Rise of Industry is a middle-of-the-road business simulator that somehow manages to simultaneously embody addictive fun and irritating mundanity.
After a productive year in early access on Steam, Dapper Penguin Studios' Rise of Industry delivers on its promise of a pretty sim that's sure to please the tycoon genre purists out there while also easing newcomers into what makes the genre so fun. Though players will enjoy the many hours that they'll spend with Rise of Industry, there's always an underwhelming sense it didn't quite reach its potential before full release. For all its outward polish, what the game does right is eventually overshadowed by small, persistent annoyances, the absence of a competent tutorial or campaign, and a shocking lack of personality despite having all the necessary ingredients.
Rise of Industry sports three main modes - Career, Scenarios, and Sandbox - with Career serving as the de facto main mode due to its more fixed rules and inclusion of the game's impressive Tech Tree. Scenarios offers similar gameplay but allows for a highly tailored experience in nearly every way, leaving end goals and any combination of self-limitations up to the player. For those who either want to push the game's mechanics to their limits or simply produce their goods in peace, Sandbox does away with the shackles of the Tech Tree and money itself, letting players build and experiment to their hearts' content.
As the game's most straightforward offering, Career tasks the player with making their way through the game's Tech Tree of specialized goods, choosing in-demand products to procure or manufacture, and getting their commodities to markets throughout the game world in order to make as much money as possible. Players start off with nothing but a company HQ, the rights to build structures in their region of choice, and a starter loan with deferred repayment, as well as three Tech Tree freebies to get them started on their path toward specialization.
And there's a lot of room for specialization, as players who started as humble farmers and ended up becoming breakfast food moguls in one playthrough can easily find market demand pushing them into high-end toys or consumer electronics in another. Depending on player contribution to a number of local economies, in-game towns will very slowly evolve alongside players' growing businesses, requiring players to watch rudimentary market trends and be ready to adapt. Strangely, the changing needs and desires of towns never seem to follow the causal logic of supply and demand in any environmentally subtle or graphically overt ways, but this is far from the game's biggest flaw.
Though Rise of Industry's Career does has a vague goal, the game is really all about the journey rather than the destination - and it's one hell of a challenging journey. There are difficulty modifiers that help determine just how difficult a playthrough will be, but players start with next to nothing no matter what. However, they'll quickly find their capitalist empire growing in size and scope faster than their starting wallet can keep up, meaning that the sprawling, highly interconnected production chains that they begin piecing together need to be well-regulated (not by the government, of course) and well-planned. Otherwise, players can all but guarantee that their budding company will hemorrhage funds until it inevitably fails.
While the outcome of a playthrough is ultimately up to player action, it can be frustrating when the game's budget overview shows that a once burgeoning venture has suddenly dropped into the red despite the player seemingly having followed the game's minimal instructions. Most of the time this occurs, it will turn out that there is an inefficiency or complete break in some key part of an otherwise profitable production chain. For whatever reason, Rise of Industry's UI does little to nothing to notify the player of these lapses even though the game has a perfectly serviceable onscreen alert system for similar issues.
Rise of Industry is also plagued by a common malady that widely afflicts the large-scale simulation genre: the regrettable lack of a sufficient tutorial. While many games like it often begin their campaigns with tutorials of varying style and depth, or simply guise their tutorials in the skin of traditional campaigns, Rise of Industry's tutorial exists completely separate from its other modes. This would be fine if it weren't for the fact that the game's tutorial utterly refuses to teach players about a portion of the game's more nuanced mechanics and is so on-rails that players aren't prepared for dynamic situations once they arise. It's a well-intentioned introduction that's kept brief and to-the-point to avoid keeping players from the main game, but it overlooks so much that it's a shame it isn't accompanied by any advanced tutorials.
The game's difficulty and lapses in player knowledge aren't insurmountable, though. When (or if) these hurdles are overcome, players will discover an astonishing amount of a mechanical depth to Rise of Industry. As production is the name of the game, players can be as hands-on as they desire. The game empowers micro-managing players to tweak the efficiency of individual buildings, determine precise quantities to be held and shipped at every location, and even set the exact routes of individual supply trucks. Genre die-hards will obviously love Rise of Industry for this, but other will probably getting bored of constantly watching menus and charts and triple-checking the specifics of every facility to avert the ever-looming threat of financial disaster.
A counter to this could be that anyone who dislikes the above menial legwork in a tycoon game is likely just not a fan of the genre, but that misses the fact that Rise of Industry's UI puts form over function. Though they're every bit as minimal and outwardly attractive as the game's low-poly art style, the windows tied to structures are unwieldy because they're proportionally fixed in size, meaning that - while they can be minimized and pinned - they can't be resized. When comparing various information, this can make the screen uncomfortably cluttered with a lot of negative space when there are more visually interesting things to look at. Just to name a couple more flaws among many, the construction tabs at the bottom of the screen inexplicably need to be closed manually even if players are clearly performing unrelated tasks, and the Tech Tree menu fails to display players' available money despite housing the game's most crucial investments.
Aside from dynamic events that can help or harm the player and the inclusion of decently competent AI competitors who provide corporate competition, there's very little that spices up Rise of Industry's gameplay or adds any sense of narrative. Even when finally conquering a steep difficulty curve, the game's Career mode is every bit as dry as if the player booted up an aimless Sandbox save. This is due in part to having no real objective beyond "make money and don't go bankrupt," but the biggest absence on this front is any strong sense of identity to set Rise of Industry apart from the competition. This is baffling, as the game has potential to spare here, but it doesn't even try to tap into it.
The game really does give itself every opportunity to insert some sense of personality into the experience, what with it's rough 20th century setting, light capitalist and ecological mechanics and themes, and humorously cartoonish art style that seems to fly in the face of more stodgy subject matter. It could've taken a tongue-in-cheek, Fallout-esque approach or even full-on waxed Adam Smith capitalist theory, but Dapper Penguin instead opted to forgo any mild sense of humor or any trace of a message beyond letting players mass-produce waffles and explaining that factory smoke causes pollution.
Over the course of its time in early access, Rise of Industry has come incredibly far and to say that the game isn't adequate as a sim would wholly disingenuous. For all its release build flaws, there were a great many more in the alpha versions before it, and Dapper Penguin worked with its community to discover just how to rectify its issues as they arose. Thanks to patch culture, this means that Rise of Industry still has the potential to fix its difficulty, UI, and identity issues through post-launch updates, and it can be hoped that the developer sticks with the game to realize its full potential. As it stands, though, Rise of Industry is a middle-of-the-road sim that somehow manages to simultaneously embody addictive fun and irritating mundanity.
Rise of Industry is now available on PC. A PC code was provided for review.