Monopoly Tycoon Preview

A tycoon game with a difference: Monopoly Tycoon builds on the wealth of the classic board game while heading in new directions.

These days, it seems like everybody wants to be a "tycoon"--or at least every other game publisher wants to cash in on the word's marketing cachet. Thanks to the great success of the Railroad Tycoon series and then RollerCoaster Tycoon, a whole army of tycoon games has been released or soon will be: Airline Tycoon, Gadget Tycoon, Golf Resort Tycoon, Moon Tycoon--the list goes on. Now Infogrames will soon be releasing its own tycoon game, but one with a difference: Monopoly Tycoon is inspired by a classic, beloved board game.

While some portions of Monopoly Tycoon might look like a remake of the board game...

After Infogrames bought the rights last year to make computerized versions of classic Hasbro properties, it was only a matter of time before Monopoly was put to new use. Of course, the PC has seen its share of fairly literal Monopoly adaptations, like Westwood Studios' 1995 version. Simply rehashing the original board game on the computer, however, wasn't an enticing proposition to Infogrames and developer Deep Red. Instead, they wanted to capture the ambience of the board game, with its emphasis on rolling in the dough, but in the context of a more complex, real-time economic strategy game.

...it's actually a city-building game that only borrows the theme from Monopoly.

Your basic goal as a budding billionaire is to stake economic claims in Monopoly City and then expand across the decades, building up businesses and gaining a monopoly on entire districts. You'll earn income from stores and rent from opponents' businesses on your blocks, as well as from utilities and railroads. To keep things lively, daily "Chance" cards offer random strokes of good or bad luck, as in the original Monopoly. Up to five other human or computer-controlled players will be fighting for the same turf, which should help create a feeling of board-game competition.

As in the original game, Monopoly Tycoon's gameplay is all about location, location, location. You'll examine different city blocks to evaluate their profit potential. With a glance, you can see who's leasing the land and which retail or residential buildings already occupy it. If the real estate looks like it can turn a tidy profit, you can try to win its lease in a public auction. If you're successful, you can take advantage of profits already being reaped there or add buildings according to your own taste.

You'll have a wide selection of buildings, such as ballrooms, antique stores, and pool halls. When you're building, you'll weigh a number of factors. Do you erect a luxurious multistory department store? It will put a dent in your wallet, but you'll be able to attract wealthy customers with lots of disposable income. Or you can build a seedy hole-in-the-wall bar. It won't draw a high-class clientele, but you'll save on building costs.

Either way, you'll need to take Monopoly City's varied inhabitants into account. You'll find five basic types of people in town--children, teenagers, adults, retirees, and tourists--each with an income ranking. By conducting consumer surveys, you can figure out how to maximize profits by meeting their needs and desires, like for clothing, jewelry, or an exciting nightlife.

Finding Your Way Around Town

You'll assume the role of and compete against some of Monopoly's memorable icons.

An extensive set of tutorials should help you easily learn how to play Monopoly Tycoon. A lot of rent and income statistics demand your attention, but the intuitive interface should let you wrangle with competitors instead of controls and charts. Collapsible info panels display your finances without permanently cluttering up the screen. Icons let you quickly switch to different information tables, so you won't be overwhelmed with too much data at once.

A broad city view lets you examine the whole metropolis at a glance, tracking citizen movement (lots of foot traffic means good real estate for retail businesses) as well as building rights, business ownership, and city block prestige. To aid your economic quest, you can easily search the city for particular commodities and business types worth investing in, like a fish market or doctor's office.

One of the views will let you take an up close look at your businesses.

Moving down from the city view, you'll see the city blocks and businesses up close. With enough cash, you can turn vacant lots into bustling centers of commerce by erecting new buildings. Business type, size, and architectural style are all in your hands. A simple point-and-click interface should make interaction and navigation at this level easy. A minimap at the bottom right corner of the screen makes moving to specific blocks a breeze: Just click on one of the colored blocks, and the camera whisks you to it.

In addition to making the game a user-friendly experience, Deep Red is making an effort to capture the familiar style and iconography of the board game. City blocks carry the street names immortalized in the original, such as Boardwalk and Park Place. Icons based on the board-game tokens, like a clothes iron, thimble, or sporty roadster, represent each player. Your tutorial instructor is none other than the classic Monopoly tycoon himself, with his famous white handlebar moustache and classy top hat.

Attractive visuals aren't reserved just for the interface. The game opens with a camera panning across a sprawling 3D city at night, showing off an impressive skyline. Once you're under way in the game's scenarios, the city view showcases a wide variety of buildings, as well as colorful cars zipping by. Little details, such as trolley tracks, traffic lights, and store signs, help complete the scene. Day-and-night cycles add to the visual interest, with glowing streetlights blinking on at dusk and cars switching on their headlights. Deep Red clearly isn't aiming for photo-realism, but the visual style will probably be pleasing nevertheless.

Unlike so many games with their indifferent music, Monopoly Tycoon features a memorable score. A jaunty woodwind-and-brass intro theme sets the cheerful mood from the start, and lots of jazzy Gershwin-style tunes bring the early part of the century to life. That extra effort in drawing you into the game and creating a fun atmosphere seems indicative of Monopoly Tycoon. If it can consistently meld the feel of the classic board game with new and interesting gameplay, Monopoly Tycoon should be a welcome addition to the Monopoly heritage.

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