Las Vegas is America's playground, as well as the setting for the umpteenth tycoon game to come our way in Vegas Tycoon. Developed by the same folks responsible for 2001's impressive Monopoly Tycoon, Vegas Tycoon could very well be the quintessential casino-building game, not to mention one of the better tycoon games overall. It has a lot of things going for it, including beautiful graphics, oodles of detail, and lots of depth. Sadly, it's a game that doesn't quite hit the million-dollar jackpot due to some cumbersome gameplay, an unusually and often frustratingly high level of difficulty, and interface issues. These things don't keep Vegas Tycoon from being a good, solid game, though.
Actually, there are essentially two games in Vegas Tycoon: a resort-building game and a casino-building game. Indeed, real-life Las Vegas is no longer just about gambling, since the city has transformed itself in the past two decades to become a premier entertainment destination for gamblers and nongamblers alike. In the resort sim, you have to develop a world-class themed resort, complete with a luxury hotel, upscale shops and restaurants, nightclubs, magic acts, theater and stage shows, roller coasters, and more. However, the main economic driver for your resort remains your casino, and in this portion of the game, you have to design the interior of your casino down to its smallest detail. It's much like building a house in The Sims, but it's done on a much larger and more complicated scale.
These two portions of the game interact closely with each another. The more people you lure to your casino, the more likely they'll explore the rest of your resort and spend money at your hotel, your restaurant, your jewelry store, and so on. Additionally, the more you upgrade your resort with high-class shops and services, the more likely you are to attract wealthy visitors, celebrities, and whales (the really big-money gamblers) to your resort and casino.
Your ultimate goal, of course, is to lure as many visitors to your resort as possible to separate them from their money. The game shines in terms of the options available to you. Pretty much every Vegas attraction you can think of is available, including dolphin acts, fireworks, rock concerts, and more. There are upgrades available for a number of buildings, and you can tweak everything from ticket prices to hiring a celebrity chef for your exclusive restaurant. If a country music convention rolls in to town, you can change the band in your concert arena to try to attract more convention-goers. In the casino, you can analyze every game to see what kind of crowd it draws, and then you can adjust the betting limits and house rules to attract different sorts of gamblers. Vegas Tycoon does a great job at capturing the diversity of the Vegas Strip.
There are literally thousands of peeps roaming about the city, thus representing the wide array of visitors to Vegas. As in real life, most of them are tourists and gamblers, with only slightly smaller numbers of businessmen and VIPs. Of course, the rarest visitors are celebrities and whales. So every decision you make has to be weighed against the kind of visitors you're looking to attract. Businessmen like nightclubs and the topless revues with showgirls, but that can be a turnoff for female visitors. Tourists, meanwhile, will probably want a magic show or a souvenir shop. Inside your casino, the elderly will want a good game of keno, while young single men will flock to the sports lounge and bar.
You start off by purchasing a lot and then placing and carefully laying out the buildings on your resort. In Vegas Tycoon, placement is everything--and not just for aesthetic reasons. Each object in the game is rated according to sound, smell, sight, and comfort, so everything you design has to be carefully planned to create an environment that appeals to visitors. For example, if you put a noisy nightclub next to your hotel, you'll find unhappy visitors who are unable to sleep, which will give your resort a bad reputation. If you put the smelly men's bathroom too close to the craps tables in the casino, gamblers will leave in disgust. This is where Vegas Tycoon starts to bog down because you can easily spend a huge chunk of time carefully sculpting your resort only to then have to spend another huge chunk of time carefully designing the interior of your casino. This isn't a process that you can skimp on, either. Visitors tend to be very picky, and if you don't make them happy, you'll end up driving them in to the arms of your competitors. So there's a very long learning process involved in figuring out what works and what doesn't. Moreover, there's a lot of busywork because you have to place every last potted plant, light stand, and bench.
It's too bad that the developers didn't throw in some prebuilt casinos, because there's enough depth in the resort portion of the game alone to satisfy most tycoon fans. But as it is, you've got to create everything from scratch. It's possible to design a casino in sandbox mode and save it for use later on, but this isn't as helpful as it sounds. There are 10 different resort themes in Vegas Tycoon, each of which has three casino designs. Each of these has a different floor plan, so there are essentially 30 different floor plans in the game. If you design a template for the medium-sized London-themed casino, it won't work for the medium-sized Japan-themed casino. You basically don't save any time or effort this way. You can download user-made casino templates from the Internet, as well as a few official ones, but the selection thus far is pretty thin. However, you should definitely download these templates, because they're eye-opening examples of good casino design.
The design and layout tools are fairly simple to use, and creating a casino is much like house-building in The Sims. However, the game desperately needs an "undo" function for erasing mistakes. As we noted earlier, objects possess different environmental qualities, like sound and smell, but you can't see how they'll interact with existing objects until you place them in the game. If you guess wrong, there's no way to undo the action other than to sell the object back for a financial loss. There's a lot of trial and error in the building process too, so you can probably imagine the amount of time it takes to tweak everything perfectly. This can make the campaign scenarios brutally difficult, since you'll often find yourself strapped for cash. Understandably, you can't afford to make many mistakes building a casino. Misplace a few too many objects and you'll end up wasting precious cash amending your mistakes. It's relatively easy to find yourself stuck with a bad casino, deep in debt, and losing money hand over fist. At this point, there's pretty much no way out of your situation because you can't take a loan, and you can't build anything if you're in debt.
Vegas Tycoon is a beautiful game that boasts some impressive graphics. Thousands of visitors mill about and cars are lined up on the famous Las Vegas Strip, just like in real life. Each of the 10 themes in the game has a distinct architecture--from the buildings and garish neon signs to the thrill rides. Additionally, the game has gorgeous high-res textures that almost allow you to read the lettering on the slot machines. The sounds are equally well done, from the thrum of the crowds to the noises in the casino. There's also a sly sense of humor in the game, including some witty descriptions and scenario objectives.
While the game is stable, Vegas Tycoon is probably a patch or two away from greatness if the developer can address some of the difficulty and interface issues and can also toss in some casino templates. It's definitely a good, if somewhat flawed, game, and it's a pretty safe bet if you're a fan of tycoon games.