By: Brian Gunn
Offworld Trading Company is the ambitious first title from Mohawk Games, which counts the lead designer of Civilization IV among its founders.
Like most strategy games, Offworld Trading Company is heavily mouse and interface controlled. There are hot keys for most actions, but there’s so many things to do they are mostly slower than just clicking what you want. That being said, the usual functions are all here and easy to do like constructing a building or buying something from the black market.
There are a lot of advanced things you can do as well, such as clicking a resource you need, which will toggle through all the available nodes so you don’t have to manually search for some rare silicon.
Offworld Trading Company has a pleasant cartoonish appearance. The story sequences are all presented with something reminiscent of The Jetsons‘ vision of the future, and the CEOs and loading screens are wonderfully designed.
Actual gameplay is a little more grounded, though still has flair of sleek futurism. Some detail is lost in the rather distant camera view, with a few buildings lacking a distinct enough visual design to quickly tell them apart or glean information.
There’s not much to the sound design, as the game, like many strategy titles, opts for quiet. There are a few tracks of typical sci-fi electronic and symphonic that fit the tone rather well, but they tend to fade into the background.
A ubiquitous AI voice when a resource is discovered or an enemy upgrades their headquarters works well for situational awareness and adds a dose of personality to the mix as well.
In the future, mankind has colonized space, which a pretty common concept. Instead of thrusting you into the shoes of an explorer or colonist, however, Offworld Trading Company is more concerned with commerce. How do those colonists get their food, oxygen and supplies? Through good old capitalism, it appears.
Each map plants the player into an area with an established colony that you don’t have any control over. Players then select a CEO and compete with up to three other CEOs for their business. You’ll need to plan ahead as to what sort of resources you’ll need to keep making money as well as upgrading your headquarters, with the goal being to buy up all of your competitor’s stock and take them over.
Planning ahead is crucial. Players start with only a few land claims, which means you’re stuck being unable to build things once used up. Upgrading your HQ will get you more, but if you make some bad decisions early on, you might not have the materials to upgrade it, which means going into debt buying them yourself, or in some extreme cases just waiting things out.
Each resource typically plays into a variety of buildings. For instance, water is needed to supply food production as well as being used for oxygen and fuel. Keeping track of what resources feed into what can be a little daunting at first, but you’ll soon become a well-oiled machine.
There are four distinct companies to run, and they all play fairly differently. For instance, one run by robots obviously doesn’t need food, which means you can safely ignore producing it, though an advanced player might decide to build a farm anyway as it’s an easy stockpile to sell.
Another group researches upgrades easier, or has ties to the black market that gives them some sabotage opportunities. Each group also has unique headquarter upgrades to go for, so while one will need to rush toward steel production, another focuses on electronics. Furthermore, each of the four companies has two different CEOs to play as with their own unique benefits, so there are many play styles to choose from.
Multiplayer is a tense highlight and plays out in the same way the basic skirmish matches do. However, there’s also a surprisingly in-depth campaign mode. Here you’ll have to manage your company over several weeks and several different deployments. You’ll need to hire staff and unlock some of the buildings, and instead of each map being about buying out your rivals it’s about buying shares in the colony, which can unlock powerful bonuses for the rest of the campaign.
Offworld Trading Company offers a lot of interesting content with varying degrees of difficulty, allowing it to attract a diverse audience. Some could play while barely touching some of the advanced features and still keep up, but it’s also got more than enough depth to satisfy hardcore players as well.