Title: Big Pharma
Publisher: Positech Games
Developer: Twice Circled
Reviewed On: PC
Note: This game was reviewed in a pre-release state. The game may have changed at the time of full release.
I have never really been a fan of the puzzle genre — games that require you to sit back and think for long periods of time in order to advance. This may stem back to me being truly dreadful at them, or it may be that I’m too busy to have time to learn and appreciate them as a genre. For me, a puzzle game needs to be very easy to pick up and must grip me from the onset.
This is something that Big Pharma, the latest game from the creators of Democracy 3, did very well. The game mixes puzzle gameplay with a kind of basic management simulation. Your job is to create drugs (medical ones only) for sale to the public. The game has you invest in the research of new processes and ingredients while also contriving the manufacture in a simple, yet effective, math-based puzzle game. Each ingredient will give you at least one cure or side effect, and each separate effect will only be triggered within the final drug at a certain number, so it’s your job to use crazy machinery to increase or decrease the ingredients’ value so that the drug is the best and, most importantly, the most lucrative for you.
Once you get past the very basic gameplay, you start to discover how deep and complex the game actually is. Making simple drugs is easy, but to create more profitable and exciting cures you must develop more machinery and master more complex ideas. Not only can you increase and decrease an ingredient’s amount but you can also combine ingredients, move the effects around within the ingredient to make it more advantageous, and split manufacture into multiple drugs for the same ingredient. Luckily, the game has a “learn by play” set of tutorials that should let the player dive in relatively well-prepared for what lies ahead.
The game also benefits from being separated into individual missions and features a sandbox mode to help players grow accustomed to the game. In earlier levels, the game will have you make a certain amount of revenue or create so many of a certain cure within a time period. Each mission has three victory objectives, usually based on time or exceeding the mission objective, so there is some reward in maximizing your efficiency and cost-effectiveness. All this adds up to a compelling and, for the most part, enjoyable experience.
The aesthetic of the game really helps to make Big Pharma a fun experience. The medical vibe mixed with cartoon-like machines reminds me fondly of Bullfrog’s Theme Hospital, while the use of puns in the design of many of the items also helps to mix the serious and the silly in the game.
However, Big Pharma does have some issues that take from the enjoyment of the game. There are periods in the game where the player is just waiting for something to happen; either to earn enough money to build an item, for research or to complete their objective. In these cases the game feels too slow, and would really benefit from additional speed options. While the game does allow you to increase the speed, the five-times speed of games like Crusader Kings 2 would really help Big Pharma to flow better. The game is also a fairly large time commitment, as even the early levels can take upwards of 40 minutes to do well, with frequent pausing. This means that the player has to be in the mood for an extended session, or the game will just feel like a drag. This issue would also be helped by an increased speed mode. I also found myself turning off the in-game music and replacing it with my own. The soundtrack is certainly not bad, but in long sessions it can become irritating, and seems to lack variety.
However, in Big Pharma I found it easy to look past these issues. While I was unable to sit for hours and hours playing this game it proved to be fun in small doses, maybe a level or so each session. While there is certainly room for improvement here and there, the game itself is very solid. I can see myself coming back to Big Pharma again and again when the puzzle mood overtakes me.
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