Twice Circled pharmaceutical business sim / puzzle hybrid Big Pharma has launched into Open Beta today and we’ve been given VIP access to the factory floor, but is this pill-making sim easy to swallow or is it as effective as a homoeopathic remedy.
Upon receiving the press release for Big Pharma I was immediately thrown back to a simpler time of gaming, a time where bloaty heads and slack tongues were the worst of my worries. That’s right, Theme Hospital, the hospital management sim from Bullfrog Entertainment. The way Big Pharma presents itself with its isometric layout and cartoon-like machinery induced a shot of nostalgia right into my sternum. Immediately I wanted to play it, and I’m darn glad I did.
Big Pharma is a pretty complex game which blends both business sim with puzzle game. The business side of things has players figuring out how to create the best possible medicine in the cheapest way possible, whether that’s replacing multiple machines with one that does three-times the work, or using researchers to figure out how to make machinery run cheaper. The second element, the puzzle, comes from how players figure out how to make each treatment as well as how each machine is laid out to consume as little space as possible.
Players are required to figure out how to make a desired medicine by either increasing or decreasing the concentration of a base ingredient in order to get the right score to either produce the medicine, or upgrade the medicine to cure another illness. Each ingredient has a total of three possible cures with the third and final cure being the hardest to obtain. Players bring in a base ingredient then put it through a series of machines to alter the concentration, once the desired concentration is met, players can then produce either a pill or a cream and then ship the product.
Achieving the first cure is the easiest, it usually requires you to run the ingredient through one or two machines in order to achieve the right concentration, then you can ship it off. The second one requires to reach a certain concentration then running it through a required machine in order to evolve the ingredient into something else, then the process starts all over again. The third time around you’ll be required to introduce a catalyst into the mix, this is done by mixing two correct ingredients together to achieve the desired combination, then hitting the right concentration, then running it through the required machine, then once again starting from the beginning.
Oh, and it’s worth mentioning that each machine isn’t just a straight in then out, each type of machinery has its own shape-like structure where the ingredient comes in one way, and goes out another. It could go in at the top, and come out on the right. This requires you to get your Tetris brain out to figure the best and most space efficient way to create a production line. Then using researchers, you can discover more complex machinery that does three times or double that of the starting machines. These up production, but also come at a cost.
By this point your production line is probably incredibly long, complex, and confusing. This is where the business side comes in. Once you’ve started shipping your product you’ll either be pulling in a profit or a loss with the latter being the most desirable outcome. Though depending on the set mission at hand you can pass through the entire level using bank loan after bank loan. Most of the time however you’ll want to remain profitable.
The business side of things requires you to make tough decisions on whether you’re going to keep researchers and explorers, or fire them until they’re needed. It’s also going to require you to debate whether a loan is really necessary at this point. It’s also going to require you to either compete and challenge your competitors, or get along with your own business. Though early on in the game you can go through without worrying about what your competitors are doing.
You’ll also be able to keep up with trends too, with bulletins alerting you that there’s demand for a certain type of drug or an over saturation of a type of medication. This will allow you to up the scale of production, or temporarily close the line until things are looking up.
Like I said, the game is incredibly complex and upon starting up the game and running through the tutorials I still found it a little difficult to get my head around. I think that might be where Big Pharma falls short. It wasn’t until I just ploughed through the tutorial that I figured out how to do everything, but it came with a lot of trial and error. With the game currently being in Open Beta, chances are things will be greatly improved as time goes on. The game is already showing itself to be a fantastic game, and if you can figure out how things work early on, you’re going to thoroughly enjoy yourself.
Big Pharma is incredibly addictive and will be one I find myself playing for a long-time coming. It has charming aesthetics, a pretty great concept, and once you do work out how to achieve the more difficult cure, there’s a real sense of achievement you get once your $700 pill is shipping out the door.
Anyway, I could talk about this all day but I want to be able to leave something for our full review when the game finally ships. Would I recommend the game in its current state. Yes I definitely would, though I’d advise you to stick with the tutorial before calling it quits.
Big Pharma is currently in Open Beta and can be purchased direct from the official website.