Tom Clancy's push into the gaming market continues with ruthless.com, a strategy game all about intrigue, unconventional business practices, and political maneuvering. The thing is, you're not the leader of some newly democratic republic teeming with under-the-table deals and bribery. In fact, this seedy world of ill repute is none other than the computer industry. But even if Tom Clancy is trying to make a statement about the morality of operations between the hi-tech firms of today's market, ruthless.com is too limited to be worthwhile.
As CEO of a computer corporation, you are presented with a board game-style map showing you and your competitors, and you're given two actions each turn in which you decide what will help your company earn more market share, boost profits, and raise stock value. To accomplish these goals, you'll need to work with the buildings that represent your company. Each building can house up to six departments from R&D to marketing, which act as your tools of doing business. Product departments generate cash, while other departments are more military in nature. For instance, the legal department can sue and establish patents, the R&D guys come up with the new ideas and QA products, and the computer department establishes and maintains your digital security and hacks into your enemies' mainframes. You also have a set of corporate orders that revolve around setting up new facilities and managing their departments.
Underneath this simple frame is a somewhat complex industry model that is explained thoroughly in the manual. Income is gained through selling products and making sure that yours are the highest quality in the market. The more products you have, the more revenue you gain and the more expensive orders you can execute. As you continue to generate assets, investors add to your available cash, and your operations can expand accordingly.
Unfortunately, certain acute design flaws limit the game's potential. For one thing, the campaign is really short. The designers intended the campaign to be just a free-for-all game where there are no restrictions on play. It allows you to play as a start-up corporation and slowly grow to become an evil empire of the computer industry, and while it's cool, it only takes about three to four hours at most. The individual scenarios in the game are also unsatisfying because there are only six of them, with each one taking about an hour and a half. After that, you're left with just the multiplayer options. While there is some consolation to be found in that the multiplayer mode is about as much fun as turn-based multiplayer games can be, the game confines you to one of the six scenarios for multiplayer and so doesn't give you the open-ended feel of the campaign. This lack of replayability is what severely detracts from any long-term value.
What Clancy and company did seem to get right are the graphics. The interface is well designed, and the accompanying graphics are an inventive postmodern art-funk representation of an industry that otherwise has little visual appeal. The different building designs, the executive profiles, and the color schemes all work amazingly well together.
But in the end, it's the value that counts, and that's where the gaming dollar is considered most sacred. If ruthless.com had given more bang for the buck, it could have been a contender. But with such limited gameplay, it's good for little more than a weekend's worth of entertainment.