Games from Impressions are remarkable in the range of reactions they seem to generate in both reviewers and readers alike. Some people seem to run for cover, while others relish the in-depth strategy that the range offers, even if the graphics, sound and general presentation do occasionally seem to be more of an afterthought. There is rarely a concensus as to each game's merit.
There's little doubt that the company is a prolific game developer, but while it churns out fairly routine strategy games month after month, it has never really hit the big time. Most people's views are coloured by the painful memories of embarrassing, animated soldiers marching around excruciatingly two-dimensional terrain. The original Rorke's Drift might have been a notable British victory, but for Impressions it was a defeat that they've spent a long time trying to live down.
On the other hand. Impressions games have certainly improved of late. The Blue And The Gray, an American Civil War game, was an altogether better war game than most. The latest addition to the range is nothing if not original because instead of blood, gore and bullets, Detroit is entirely pacifist in its approach. Well, that's debatable - it's about the car industry.
Detroit casts you in the role of a visionary designer and entrepreneur in the Henry Ford mould. All you have to do is dominate the world by building bigger and better cars than your competitors and in doing so, clean up the world market. You only have a hundred years, so you have to hurry.
Fair enough, it's an unlikely idea for a strategy/sim game, but then we've already had all kinds of weird and wonderful sims, from railroading in the USA and futuristic spice-collecting claptrap in Dune, to pigs and hens in Sim Farm. MicroProse gave up thinking of something original to simulate and just did the whole of civilisation from start to finish. How unimaginative.
On the road
The game comes on two high-density disks and unpacks to nearly 800 files in a single directory. I'm sure this must slow the game down more than necessary. The manual is brief but comprehensive, except when it comes to the whys and wherefores. Then again, this is a common problem in strategy and war games. To simulate, you have to have an idea of which factors are important and which aren't. Take the business of colour: what difference does a red car make? Or a yellow one? If you're not given ground rules, how can you make decisions? Well, there's a clever hints sheet supplied which provides you with just the amount of help you need, but it still doesn't explain why, of course.
The game suffers from frequent disk-drive access, though the Smartdrive cache improves matters no end. If you own a small, slow hard drive, say 40MB or less, or a processor at the low end of the scale, such as a 286, you'll need some patience. Even turning off the superfluous sound doesn't help that much. With a moderately fast 386, though, and a reasonably-sized hard drive, you should be able to overcome the temptation to hit something every time you change screens.
I'm also rather doubtful about Detroit's value as a simulation - there's not enough background detail in the manual to allow you to make realistic decisions, except by trial and error, though you do get a hint card if you want to get an idea of the optimum settings for the starting month, Back in the real world, Ford might have the lion's share of the world market but they're in debt to the tune of several billion dollars - a situation which isn't allowed in the rather simplistic game world. Other factors have been ignored in the supply and demand equation, such as the issue of reliability, which should perhaps have been included as one of the areas of technology to invest in.
Just to rub salt in the wound, the interface leaves a few things to be desired. Like consistency. Don't get me wrong. It's a nice, user- friendly design and while it depends a little too much on the mouse, it's easy to get to grips with. However, on some menus, the Next and Previous buttons cycle through territories where there are no factories or offices, which is a bit irritating. Also, the keyboard shortcuts change from one menu to the next. For instance, the Assign button might be a on one and i on another. Very sloppy.
A bit of help or advice wouldn't go amiss either - it's all too easy to forget to do something vital, like fixing the price of a car in a territory and then rapidly moving ahead six months just when you think you've cracked it. Only to discover that when you do eventually look closely at the territory in question, there's a huge stockpile laughing you in the face....
On the other hand, and far more importantly, Detroit is a cracking-good, real "play till 2.00 in the morning" game. There haven't been many of those lately, so it's all the better for it. The strategy element provides a genuine challenge and while it is easy to make a marginal profit, it's much harder to keep up with the front runner and win. Even if you master the game pretty quickly on the start level, there are five other levels of increasing difficulty. What's more, you can always try handicapping yourself by building your first factory in Eastern Europe and building Trabants or Wartburgs. I've always thought a Trabby convertible would have gone down well in the old workers' paradise.... The main thrust of the game is a delicate balancing act between developing new technology, introducing new models, and altering your manufacturing levels to cope with increasing or decreasing demand, while getting value for money out of your work force and paying them what it takes to get the job done efficiently. A great game for the Tory voters - if there are any left out there.
There's certainly plenty to do and hardly a month goes by without something needing to be altered or fine tuned, which is a good sign. Any game that lets you trundle from turn to turn, wondering if you're doing the right thing, is sadly lacking in my book. Detroit goes a long way towards proving that Impressions has got over the hump at last. The company has a lot to live down, of course - those crass little figures in Rorke's Drift will go down in the annals of wargaming history as one of the hobby's most damaging inventions. However, with more games like this one, they'll soon make amends. As far as I'm concerned, they already have done.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP