Ever since RollerCoaster Tycoon's phenomenal success in 1999, PC game developers have sought to cash in on that game's popularity by following the same formula: developing modestly priced management strategy games that let players run a specific kind of themed business, such as a zoo or a shopping mall. British developer Hothouse Creations has tried its hand at this formula with Casino Inc., a game that lets you build and create your own Las Vegas-style casino business. While the game offers a number of surprisingly complex ways to manage your casinos, the complexity doesn't really add any depth, especially since the game's interface is clumsy and inadequate. As a result, Casino Inc. ends up being a game that's more complicated, and less fun, than it probably should have been.
In order to build up a successful business in Casino Inc., you'll need to bring in lots of different guests, including vacationers, high rollers, senior citizens, teens, and socialites. In order to accomplish this, you need to fill your casinos with exciting gambling games (such as blackjack, poker, roulette, and baccarat) staffed by experienced dealers, and you must also add amenities such as restaurants, bars, live shows, dance floors, and video arcades, in addition to decorations and fixtures like potted plants and cordon ropes to grab your guests' attention and keep them moving along the casino floor. In order to keep them coming into your casino, you'll need to provide your guests with transportation from the local train station.
You'll also need to hire a dedicated staff to man your gambling tables, serve food and drinks, screen out undesirables, clean up messes, repair your broken slot machines, and "entertain" your guests by serving as professional escorts. While you can hire highly experienced five-star staffers, these employees will generally cost much more money to employ, and all employees demand additional pay raises as they continue to work with you. You'll also need to keep an eye out for saboteurs that rival casinos will send to steal from your tables or beat up your guests, though if you can successfully capture them with your security staff, you can hire them on yourself. You'll also need to publicize your casino by advertising it prominently in various parts of the city. You'll also eventually need to expand your business both by building additional floors in your current operation, which can be used as either more casino space or as hotel rooms for weary guests, and also by buying up new buildings in other parts of town to use as completely new casinos.
If all this sounds complicated, it's because it is. And unfortunately, Casino Inc.'s interface isn't up to the challenge of helping you perform all these actions quickly and easily. The game's 3D camera is locked at four different zoom levels, only one of which is practically useful, and instead of being able to use your mouse to rotate the camera as you can in so many other 3D games, you can rotate your view and zoom in/out only by reaching for your keyboard and using the Insert, Delete, Home, End, and Page Up and Page Down keys. And nearly every one of Casino Inc.'s options is buried in a menu of tiny icons in all four corners of the screen that can be accessed only by clicking on the correct icon with your mouse pointer. Unlike in most management games, where you can build businesses by buying and placing fixtures, you can't even quickly and easily move or get rid of objects; you must open up a specific menu by clicking on a tiny icon, then click on the "move" or "sell" icon. So, you'll often find yourself in the odd position of switching between using only your keyboard to control the camera and only your mouse to open menus, rather than using both simultaneously as you may have become accustomed to with other PC games.
Because Casino Inc. buries so many important options in various menus, you'll rarely be able to react quickly to any important changes or events in your casinos. If an enemy saboteur starts a ruckus, your best bet is to immediately pause the game, scroll around until you can find the troublemaker, manually select a bouncer on your staff, then right-click on the troublemaker and choose to either beat him up (thereby converting him if the troublemaker is an honest-to-goodness saboteur) or kick him out of the joint, though thanks to the game's occasionally unreliable pathfinding, you may have to issue several orders to your bouncer before he complies. And unfortunately, since catching enemy saboteurs in the act is the only way to hire some of your own, you'll always need to drop everything to micromanage these events. You'll also need to pause everything to monitor your staff's ongoing (and ridiculous) salary demands. As you progress through most games and attempt to hire a large group of highly rated staffers, you'll find that no matter how often you give out pay raises and bonuses, there is always someone clamoring for a raise and threatening to walk out and leave your establishment understaffed.
Considering that Casino Inc. eventually lets you open and run several large casinos at once, you might expect it to be a large-scale strategy game that lets you, with good advance planning and occasional maintenance, sit back and watch the cash roll in as your casinos essentially run themselves (with occasional guidance). Unfortunately, because of important concerns like catching saboteurs, monitoring your staff's salary, and keeping on the good side of the cops, you'll need to constantly micromanage each casino, and you can't do this effectively with the game's clunky interface.
According to the game's manual and box, Casino Inc. lets you create a Las Vegas-style casino from the 1970s, though you wouldn't know that about the game by looking at it. Casino Inc.'s graphics are bright and colorful, and they don't look especially bad at all; the game's simple 3D graphics do a good job of creating the big cities in which your casinos are located, and they also do a decent enough job rendering onscreen characters. Both your staff and your guests are short, bigheaded, cartoonlike characters with exaggerated features, though your staff dresses in uniform, and your guests dress in straightforward suits, dresses, and T-shirts, and no one looks, acts, or sounds like they're from the '70s.
Casino Inc. doesn't sound like it's from the '70s--or from any other particularly exciting decade--either. The game's background music generally consists of soft, ambient techno tunes, unless you build a dance floor or theater in your casinos to provide music, in which case the game sounds like rather subdued Muzak versions of disco and jazz music. But you may not pay much attention to the music, since every game of Casino Inc. is punctuated by an almost continuous stream of voice samples, including your staffers greeting guests, your guests loudly proclaiming what they think, and the game's announcer frantically and constantly informing you that "the staff are demanding a raise!" You may find the strident comments of elderly guests, who are the loudest guests in the game for some reason, to be especially annoying when you hear four of them stammer, "You're only as old as you feel," in unison for the hundredth time. You can set your doorman and bouncers to keep seniors out of your casino, but this setting doesn't actually work too well, even with the most highly ranked staffers money can buy.
The fact that this and other features don't actually work as they should doesn't really help Casino Inc., a game that already suffers from inconsistent sound and a problematic interface. Though Casino Inc. does occasionally let you feel like you are running a bustling casino, all too often, it interrupts the action with an important event that you'll have to micromanage, and you'll be reminded all over again of just how inadequate the game's interface is. Considering that the game has only a handful of single-player scenarios (though each is fairly long) and no free-form sandbox building mode, it seems unlikely that you'll be able to get much out of the game once you're finished with it.