Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Developer: Nitro Games
Minimum requirements: Windows XP or Vista, 1.6 ghz Intel Pentium or AMD Athlon CPU, 1 gb RAM (2 gb for Vista), 128 mb DirectX 9.0c video card with pixel shader 2, 4X DVD-ROM drive, DirectX 9.0c-compatible sound card, 6 gb free hard drive space, DirectX 9.0c.
Release date: July 28, 2009
In the 17th century, the known world was ruled not by military might, but by trade. And the international hub of this trade was India. Fleets of sailing ships from many nations, including England, France, Spain, Portugal and Holland, criss-crossed the Atlantic and Indian Oceans transporting cotton, silk, saltpetre, tea, opium and indigo dye from India to their home ports. The trips were long and arduous, and not without danger, as piracy was rampant. Publisher Paradox Interactive and developer Nitro Games want to give you a taste of life in this fascinating time with East India Company, a real-time strategy game that puts you in the captain’s chair for adventure on the high seas.
East India Company is a full-featured RTS that puts you in charge of all aspects of trade operations for your selected company. In Port mode you build ships and buildings, buy and sell cargo and conduct negotiations with rival companies. Strategy mode switches to a global overview of western Europe, where you give orders to your fleets (you can control as many as 20 fleets at a time, with five vessels per fleet). Epic sea battles are fought in Tactical mode, in which you can take personal control of your ships in fights with your enemies.
My preview build was somewhat limited in scope, but it gives a sufficient taste of the final version to come. A detailed, three-part tutorial shows you the basic gameplay elements, including the attractive, well designed interface and how to use it. Navigating the expansive map is easy; you can either scroll the map by moving the mouse pointer to the edges of the screen or by pressing the WASD or arrow keys. The fleets in your armada are indicated by commanders’ portraits at the bottom of the screen. Selecting one reveals icons for all of the fleet’s ships, where they are going and what they are carrying. Messages appear in a mailbox at the bottom right; these keep you updated on the world’s happenings as well as the progress of your current mission.
In the preview, I had a 10-year section of the main campaign to check out. My mission was to trade for and transport 2000 tons of tea using three separate fleets. I was also commanded to take control of two Indian ports held by enemies. After consulting the game info screen for the best ports with which to trade for tea, I sent my fleets off to those destinations to start trading. Using the mouse wheel to zoom back, I got a wider view of my fleets’ progress (the passage of time can be increased up to four times normal). During that time, messages informed me that one of my ports of call had been taken over by an enemy, forcing me to either try to reclaim it or reroute my ships to friendly ports. Occasionally I’d receive other side missions to complete, such as delivering an important document to a vital destination or finding and obtaining materials that my company needed. Attempting to take control of an enemy port is simple: when your attacking fleet arrives at the target, a dialogue box opens, showing you the forces each side can bring to bear and giving you the choice to continue or withdraw. Adjustments are made to your fleets after the conflict is resolved and the game continues on.
Along with the Campaign mode there are two chances for you to show your chops as a naval captain. In Battle mode, you select up to five ships for yourself and the AI opponent, and enter parameters for difficulty, realism, time of day, weather and length of game (from five minutes to no limit). Your job is to sink all of the opponent’s ships (if the timer runs out before all ships of either side are sunk, the fleet with the most remaining hit points wins). In Quick Battle mode, the computer creates the ships and the game parameters and puts you straight into the battle.
Graphics-wise, East India Company looks gorgeous. In the Port mode, citizens can be seen randomly going about their business among very detailed streets and buildings. In Strategy mode, the intelligently designed interface keeps everything you need out of the way but right at your fingertips. And in Tactical mode, you sit back and watch as ships of the line blaze away at each other, set against a constantly moving blue sea. There are problems, to be sure, mostly in the tutorial levels (large chunks of text are missing in the text windows, and ships don’t move when they’re ordered to move). But those with an interest in this fascinating period in history will find East India Company to be a fulfilling, and perhaps even informative, RTS when it finds it’s way to store shelves on July 28, 2009.