Crispy Gamer

E3 2009: The Five: East India Company

What's this about? Control one of the most powerful companies of all time in an age before anti-trust and corruption investigations. Sail, sell, salvage, savage. East India Company brings to life the cutthroat commerce of the Age of Sail.

1. Manageable naval battles are the visual treat here. As in last spring's Empire: Total War, you can fight your enemies on the high seas. In fact, that's the only gunfire you'll actually see. By focusing on smaller fleets, though, Nitro Games hopes to keep both the system specs and artificial intelligence acceptable for its audience. Since it's a trading game, grab the cargo while you're at it.

E3 2009: The Five: East India Company

2. The campaign design in East India Company is amazingly old-fashioned. It's an historical business sim, something that never went entirely out of fashion of Europe. But the sailing to foreign ports and trading for obscene profits is very reminiscent of ancient games like Sid Meier's Pirates! and Trade Empires. Is there a market for this outside of the Old World?

3. Meddling monarchs can muck up your plans since you represent a national trading company, not the nation itself. You may want to build a business partnership with the French, but what if your king thinks the French smell funny and should be driven out of India? You do what you're told or lose the king's confidence, that's what. This sort of random mission generation and royal interference may mean that you have to be more agile. But will there be a way to anticipate royal displeasure?

E3 2009: The Five: East India Company

4. It's a truncated world with only a couple dozen major ports from Europe to Aceh. Since you only get the coast, you can't even march land forces through India to bully a maharaja. Ports are controlled by a vague "native" faction until one of the European powers grabs it. This means greater stylized work on the map, but also a little less historical fidelity than Paradox puts in its homegrown games.

5. The invisible hand of the marketplace is at work. You can't just invest in a single good and make your fortune. If you flood your local market with tea, then tea may not be a good investment for future voyages. But if your neighbor has an excess of spices, maybe you can work something out. Prices seem to be local, though, not global, so it's not clear how much economic warfare there will be.

The Crispy Forecast: East India Company was one of our surprise games at E3 and for good reason. Though it immediately appeals to gamers of a certain age, its leisurely real-time pace and light approach to historical strategy could make it the entry point for those so far immune to the lure of the open seas. The big risk is that it may be too simple or too repetitive for a wider audience, especially in the longer campaign.

This preview is based on a developer-driven demo and hands-on play with a limited beta build at E3 2009.