Here’s the big secret about being a journalist, whether we’re talking about games or otherwise: it’s not the best-paying job. In fact, it’s probably one of the worst. For any given field and any given level of experience, you can probably do better financially for a lot less work. That’s why I’ve decided to become a CEO instead. My time with Offworld Trading Company has shown me that my business acumen is vastly lacking for that kind of position, but clearly it’s something you can grow into…right?
Offworld Trading Company plays out a lot like a modernized version of the classic trading game MULE. This inspiration is worn on the game’s sleeve, particularly since you can even purchase actual MULEs to help gather resources! You’re the CEO of one of several companies that’s trying to exploit Mars for as much profit as possible, but the free market means there’s competition who’s out to do the same thing. The richest offworlder will be able to buy out their competitors and claim victory.
You’ll get the job done by extracting resources and converting them into products, then selling and buying both on the open market. The market responds to supply and demand, naturally, and these are determined by both players and the AI-controlled Martian colonists; this means that early on you might be able to make a killing growing food or synthesizing oxygen since nearly everyone needs those, but over time the value of these resources will drop as the supply increases. In the later game, you’ll be able to make more on chemicals and electronics as they’re used for advanced upgrades. Focusing on one resource can give you a strong position in a particular niche, but this can also come back to bite you as your strong supply cuts the price for that resource and gives your opponents easy access to it.
There are a few quirks that further complicate the proceedings. For instance, you can choose from one of four corporations, each with their own special benefits that adjust the way you approach the game. The Robotic corporation, for instance, doesn’t use food or oxygen and can make a killing by cornering those markets early in the game, while the Scavengers are able to construct resource extractors and upgrades for less which allows them to quickly shift their business focus to suit the market. You’ll also need to manage a patent office that can produce critical technology upgrades, hackers who can artificially adjust resource prices and even a rocket used to ship large chunks of resources offworld.
You’ve even got a selection of corporate sabotage options to stick it to other players, like disabling their buildings or shooting down their transport ships. This is a fairly complex game, so don’t expect to master any aspect of the whole shebang before you’ve spent a solid chunk of time practicing.
Pretty much every game is better with friends, but Offworld Trading Company really exemplifies this concept. There’s a single-player campaign available as well as a skirmish mode for randomized price wars, but the game’s AI is shockingly adept at trading and you’re going to need to put in some hours before you stand a chance. It’s best to have other players with you to help you learn how the market ebbs and flows, not to mention you’ve got a much better shot at victory against another player than the AI at first. You can customize each match to your liking, adding and removing AIs and choosing a seed for the map.
The game’s presentation is fairly straightforward, as one would expect from a game that’s largely about corporate finance. It’s not hideous, though, and it can be enjoyable to watch your transport ships flit from extractor to HQ and back. There’s plenty of voice acting as well to help keep you updated on the game’s goings-on, none of which is grating. Perhaps most importantly, Offworld Trading Company’s multiplayer is rock solid from a stability standpoint and I had no issues whatsoever during my time with the game.
While Offworld Trading Company might seem intimidating on the surface due to its complexity, it’s actually a fairly intuitive game that welcomes beginners before crushing them into tiny cubes. The cliche about certain games “easy to learn, hard to master” applies here. That’s not a bad thing at all, since it ensures you’ll get plenty of enjoyment out of this one, and that makes it an easy game to recommend.