On paper running a pharmaceutical company doesn’t sound like the most thrilling concept for a video game but seeing as management simulators have been extremely popular it isn’t actually that surprising that Big Pharma has emerged into the video game market. And thinking about it the pharmaceutical industry is ripe for a video game adaption with the potential for science, money, planning, espionage, innovation and competition to all be combined.
Well the first thing to do when approaching Big Pharma is to reign in all those expectations; it’s essentially a logistical puzzle game with some management trimmings. Not that this limitation is a big negative – not everyone wants a hugely detailed simulator – especially me in which case a more accessible effort is very much appreciated. This more casual approach is evident from the start beginning with a basic, uncluttered menu system and continuing with the cute and cartoon-like graphics. Viewed from an isometric perspective the graphics are bright, crisp and attractive to look at, while there’s a basic satisfaction in watching your conveyor belts and various machines chug away.
From the start you’re instantly presented with all the levels available for you to choose from. It’s a refreshing approach and means you can always change things up if you get stuck or bored, although you’ll want to try and do them generally in order. New players in particular will need to start with the tutorial levels which teach you the basics of the game – this starts off a bit overwhelming as you learn turning ingredients into working drugs, creams or pills through the use of various machines on your factory floor and trying to balance the benefits and side effects of your creations. The tutorials are well designed in this respect but unfortunately you’ll end up seeing a lot of them as Big Pharma doesn’t have a proper manual to refer to when playing.
Once you get the hang of the game however it’s very enjoyable and I was getting that essential gratifying feeling from completing my objectives in each level. However the various scenarios that you encounter soon become a bit repetitive and once you’re competent the challenge tails away pretty quickly. In fact the biggest challenge actually ends up being planning where to place machines and conveyor belts within the restricted confines of your factory floor and dealing with the frustrating penalties when having to discard and rebuild them, which isn’t really the point of the game,
It’s also disappointing that the management side of Big Pharma is underdeveloped with some rudimentary use of scientists and engineers. Similarly the ruthless nature of the industry isn’t really embraced fully. Sure it’s sometimes better to release a cheap product with side-effects rather than producing something perfect, manipulate supply and demand to increase your own profits or acquire patents to mess with your competitors, but it never feels like it goes far enough. And as a final minor negative the music is very forgettable, although the various sound effects are fairly decent.
I don’t mean to undersell Big Pharma as I did enjoy my time playing it – there’s a pleasant satisfaction to building up your factory and slowly perfecting your latest wonder-drug (before giving it a deliberately silly name) but I was always faintly aware there wasn’t too much else to look forward to in the game. The free play mode does add an extra dimension to gameplay and casual puzzle fans will find a lot to like here, but anyone looking for a real challenge or a more in-depth addition to the genre is likely to be left unfulfilled.
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