What a lovely game Monopoly is. You can sit around a table with your whole family, buying streets, erecting houses, watching granddad push the dear old boot around the board. Then he lands on your three-hotel Mayfair and all hell breaks loose. You snatch every last penny from his withering hands, the bank confiscates all his property and the whole table erupts into a maelstrom of abuse. Monopoly has been breeding cutthroat capitalists for more than 70 years, and it's this aspect of the board game Milton Keynes-based Deep Red is concentrating on this time round. "We've done two versions of Monopoly already while at Hasbro Interactive," says Deep Red director Clive Robert, "and we wanted to take it to the next level."
The next level sees Monopoly transformed into a sophisticated 3D strategy game that concentrates on real-time multiplayer action and the sort of non-stop fun you'd never expect to see in a business title. But although it might look like a chunky and colourful version of SimCity, the nature of this particular beast couldn't be more different.
For starters, it's scenario-based rather than free-form. The bustling city is already there when you start a game, so you don't have to mess around laying down roads and sewage systems. The core of the game, no matter what the objective of each scenario, is to build shops according to demand and try and outsell your rivals.
Each single-player scenario and multiplayer game starts off in 1930, which is when the board game first appeared, so the game has a refreshingly old-fashioned style to begin with. It's all about corner shops and small businesses. As the years roll by (five per game day) different shops become available, so you can start replacing ballrooms and bars with nightclubs and pool halls, eventually progressing to today's amusement arcades and video stores.
Monopoly is, of course, a turn-based game, but Deep Red was determined to make this a more intense experience and one which wouldn't allow anyone to go off and make a cuppa while thinking of their next move. "You're under pressure all the time, so there's no time to sit back and relax," says Clive. This soon became apparent while I was sitting in Deep Red's offices, thrown into a multiplayer match. I was still experimenting with the camera and asking probing questions such as "What does this button do?" when my more experienced opponents had already built a five-storey apartment block, a bakery and a butchers. Thankfully I had creative director Jon Law as my right-hand man, and I'd soon begun building my own empire. With his guidance and my opponents' over-confidence at facing a newbie, I actually managed to win. Developers know what bad losers journalists can be.
Building shops might not sound that exciting, but as anyone who has played their brilliant Risk II will know, Deep Red knows a thing or two about gameplay. Checking up on each of your stores to see how many products they're selling becomes much more compelling when you have to start a price war with a neighbouring shop. The sound of money chinging into your bank account is incredibly satisfying and there are a load of features and details to keep you occupied. Auctions are Monopoly Tycoon's way of leasing streets. You can build on any block as long as it isn't owned by another player with building rights. If you buy a street that your opponents have shops on you can stop them from building any more, as well as collecting a nice rent at the start of each day. Of course, once you own a colour set of blocks you can start constructing hotels to attract the city's tourists.
When night falls the lampposts start lighting the darkening streets, and business shifts to cinemas, restaurants and pool halls. It takes all your self-discipline not to go build-crazy just to see what happens if you open a nightclub next to your rival's bar. Luckily, Deep Red doesn't want to make you a slave to the bank as you are in the likes of SimCity. Going into the red is allowed (as long as you manage to bounce back into credit within 24 hours) and you can usually get away with spending large amounts of cash and still win as long as your investments are sound. "We started off making it so that your bank balance was one of the most important elements for winning," says Clive "but it just meant that nobody ever spent anything and the game got boring."
There's little chance of that happening in the version I've been happily playing with for the past week. Monopoly Tycoon looks set to successfully follow the original Theme Park in the addictive quality of its gameplay. You can forget all the Theme, Tycoon and Sim games from the last few years. There are already plans afoot to create a couple of addon packs, one of which will include a game editor. Deep Red has also got a load of new scenarios up its sleeve and wants to do something with the criminal side of the game which isn't touched upon here. The jail was always a big part of the original, and the developers are keen to incorporate that element into it. Whether this includes hiring a bunch of goons to smash up your rival's shops or pick up protection money from small businesses remains to be seen, but you can see the potential for it already. I would put money on this being a huge game - it certainly deserves to be.
Download Monopoly Tycoon
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP
What a filthy, disgusting capitalist society we live in. Take last Christmas' biggest sellers, for instance. Championship Manager is all about looking after your bank balance, playing around with transfer fees and ensuring your players' wages are not too high, and as for Who Wants To Be a Millionaire, the title is explanation enough. But Monopoly is where it all really started, teaching children to love dough as much as mother's milk and preparing us all for the cheating, purse-grabbing world ahead. And while Monopoly Tycoon doesn't give you the satisfaction of seeing your mate land on your four-house and two-hotel property, it's still all about pound signs replacing your pupils. The real soundtrack to the game is the sound of coins falling on one another. And a very nice sound it is, too.
As you probably already know, this is a very different version of Monopoly than the one we're used to, swapping the turn-based gameplay for fast-paced real-time and the flat surface of a board for a three dimensional city full of people, cars and an avid desire to consume. Comparisons to SimCity are inevitable. It is a simulated city after all. But Tycoorts gameplay is much closer to the classic Theme Park than any city-building god game. Although you can buy blocks, build houses and erect hotels, the game is about opening shops, bars, cinemas and anything else that will get the punters in and spending their money. Instead of the freeform nature of something like SimCity or Caesar III, Tycoon is very much scenario driven, so it's not all about starting from scratch. More importantly, there is no micromanagement whatsoever, beyond setting the prices of the products in each of your shops (which is important when you're trying to outsell an opponent). Each scenario sets out a goal you must achieve before any of your rivals (personifications of the board's playing pieces, with the shoe turning into a cobbler and so on), and which ranges from making a certain amount of money within one day, having the wealthiest empire by a certain year or even becoming mayor.
It can all seem a bit overwhelming at first, especially for people who are more familiar with the traditional Monopoly board game than sophisticated computer strategy titles. But Tycoon does a magnificent job of easing you into the interface and the intricacies of the gameplay, with a set of well designed tutorials and some easy and achievable first scenarios.
Take A Chance On Me
Another of the Monopoly staples is also present and correct: the chance cards. They appear every so often in the corner of your screen and, while you don't have to click on them, the curiosity of seeing if it's a good one or a bad one is irresistible. They're often small rewards (win a $200 inheritance) or slight annoyances (pay a $200 hospital bill), but now and again a card pops up that can turn a game. Perhaps the most dramatic is the bad publicity card, which makes every shop in a targeted block sell next to nothing for a day. Others produce strikes in selected shops or make it easier to take over other's property. Like most Theme Park-style games, Tycoon is unbelievably addictive for a short period of time, but it's difficult to imagine yourself playing it for more than a few days at a time. However, like Deep Red's previous game, Risk 2, it's a title you can keep coming back to at any time for a couple of hours of fun. The game really comes into its own in multiplayer mode, but this suffers from being a bit too slow - you can't speed up the time - particularly if you set up a game against computer controlled opponents.
We're promised add-on packs in the future that will feature loads more scenarios as well as integrating one of the most recognisable Monopoly elements: the prison. This will also introduce a crime element, which should add some much needed spice to what is a fun, but ultimately too one-dimensional, title.
Land on Euston Station, pay $500
Although bookshops, pool halls, amusement arcades and cinemas are all alien to the original Monopoly concept, other elements of the board game have been cleverly integrated. Railroads aren't there |ust so you can get all four of them and make more money every time you pass go. Workers commute from other cities and tourists arrive with a wad of cash burning holes in their pockets. Similarly, the utility properties (Gas, Electricity, Telecom and Water) aren't simple window dressing. Every shop needs electricity (cinemas and arcades more than others), bakers and restaurants use up a lot of gas, diners and cafes get large bills from the water company and travel agencies and doctor's surgeries are among the telephone company's main customers. Owning any of these companies reduces your own cost, which also means other players are paying directly into your pocket. Toasty.