Overall Score 70%
Real Estate Empire 2
As I was downloading my copy of Real Estate Empire 2, I wondered just how Rusty Axe Games was going to impress me with subject matter about as exciting to me as watching the grass grow. After playing through the game in it's entirety, I can say that they have not only made a great little game from some rather mundane concepts, but it's both addictive and fun to play as well. This would surely not be the case if it were any less snappy and casual. It's an ideal game to be played out in short intensive bursts and will fit perfectly in between other tasks, or during a lunch break perhaps.
The game consists of just 4 multi-level scenarios, of which the first will act as a tutorial to the new player. After getting acquainted with the interface, the player sets about buying property, keeping a close eye on both market conditions and their bank balance. One of the first features to impress was a certain degree of variance in individual property prices and margin within which the vendors will accept offers. After a good hour or so playing, I'm still not sure exactly how much to push the vendors when buying. If you make a ridiculously low offering the vendor might just decide that it's not worth their time negotiating with you, and that leaves you in a position of not being able to make an offer on the property for a month or so. If your offer is too low, but semi-reasonable, the vendor will counter with a compromise, but quite often you can pick up a bargain just by playing the waiting game.
Once you have bought property, it's up to you on what you want to do with it. Sometimes, if you have bought something extremely cheaply it's worth placing it straight back on the market and waiting for a juicy offer. Buyers will want a good deal as well, so occasionally you'll have to play with the listing price of your properties to encourage some interest in the sale. The estimated market value of all properties in the game are always visible to the player, but as in real life, cannot always be relied on to be a guaranteed indicator of true worth.
Some properties can be treated like a long term investment, and tenants can be brought in to offset mortgage payments with rent. Beware: renters with a bad history can wreak havoc on your houses and trailers and end up costing you lots of money in repairs. Conversely, good tenants will ensure a steady stream of rental income, but are more fussy about where they live and are generally harder to keep happy. Upgrading your properties will increase rental income and also tenant satisfaction. You can increase rent manually as well, which comes in handy for getting rid of unwanted tenants by making them upset. The only other way to evict bad tenants is by ordering a full renovation of the property. This is a costly and time consuming process that will upgrade the property to the highest possible level in one step.
Every level of each scenario presents the player with different goals. You might need to amass a certain amount of purchases or sales in a certain time frame, or perhaps increase your portfolio value to a certain amount. In any case, time is always of the essence, and that is why making frivolously low bids on properties or setting very high asking prices on your sales will end in failure of the level goals. A sensible, middle of the road attitude seems to pay off in this game (a feature that will not appeal to all) and careful investing coupled with frugal decisions will yield the best results. That's not to say that the game doesn't have an interesting appeal – it's gold for that inner accountant in all of us that just needs a little nurturing from time to time. Truly, I have enjoyed the game a great deal more than I thought that I would.
There are hardly any animations even though the interface is bright and appealing. Different levels showcase many different dwellings from trailers to mansions, and the graphics are nicely drawn from a top down 2-D isometric perspective. There are a couple of background tracks and few sound effects, but by far the most appealing is the giant “cha-CHING!” played when a level's goals have been reached. So satisfying!
As a casual tycoon style game, I only have a few issues with it. The interface is reasonable, but later in the game when you can have more than 15 properties to manage at once, the menu pop-ups just barrage you one after the other and without some kind of summary screen, it can get difficult to track exactly what you're upgrading and which tenants you're evicting. When owning lots of property in close vicinity, the small information bubbles overlap each other which is a minor annoyance, as is having some properties displayed half off-screen on some neighbourhoods. The game is best played in a small window if you have a widescreen monitor as there are no options to stop the display stretching right across the screen making it look a bit silly.
I'd like to see a few more scenarios as well. The 4 that are included will take about an hour or so to get through on normal mode. There's not a great deal of replay value left once you have beaten them on the higher difficulty levels as there is no sandbox or perpetual mode, which might have given the title a bit more life.
But I like the game as it is. There's enough unpredictability in the economics model that you never quite know what to expect (without the results seeming ridiculous), and the game is immediately accessible and playable to a wide player base. I'm not a big player of casual games, but this one appealed to me and kept me coming back to it until there was nothing left to play. More content please! In my opinion it's slightly overpriced in terms of value for money at the $20 price point, but Bytten put it under the hammer anyway. Going once, going twice... SOLD!
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