps the concentration of any substance in put to 1, but most scenarios seem to end well before you gain access to them. I don’t even think that they’re all that useful due to the large amount of space they require and their slow processing time. I find that I only ever resort to the big machines if a given drug’s upgrade path absolutely requires that it be processed by one.

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It’s a decent enough game but there’s no deep strategy involved and the pacing is just way off. It forces you to pay too much gamer tax to get access to the interesting machines and thus overstays its welcome. One the most damning things about it is that it oddly lacks any charm whatsoever. There are no attempts to liven it things up or to inject some personality or add touches of humor. You’d think that they could add some workers walking around doing entertaining animations or use the world events to tell the occasional joke or have the rival CEOs trash talk you a bit. But there’s just nothing outside of the Steam achievements that you get for creating drugs that both cure an ailment and cause that ailment. Combine that with the amount of time that you’ll need to put in to get through a decent chunk of the scenarios and this eventually becomes a bit of a slog to go through.

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