There is a lot to be said in praise of games which appeal to a wide audience. They can bring people of all varieties together, create whole new communities or genres, or simply be undeniable in their overall excellence. But while every gamer I know has spent the past month singing the praises of Breath of the Wild or Horizon Zero Dawn, I’ve been indulging in something completely different.
Automation – The Car Company Tycoon Game doesn’t try to appeal to the vast majority of gamers. It certainly doesn’t have a fancy name, the support of a big-name studio, or a triple-A console release. It may not hope to ever get one-hundredth of the player base which Horizon or BOTW have. But it is a valiant attempt to create the perfect game for a niche group of players and I’ve been glued to it for weeks.
In Automation, your objective is to build a car company from the ground up. Hardly a bolt or spindle escapes your influence: you have the freedom to design every car you produce with incredible thoroughness, from the stiffness of the suspension to the location of the headlamps. You can then use engineers to enhance your car, configure factories to produce it, and corner your market through savvy design and sensible prices, before researching new tech for a new generation of vehicles.
At least, that’s the plan. The game is in Steam Early Access and is far from feature-complete. There is currently an in-depth engine designer, with a number of scenarios to test your technical knowhow, as well as a Lite Campaign mode designed to provide a small taste of future gameplay. The features which are fully implemented are fascinatingly complex, and every interaction you can have with your virtual vehicle changes something about how it performs and sells; however there is no sign yet of the Grand Campaign mode, or of the promised multiplayer, or of a number of other features.
In the interest of fairness, I feel the need to say that this game still has a lot to sort out. The UI varies between tolerable and diabolical. The depth of the gameplay often leads to a huge amount of information appearing on screen at once – mostly this is presented in an understandable and sensible way, but some menus are nearly incomprehensible to new players. Video tutorials are present, but even so I did find myself having to search the Steam forums and YouTube for assistance. The developers are in the process of porting the entire game to a new engine to resolve the numerous (and occasionally terminal) bugs. Some features have been added in the most basic way possible.
Frankly, Automation has a very long way to go before it can be called complete. On the other hand, I don’t care a bit – it’s fantastic.
It may not be fully fleshed-out, but I have seen players with 1000+ hours logged on Steam nonetheless. The engine designer is superbly detailed; you can design almost everything, from nippy, economic inline-fours all the way up to huge, throaty V12’s and (if you’re anything like me) spend umpteen hours tweaking and perfecting it to get something which performs slightly worse than a lawnmower. This is definitely a game for automotive purists; while some simplifications are made for gameplay’s sake, they are few and far between. For the vast majority of people this will probably make Automation an extremely challenging or even frustrating game to pick up (even with the highly-customisable difficulty settings), but to criticise it for that is to miss the point completely.
Automation exists purely because of a passionate developer and the demand from a very particular audience. It caters to that audience perfectly, allowing them to delve into the nitty-gritty of building a vehicle in as much detail as possible. The fact that this game is able to exist is a wonderful thing and, though I can safely say that it isn’t for everyone, I would encourage anyone with an interest in the industry to give it a chance. There are many improvements needed and it may be some time before the game is out of development, but Automation – The Car Company Tycoon Game has the potential to be a marvellous addition to the tycoon genre.