Chances are, you've probably never actually dreamed of being a "car tycoon." In fact, you've probably never even used the words "car" and "tycoon" in the same sentence. Fishtank's economic strategy game isn't really based on some childhood dream that we all had when we were very young. Instead, it's more likely a tardy attempt to cash in on the phenomenal success of RollerCoaster Tycoon, a management strategy game from Infogrames that was released over two years ago, yet still enjoys consistently high sales. So does Car Tycoon manage to be as engaging and addicting as RollerCoaster Tycoon? Not really.
At a glance, Car Tycoon looks like a legitimate strategy game. Most of the game takes place in an overhead view of the large city in which you do your business, and the city itself is represented fairly well with somewhat plain but otherwise clean and colorful 2D graphics. The bottom of the screen is occupied by various icons that act as shortcuts to open up small, unobtrusive menus that display clearly color-coded information and data in simple graphs. The game takes place in real time, and several in-game minutes roughly equate to a month of game time. Most games play out over the course of several years, though you can accelerate time or pause whenever you wish. The game doesn't really have any sound effects to speak of (other than a few simple clicking sounds to confirm that you've clicked on a shortcut), but its music is actually pretty decent. Car Tycoon's music consists of a few different upbeat synth tracks that can get repetitive but otherwise aren't that bad.
Unfortunately, once you start playing, you'll see Car Tycoon's facade fall apart. You'll start to notice minor details, like the fact that although the game lets you zoom in and out of the city view, the zoomed-in view serves no useful purpose, and it doesn't even look good, since the further you zoom in, the blurrier the game looks. Also, though the game features some 20 different scenarios and 20 different free-form games across a 50-year period (from the 1950s to the end of the 20th century), and allows you to build old-fashioned Thunderbirds and modern-day coupes, you'll never be able to customize any of your cars other than choosing from a simple set of components, including the chassis, engine, interior, and body. Since you choose to play as one of four color-coded companies, you can't even choose the color of your cars or their parts--if you're the yellow company, all your cars are yellow. It's just as well, since you'll never really get to take a close look at any car you build. Car Tycoon's cars are all represented in miniature on the map, and that's all you'll ever see of them, so if you're interested in really getting into the nuts and bolts of building and designing detailed custom cars, you'll be sorely disappointed.
As a game, Car Tycoon is relatively straightforward--you generally want to make as much money as you can and/or sell as many cars as you can. You can do this by producing cheap cars, offering extras such as discounts or free maintenance, advertising your cars, or investing your funds in the stock market. The game's scenario mode sets specific goals for you, such as selling a certain number of a certain type of car or earning a certain amount of money. This wouldn't be particularly challenging if the game didn't have other problems, like its lack of documentation or its disjointed interface, which often displays vague or incomplete information.
For instance, other than the year-end evaluation the game gives you, it's impossible to get any clear numbers of how many different types of cars you've sold in the past months. You can actually attempt to sabotage the competition, though even if you do appear to have successfully sabotaged a competitor (Car Tycoon will either give you a failure message, or no message at all), you'll basically never see any kind of real result. Also, you must expand your base of operations by buying up additional car factories, dealerships, and garages in municipal auctions, but these auctions tend to come out of the blue and interrupt whatever you're doing, and you'll usually end up buying up buildings all over the map. You can consult a single larger map to jump to your different holdings, but it's hardly useful for keeping specific tabs on all of them--you'll instead want to use the "jump to next building" shortcut and bypass the map altogether. However, one of the best ways to make money is to check with the "big customers" that are located at random areas of the map, so you'll alternately spend your time combing the large city map looking for them and jumping around to your different holdings. Car Tycoon's biggest problem is that it doesn't have a simple central menu that gives you all the information, figures, and locations you need when you need it. Instead, it has an animated (and rather vague) advisor that may tell you that "the demand for cars has gone up" or that "you've been voted man of the year" (whatever that means).
Is Car Tycoon at all enjoyable if you can tolerate its many problems? Possibly. If you enjoy a management strategy game that lets you acquire large amounts of imaginary money, and you don't mind hunting through multiple menus just to try to find an unclear approximation of how you're doing, you might enjoy Car Tycoon. And considering that it has 40 different scenarios, you'll be able to get quite a bit of that enjoyment (whatever it might be) from the game. However, if you've seen a few screenshots and have come to the conclusion that Car Tycoon is about as good as most other management strategy games, don't be fooled. Car Tycoon may appear to be a decent ride, but if you're looking for a really excellent management game, you should look elsewhere.