Part business sim and part puzzle Big Pharma lets you take control of a pharmaceutical firm who sets out to answer one question: do you cure the world of illness or do you chase after the almighty dollar? Or maybe a bit of both?
Big Pharma is a good reminder to a graphics snob like me that a game doesn’t need to look like Blood Born to be brutally hard. The idea is to run a successful pharmaceutical company while meeting scenario targets by creating and selling medicinal cures to the world. You take raw materials found in nature and alter them to activate the desired effects while avoiding potentially nasty side effects. No one wants an antihistamine that also causes constipation. That’s just switching one problem for another.
The raw materials come in through a port in the wall and you need to create the cheapest and most efficient layout for your assembly line that will eventually turn that raw material into a pill or other method of delivery. Your assembly line is built by placing the right machines in order and connecting everything with conveyor belts. Each machine has an operating cost that eats into your profit so efficiency and using the same line to create multiple products is key. Sounds pretty easy but each machine has input and output ports that don’t always match up with the last section of your assembly line. Want to put an agglomerator in the corner to increase the effectiveness of your cold medication? Well sorry, it doesn’t fit, now you have to redesign the entire area to accommodate it. Yay.
Ingredients can be upgraded by reaching a specific range of concentration and running it through a certain machine. These upgraded ingredients can then be used to create more profitable cures for more complex diseases like diabetes. Some ingredients need to mixed with a catalyst to be upgraded leading to a whole other level of complicated. First you need to find the right catalyst, activate the right effect then mix the catalyst with the desired ingredient. Because it wasn’t hard enough before…
To discover new cures you need to hire and send intrepid explorers out into the wild. Each new ingredient you discover requires more explorers than the previous one, increasing the costs of getting your hands on new cures. When your bush whackers are not exploring they accrue points that can be used to decrease the cost of your ingredients. Scientists can be hired as well to research new machines and also accrue points that go towards decreasing operation costs.
In this cut throat world of altruistic profit seeking you are not alone. There are many other companies waiting in the wings itching to create knock offs of your products that cut into your hard earned market share. You are also at the mercy of the market with the demand for certain cures waxing and waning depending on the seasons and events.
Game play wise Big Pharma is pretty simple and intuitive. Right clicks delete machinery and conveyor belts, you can click and drag to connect machines and everything can be found in an easy to navigate side menu. The sheer complexity of the different elements of the game can take a while to learn but the challenge is fun rather than frustrating.
What I really like about the game is the social commentary. We rail against big pharmaceutical companies for not giving their products away to third word countries to eradicate preventable diseases or we become indignant when a new lifesaving drug costs thousands. This game makes a good point: the drug companies have very little motive to be altruistic. The research and production of their drugs costs a lot of money and giving everything away for free soon puts you out of business. It’s a poignant look at an aspect of our society that’s becoming an increasingly hot topic as companies take out patents for specific genes and medicine advances at an ever increasing rate. Like Tropico, Big Pharma presents an interesting topic with tongue and cheek humor in a fun to play game.
Preview by Breanna