This is a guest review by Ludovic
The East India Companies I have to admit was something that until very recently as someone born in Quebec I basically knew nothing of until the last two Pirates of the Caribbean movies, much to my shame considering the stake they had in history. So when I was asked to review East India Company, it actually piqued my interest in finding out a bit more about them, more so that in the movies. But, in the span of this review, it is about the game that I will talk and as such it is one that gives mixed feelings, though it is a good game.
East India Company is a rather straightforward game in its goals: You are in charge of the East India Company of one of the various European powers of the 1600's in the race to find good sea trading routes for the ever fabled Indies, lands of precious spices, tea and silks. As such, your goal could be easily summed by one simple word: profit. Still, that's far from being the whole gist of the game and in fact as the multiplayer will attest; it might even take a smaller part than you could otherwise think.
So let's start to dissect that gameplay:
First, as you start the game, you are met with the starting menu. From there, you can choose to start a new single player game, a multiplayer game, to continue a campaign or check the tutorials along with the usual options.
So, let's start with single player, you get to choose to start a single player game, a battle or a quick battle. To cover battle and quick battle right from the start, these are basically deathmatch like scenarios based on the game's tactical battles, whereas deathmatch is a battle against the computer in which you get to choose your "fleet" and the opponent's as well as some other settings. Quick Deathmatch is the same, however the settings are straightforward deathmatch style and fleets are randomly generated.
Now, however, the campaign is another deal entirely and where a lot of the game resides. Quite simply, in the campaign you choose which country's East India Company you want to manage. However, your starting nation seems to have mostly very little impact on actual gameplay that I know of, beyond your starting port.
Now, as for gameplay itself in the campaign, it is pretty straightforward. As one of the East India Companies your first and foremost goal is making profit by importing goods from the East Indies. As such, during the game, you will be faced mainly with two screens in particular. The first is the world map, which covers the various nations homeports in Europe and the various ports in Africa, the Middle East and East Indies with which you can trade or resupply at. Of the later "trading ports", there are two categories: General trade goods ports and Prime Trade Goods ports. The former are mainly useful to resupply as the goods tend to be of lesser importance, though still better than coming back home with an empty cargo hold, and as such tend to be less contested and likely to be invaded by a rival nation wanting to get a monopoly of a particular good. The later, however, are where it's at: precious goods that are high in demand and bring in great amounts of profit when brought back home. All regions of the world tend to have their own specific Prime goods, Africa has ivory and gold, the Middle East has coffee and the East Indies have tea, silks, spice and porcelain. The East Indies will often be the most important not only for profits but also for completing the various objectives set to you by your crown, such as bringing back a certain amount of a given product before a given year to avoid being closed down for being unable to meet demand.
Of course, talking about the ports is one thing, but the ports or even trade goods would be nothing were it not for the ships meant to ferry them and this is where a lot of the focus of East India Company is, in the management of the merchant fleet you are going to use to pave your way to riches.
As such, the base gameplay is rather simple. You start by building a ship in your homeport and then send it doing some bit of trading on the world map. As for trading, you can go at this in two ways. For micromanagement fanatics, you can hand-pick all of the export wares you want from your homeports, then sell them at a given port before proceeding to handpick the wares you want to bring back home to sell. For the more lazy players, you can simply automatic trade routes where your ship will constantly ferry back and forth between a chosen port and your homeport, buying and selling the best wares in both places in a continuous manner. Personally, this is the simplest and easiest way to go about it. Of course, as you proceed to make profits and such, your fleet will grow as you can add up to five ships in a single controllable fleet, each led by an unique "commander" character of varied skills which adds to your fleet's capacity (such as "skilled" negotiator which can net you some nice prices when trading).
Of course, different ships will have different statistics. Will you prefer many cheap and fast ships able to ferry rapidly small amounts of trading supplies for faster cash-ins, or lumbering fleets of larger ships for larger hauling of trade supplies and more guns for self-defence - I'll come to that soon.
These are just some of the choices you get/have to make throughout the game and the economic part does have some good level of detail. For example, if you swamp a port with one type of trade good, this will lower that good's value ... however, you can use this to your advantage by stockpiling some trade goods in your warehouses whilst waiting for prices to rise. Also, like any good imperial power of the era, you can also try to, ahem, "annex" ports as your property by invading them with fleets loaded up with marines in hope of conquering a port which gives you some bonus such as, amongst other things, permitting only you and your allies to use said port.
A slight annoyances I had with ports however is that to go into the upgrade menu, you need to load a new screen, away from the strategic map, which breaks away from what feels as an otherwise seamless experience. My only critic might possibly be that in the long run the campaign mode can become a bit repetitive despite the diplomatic options and so on.
However, this wouldn't be a game about the East India Companies if this didn't involve some form of naval combat, be it against pirates out for your goods or rival companies out to ruin your business. After all, as you grow in power, begin to get hold of a few ports for your nation, it is only normal that a few of your rivals decide to take competition beyond the sales of trade goods as you suddenly find the likes of cutters and galleons getting in your ship's way. Sometimes, it'll just be pirates from the various pirate ports deciding your cargo hold looked nice. No matter which party is involved however, the result is pretty much simple as you enter a tactical battle. As such, you are faced with two choices: Auto-resolves, which result in the game auto-calculating the damage done to all involved ships and thus who gets to win the encounter, and manual battle which starts a real-time battle between both fleets.
In a manual battle, you are brought to a face-off, as both your and the enemy's ships are all positioned on the water and asre quite realistically rocked by the sea's waves. As such, however, gameplay is kind of a mix of realism and slight arcade action. I say arcade because each part of a ship is divided into hitpoint-numbered sections and many commanders will come with "special abilities" of their own, but also realism as you can manoeuvre a ship to hide within the deeper part of a wave, using the wave itself as cover from incoming cannonballs whose velocity is broken by the crashing waters. At the basic speed, it is thus a bit more slow and methodical than what most might be used to, but it can be greatly satisfying. One of my only complaints about combat encounter, however, is that escape is only possible if you play in manual mode. So auto-resolving encounters between light ships and larger warships is often a sure way to end in your lighter ships' demise unless you're very lucky. It is a solid and occasionally quite entertaining mode, especially once you start juggling with the ability to directly control some ships for even tighter control. A slight annoyance of tactical combat is that it seems to be resource intensive. Granted I played on full settings, but a combat with full fleets on both sides actually managed to make even my very own quad core computer with 4 gigs of ram slow down.
East India Company has a bit of multiplayer. However, it focuses solely on deathmatches and some other objective based battles based upon a campaign's tactical battles, foregoing any of the campaign's trading and large scale strategic gameplay to focus only on ship to ship combats. While some may like this, those people who would have liked to play a multiplayer version of the campaign map might be disappointed.
The graphics in East India Company are actually well done and do the job they're assigned. In campaign mode, they give the strategic view a form of "board game" look which I don't necessarily dislike and tactical combat is quite decently represented by great graphics, though possibly at the expense of them being quite resource intensive in the larger scale battles, which might displease some people.
Likewise, the audio of the game is decent. Some of the unit quotes becomes repetitive at times, but it isn't as bad as other games before. Though not spectacular or wow-inducing, it doesn't strike as horrible either.
I include this section because it is something which for many, will make or break a game. Notably that in East India Company's case, the games note only requires internet activation. Not only that, but you will even quite literally need to re-enter your cd-key every time you patch. So far, there doesn't seem to be anything else than this, but those who this could already be enough to turn off are now warned.
The small bit about DRM over, I found East India Company a decent game to play. It's not a masterpiece, but it still delivers a nice and solid experience. However, the hefty system requirements, in a market that saw almost more laptops sales than desktops in the recent years, are a bit of a turn-down which prevents me from giving it a better recommendation.