Epic Car Factory should really be called Lite Car Prototyper for accuracy as it only deals with automobile development. There are no factories, sales offices or production chains to worry about. That would be fine, developing is the most interesting part, but there are so few options and parameters that it feels like you’re making a generic product, not something as awesome and full of character as a car.
If you’ve played any “game developer tycoon” type games (Startup Company, Mad Games Tycoon) you know exactly what this. You design cars that are modeled using four stats: comfort, mileage, performance and looks. You have employees who have a rating in each of those stats. Once you pick a few components the car gets assembled, rolling down a line as your employees perform skill checks and add their skill to the product. There are a few other business actions to take; you can research, tune, advertise and improve your staff but it’s all just one click deep.
Each action has few options, and the correct choice is almost always obvious. After about eight hours and 31 years of game time I feel like I’ve experienced all the game there is despite only starting along automotive history.
What is this genre?
I kind of like this subgenre of tycoon game and was looking forward to playing it in car form. It’s not about logistics and product flow in the Railroad Tycoon sense. Nor is it about efficient building and keeping customers happy like in Theme Park or maintaining employee functions like Prison Architect. Success or failure in this genre is really about getting the best workers while controlling your expenses until you overcome the artificial barriers controlling the game world and increase revenue.
The core mechanic of employees making a bunch of rolls and adding their skill to the product’s stats drives all business considerations. Performance is capped by time so regardless of how great a car you produce sales can only be so high in year 5 or 10.
From a design point, the designers have to imagine how an average player will do and set the difficulty curve accordingly. But employees have a huge potential range of skills, products have too few parameters and there are a lot of rolls involved so getting ahead of that curve is too easy.
That core mechanic means that hiring just a single employee who is better than your starting two, and leveling him artificially resulted in my cars winning every award and race from the first year onward. By the third year my company was number one in sales.
The “game developer tycoon” games in this genre generally use a lot more stats to make up their product so it’s harder to make a product far superior to your competition’s. They also get a lot of mileage out of experimenting as you try to figure out correct genre combinations to make the best games. In Epic Car Factory everything is obvious and requires almost no thought.
When you make a car you gain Research Points which you use to research new components or tune existing ones. But there’s nowhere near enough stuff to research. I spent the vast majority of the game with nothing to research and hundreds of Research Points sitting unused. Cars, specifically, should have a thousand tiny fiddly bits to research and I’m guessing car fans are looking to do exactly that – research the stuff they care about to make the type of cars they want to make and then test them against a reactive and realistic market.
You sadly have very little control over the cars you make. You can focus on one stat for a bonus and choose from a few components. But the effects are far dwarfed by the thirty skill rolls your employees make. And the single choice of low, medium or high price directly controls how many skill rolls your workers make and therefore the final stats of the car. So my attempt at making a Dodge Challenger Demon also has the best mileage and luxury, which sort of misses the point of a Demon entirely. Even Automobile Tycoon, which I thought was too lightweight, did a far better job of letting me build the cars I imagine.
Without the ability to design specific cars any remaining illusion fails. All games are just moving numbers around. But we want the game the trick us into believing this set of numbers is a soldier or muscle car. Great ones like Rimworld do it so well I find myself performing solemn funerals for pet cats. By abstracting everything down to four stats and not letting me control them well, Epic Car Factory pops its own bubble.
There are random events and external factors and you can expand your “factory” after a while. But none of it really makes a dent in your profits once you get going. The game loop becomes route far before the end of the game. Click a few times to design a car, always picking essentially the same components. Watch it roll down the line, picking the same employees to perform the same jobs each time. Enter your models in competitions and a few races, all conveyed with a text box. Advertise. Every long while get something to research. That’s it, year after year.
The competition is abstract. There’s no real market or demand to play with. You can’t drive anyone out of business by doing well. You just click and the game tells you the car is great and some units are sold and you do it again.
Should you buy it?
Either you like this genre or you don’t. Even the lightweight entries like this one are sort of hypnotizing and it’s oddly satisfying to reap accolades for your products even if you didn’t do very much to them. But if you do like this genre the “game developer” titles do a better job at it. If you want to design cars then GearCity is considerably better and more educational and worth the big learning curve climb. If you want to actually run a car factory Production Line is far more satisfying. At $17, Epic Car Factory is far too expensive for the production value, content and length before you exhaust its limited charm.
Available from Steam