At first glance, Capitalism 2 looks like the bastard child of Sim City 2000 and Microsoft Excel. Capitalism 2 offers all the fun of running a mammoth company without the executive washroom. I realize creating a fun business sim can be hard, particularly since the words fun and business rarely go together. However, I should not be punished for my success by having to micromanage every tiny little aspect of my fortune 500 company or watching it all promptly go to hell.
The Money Pit
The good folks at Ubi Soft tried to build upon the concept of the original Capitalism by introducing more products and businesses to own. You can now build apartment complexes, office buildings, and own media stations like television and radio. However, those of you wanting to become the next Donald Trump or Ted Turner should look elsewhere. None of the apartments or offices provides any return on your investment, and quickly become a drag on your company. Although media stations can provide a decent profit, you can't build them. Instead, you must wait for them to go on sale to buy them, and the computer only sells them when they are losing money hand over fist. Therefore, the game forces you must go the traditional route of producing and selling goods to turn any kind of profit.
System Requirements: MBA in accounting or better
But who cares about a real estate empire anyways? Everybody knows the meat and potatoes of the Capitalism series has always been industry and retail. To its credit, for about 2/3 of the way through the game Capitalism 2 is quite enjoyable. There are a number of products to build and sell, and specialized buildings (such as a hardware store or supermarket) give your stores a bit of character and individuality. Once your corporation gets big, that's when the nightmare begins. Everybody in your company turns into Dilbert's pointy-hared boss whenever something goes wrong. For example, I mine gold in San Diego that gets turned into Jewelry in Chicago that gets sold in New York (this really is a typical supply chain midway through the game). When everything is set up, it runs itself fine. However, what happens when I run out of gold in San Diego? Nobody in your mine, factory, or store does anything. Better yet, if you tell them to automatically look for the same mineral elsewhere, they will often buy your competitors inferior minerals and use them in your products. This problem is compounded when several factories depend on a certain mineral, and several stores depend of the factory. To top it all off, the "vivid, isometric 3D graphics" touted in the manual can obscure buildings if you build your store near a tall building, leaving you to hunt pixels for the magic one that will allow you to see your damn store. So one day you look down and notice your profits are way down, and you must find out which of your several stores is losing money, and why. The game tries to alleviate this by letting you hire people to manage your stores, but the AI executives are whiny and incompetent. While you spend 10 minutes trying to reroute orders of steel or electronic components, they sit around and pester you for raises every few seconds. If you ever reject their demand for a raise, they will promptly quit, and leave you with still more work to do.
And even the micromanaging wouldnt be so bad if the game were realistic and open-ended. The game heaps graphs after useless graphs on you, almost taunting you to find a specific piece of information you were looking for. Buying and selling stocks are an important part of Capitalism 2. Yet in a game covered in charts, surprisingly little information is given about your stocks. Once you purchase a stock, the game doesnt record what price you bought it at. Therefore, after a little while it becomes impossible to tell whether or not you are making a profit off them. Astoundingly, stocks never split, allowing successful corporations to have a stock price of over $10,000/share. Since the number of shares rarely increases, most companies are privately held by only 3 or 4 people midway through the game. After about 20 years, publicly traded stock virtually disappears. This makes late game investing and corporate takeovers nearly impossible. A bug in the game allows you to buy stock in a company that your corporation has shares in, even through the reverse is prohibited in the game by the SEC. This allows you to bilk your company by letting your corporation buy lots of valuable stock, sell it (pushing the price down), and then buying the same stock back as the CEO at a steep discount (pushing the price back up). Hmm, robbing millions at your companys expense - maybe it's more realistic than I thought.
You Can't Buy Happiness
Needless to say, the game is not for everyone. Most people will find it as exciting as an Excel spreadsheet, and will quickly tire of the endless micromanaging. Worse yet, to some office dwellers the endless graphs and charts will remind them of (Gasp!) work. Yet buried underneath the supply chain headaches is a fun game, and if you play a couple of rounds you can see glimpses of it. Some of the scenarios that force you to stay small or deal with a limited number of products are quite enjoyable. I'm just not sure if it's worth all the headache to enjoy them.