It's been a long time since we've seen a new city management title, SimCity is legendary in this genre but even then the last major release was back in 2003 (later followed by it's expansion), with no notable new releases on the horizon. Thankfully, UK-based developer Deep Red and Atari noticed this trend, and tried to capitalize on it, producing the "ultimate New York experience" in Tycoon City: New York. Unfortunately, in the process they seem to have left out all of the challenge that made the SimCity series so enjoyable.
Getting started, Tycoon City: New York takes you through a brief gameplay tutorial introducing players to the basic elements of the game, building, upgrading, and a few of the menus. There isn't a whole lot there in terms of content, but what is there is absolutely brilliant, one of the best scripted and well-designed tutorials I've ever seen. To illustrate the point that not all buildings are "compatible" (as in you probably shouldn't build a lingerie store next to a church), Luco, our tutorial guide, makes the remark "...they hate it, they hate you, and they probably hate your mother too" in perfect New York style. This brief tutorial gets the game off on the right foot, if only the same could be said for the longevity.
Tycoon City: New York gives players a couple of modes of play, sandbox and build New York. Sandbox mode is just that, start with the entire city unlocked and build to your hearts content. Build New York puts you at the helm of a major company to construct a New York empire. You'll start off with a small bit of cash, and accept 'opportunities' offered up by citizens walking the streets. Whether it's building a profitable night hotspot, or simply increasing the customer satisfaction rating of your restaurants, these opportunities are fairly diverse and offer up a fair reward if completed. The city itself is divided into twelve different districts; all well researched, and as you progress through the campaign these districts become available. You'll start out in the Greenwich Village district of Manhattan, a small sparsely populated area oriented towards student life. Eventually you'll travel to Chinatown, Times Square, Liberty Island, and everything in between. Each district sports a unique look and feel reflecting its population, and offers up unique themes, festivals, and other events. The amount of research put forth is one of the definite strengths of the title.
Another strength of Tycoon City: New York is the massive amount of customization possible. The game features over a hundred different buildings; coffee shops, restaurants, nightclubs, stores, hotels, theatres, and even oh so sexy lingerie boutiques. Constructing a new building is relatively straightforward, select the location you wish to place it, the building type, and then line it up against a street. Before placing the building, you can quickly gauge how the locals will feel about it, as surrounding buildings turn different shades of green, yellow, and red (indicating they'll either love it or hate it). This is an innovative idea, and it would have been nice if it was taken further; perhaps by indicating direct competitors or competing firms in the area with a symbol. As you build across the city, you can eventually establish "chains" of stores, amassing you empire even further. Finally, players can establish their own "districts", by placing similar businesses in groups; you can create a shopping district where people come to buy their luxury items, or simply to grab a bite to eat. The amount of freedom and customization here is impressive, if only the game offered more longevity for those who like a challenge it would be hard to overshadow in this respect.
After laying the foundations for your buildings, it's time to upgrade them. Tycoon City: New York offers two types of upgrade points, building and global. Each individual structure has a maximum number of upgrade points available, and as you apply upgrades points, are taken from your global pool (thus, restricting how many updates you can do across your businesses). Upgrades can be broken down into five categories, appeal (decorations, lighting), customer satisfaction (benches, trees, and equipment), capacity (tables, chairs), sphere of influence (signs, banners, billboards), and special updates. The number of upgrades available is staggering, just another demonstration of the incredible customization aspect of Tycoon City: New York.
One of the most innovative aspects is the superb camera management system. The game allows you to quickly zoom in to the street level, or pan across the city and view the horizon in only a few clicks. By right clicking on an area, it creates a "pivot" point in which the camera is free to rotate. Left clicking selects a building, land plot, or other object, and the mouse scroller (or appropriate keyboard mapping) zooms in and out of the city. By clicking and holding the center mouse (scroller) button, you can quickly pan around the city. The innovative camera system not only allows you to experience the models in full detail, you can also create beautiful scenes from any angle, New York style.
Graphically, Tycoon City: New York is a work of art. The detail presented in each structure is beautiful, and the game is surprisingly scalable. Even with hundreds of cars and pedestrians walking in the streets, the game remains very playable, and the sunset casting over the horizon is a sight to behold. Depending on your zoom distance, the level of detail changes, the closer to the street you get the more individual details are present. Building styles change depending on the district they are placed, another nice little touch. Although a few minor graphical glitches worked their way into the final release, this one really renders New York the way it was meant to be seen.
Gameplay wise, Tycoon City: New York is a mixed bag. On one hand, the gameplay is incredibly deep, with near total control in the construction and customization of new buildings. For fans of sandbox mode, the gameplay is near endless, hundreds of buildings are available, and you can head out and make the best New York possible. On the other hand, anyone who is looking for a challenge or a "management" simulation will be sorely disappointed. The biggest flaw in Tycoon City New York is that it's lacking in the strategy portion, there is no challenge whatsoever. Since the concept of taxes, penalties, fees, or even staff salaries has been neglected, there is no possible way to fail. In fact, businesses can't lose money; they can only make "less" profit. This results in a very repetitive gameplay strategy, as it just utilizes the same cycle time and time again. Select and construct a building, upgrade it, and watch the money roll in. Lather, rinse, and repeat.
Tycoon City New York is built upon a great premise, and delivers as promised in most areas. Unfortunately, the gameplay is very shallow, and if you're looking for a strategy game then you'd best look elsewhere. However, if your enjoyment comes from the sandbox mode, building, customizing, and creating the ultimate city to the finest detail, then you won't find a better game that serves this purpose then Tycoon City: New York.