Most previous PC games based on Monopoly have gone in one of two directions: They either combine the classic property-trading game with another popular license, as in Monopoly Star Wars Edition, or they use the strong Monopoly brand and distinctive graphics to spruce up another type of game, as in Monopoly Casino. Fortunately, Monopoly Tycoon breaks the mold by using the popular board game as the base on which to build a strong and innovative, and great-looking, real-time game of business management and city building.
Monopoly Tycoon is the kind of game you might have imagined as a kid while you played the real board game. The game includes all the familiar Monopoly elements, such as buying and selling properties and utilities, collecting rent, and managing your money, but it expands on the idea by letting you build a variety of retail and residential buildings and then manage your businesses by setting stock amounts, prices, and rent. If you've ever wanted to see what an expensive Boardwalk hotel would look like up close, this is your chance. While Monopoly purists may be wary of the numerous changes and additions that have been made to the classic game, the end result is a pleasing and challenging blend of city building and economic management, all created in the familiar, lighthearted style of Monopoly.
You begin the game with a set amount of money in 1930, at which point the game's virtual city is only sparsely built. You can proceed to invest in property, utilities, and railroads, as well as build businesses. The game's easy-to-use research and analysis functions help you choose where to build different types of structures--for instance, a poll conducted on a specific city block may reveal that the various inhabitants want more bread and meat, indicating that a butcher shop or bakery would do well at that location. It's important to do some research before building, since there are more than 40 types of potential businesses, and some will be more profitable than others. The game also provides statistics on what types of people live in or commute to the city, which helps you figure out what kind of residential structures to build.
The property-management portion of Monopoly Tycoon comes into play when you want to lease an entire city block. You compete against up to five other business owners during the game, and at any point, one of you can flag a city block for auction, and all the others then have a chance to bid for that property. Once you've leased a block, you become the landlord and collect the rent from the businesses on that block for a period of time. If you lease all of the blocks in a color group (which represents a district or neighborhood, as in the board game), you gain the right to build hotels, along with other advantages such as lower buyout costs. As the years pass in the virtual city, new businesses become available, such as ice cream parlors, bowling alleys, and nightclubs, and eventually supermarkets, video stores, and computer stores.
Monopoly Tycoon has a wide variety of single-player scenarios with goals that range from building the largest empire by a certain year, to gaining the most popular votes to become mayor of the city. There's even a Survivor-style last-man-standing scenario, where the city inhabitants vote players out of the game one by one. The game runs in real time through day/night cycles, each of which represents five years of game time, and time can also be accelerated to speed through the occasional slow period. Most scenarios last between 30 minutes and an hour or so as the game progresses from the 1930s up through the 1990s. The game includes three difficulty levels, which adjust the strength of the opponents' artificial intelligence as well as your starting funds, and even the easiest level should provide plenty of challenge and entertainment for most players.
Regardless of difficulty level, you'll have to tackle the single-player scenarios in order--after completing one successfully, the next scenario in the list is unlocked. The game also supports multiplayer games for up to six players over a LAN or Internet connection, and you should be readily able to find live online opponents using the provided GameSpy Arcade software. You can even opt to play multiplayer against only computer-controlled opponents and set up your own scenarios rather than having to unlock them. Six different customizable multiplayer modes of play are available, which roughly correspond to the single-player scenarios. In addition, the game has a helpful series of interactive tutorials that introduce new players to most of the game's features.
Perhaps the most striking part of the game is its simple but powerful 3D engine. The game's three main views--the city view from overhead, the 3D block view, and the 3D business view--are easily accessible through either onscreen navigation or hotkeys, and in any of the 3D views it is simple to rotate and tilt the camera to get the desired perspective. The 3D engine is clean and fast; switching from one view to another is smooth and visually pleasing. The virtual city built in the game is colorful and lively, with automobiles, pedestrians, and even boat traffic. As the game progresses, it's fun to see how the city grows and changes as buildings are built, remodeled, and demolished. The game's 3D computer-controlled opponents are also entertaining--it's a shame that the only time you'll see them in action is during property auctions. The opponents--each inspired by a Monopoly game piece such as the shoe, the top hat, or the iron--each have distinct personalities that are apparent both in their animations and in their style of play.
The game's music works well with the lighthearted theme of the game. As the game progresses through the decades, the music actually adjusts to different soundtracks appropriate to that period in time, and it's amusing to see how the simple instrumentals convey the general sense of that period's music. The sound effects used in the game add a little bit of flavor and humor--the sound of coins lets you know when people make purchases at your businesses, and the ambient sounds of the city, such as cars, wind, and pedestrians, give an aural indication of what time of day it is and how active people are.
Those who relish the classic Monopoly game's blend of chance and strategy may find Monopoly Tycoon to weigh too heavily on the strategy side--there's no dice rolling, and the "chance" and "community chest" cards have been turned into an optional element. Some may also find the game's real-time gameplay too hectic; while the game does have a pause feature, you can't make adjustments to your businesses and properties while the game is paused. This can be somewhat frustrating as you try to research your competitor's businesses and adjust the prices of your own products. At some stages in the game, the pace does slow down (usually between the hours of midnight and six in the morning), which gives you a little bit of breathing room to fine-tune your businesses. Another classic Monopoly element that is missing is the sense of dread when you land on Boardwalk--in Monopoly Tycoon, the dread you will feel will be caused by Mr. Shoe's hardware store across the street undercutting your prices, or the fear that you've mismanaged your money and might be eliminated from the game due to bankruptcy.
Monopoly Tycoon is a fun game about buying and selling property, building businesses, and managing money. While the game includes a great deal of depth and a significant number of options, some of that complexity is optional, which leaves a basic game that's straightforward enough for almost anyone to play. Fans of Monopoly will appreciate the way Monopoly Tycoon extends the board game into a new and interesting direction, and the game's few minor faults are far outweighed by its strong combination of crisp graphics, involved and varied gameplay, and entertaining premise.