Good Company: A Corporate Machinery Simulator - Early Access Review

Good Company is the latest offering by German studio Chasing Carrots (Cosmonautica, Pressure Overdrive) and entered Early Access via Steam and  GOG on 31st March 2020.

The game is set in an alternate 1970s/1980s reality and sees you grow a tech firm from the ground up, having been recruited by the Federal Bureau of Industries to turn the fortunes of a small town.  At the time of writing, the game consists of a single-player campaign and single-player 'free play' mode, although expansion of the campaign and a multiplayer co-op mode are on the roadmap.  For the purpose of this review I have been playing through the early section of the campaign.

The first thing I noticed about the game was how well it runs on my machine, which is a 4 year old mid-range laptop, without changing any settings.  This was a pleasant surprise as I often have to knock various settings down from the defaults to get acceptable performance.  As I mentioned I decided to start off with the campaign.  As seems to be the common way of displaying a campaign in management games recently you are presented with a map as your mission select screen.

Campaign level selection map

The first level takes place in your dads garage and introduces the basic game mechanics such as ordering materials, setting up basic crafting benches for components, production stations for assembling these into products and establishing logistics lines which form the basis of your automation.  You are guided through this by Kerry Goldfield who acts as an adviser popping up at the bottom of the scree, as you often see in these games.  Whilst a tutorial, there is an element of freedom in how you place your workstations and progress, for example you can speed up the progress by hiring more staff, or you might want to finish the level with your character doing a lot of the work, although this does get extremely monotonous with a lot of clicking and waiting.

Once you have completed the first set of objectives and made your first product by assembling the constructed components, there will be a news announcement that you have succeeded.  You will be presented with the option to play on or return to the map.  If you choose to play on, you will be given additional objectives to create an advanced level item, however you will not be disadvantaged in the net level if you choose to continue.  Unlike some games I have played, such as Two Point Hospital and Overcrowd, it is completely possible to continue the level and finish all objectives without having to progress and unlock items in later levels.

Building additional Tinker Table to scale up during the first level
As we have come to expect from management games in recent years, the campaign levels start to add new features and game mechanics as you progress with tutorial hints throughout.  For example the second level introduces the concepts of research and designing your own products.  For this you require to generate research points, by examining constructed modules on an analysis desk, and unlock items on the tech tree using a research table.  For me this process felt a little bit clunky involving a couple of extra clicks I didn't feel were necessary, for example after clicking on "Start Research" you then needed to select how many research points to spend and then click again to start the actual research.  Whilst I understand that this can be rectified by assigning a staff member to the table and a similar mechanic as the crafting benches, it felt slightly unintuitive to me as it should automatically just set it to the maximum required tech points.  As I mentioned this is similar to how the crafting stations work and it feels like they have just pulled the same functionality and whilst it makes sense to select how many items you wish to craft, the research point spend just feels weird.

After you have researched your first 'tier 2' item you then have to craft them.  This is where one of the most frustrating aspects of the game comes in.  If you change the item being crafted this upsets your logistics pathways.  This is because it only removes the incoming and outgoing pathways from the table, rather than the entire flow and you can find yourself going over and over trying to work out what item is causing the warning indicators.  This can get a bit frustrating, particularly early on but I have found that the more I play, the more I am understanding how to do it, it just takes a little patience.

TOP: Basic calculator design provided during campaign.
BOTTOM: Custom designed calculator using a different casing, note the different arrangement of available cells in the design.
The product design phase acts as a sort of puzzle minigame.  Depending on the type of product you are wanting to design, there will be different component modules available to you.  After you select your casing for the product you will be presented with a grid, the configuration of which will vary slightly depending on your casing.  You then need to select the appropriate modules and slot them into the case.  Each module has a size and shape so you need to rotate these and combine them in an efficient manner to enable you to maximise the market value of the item.

At this point the campaign map has a split and allows you to choose whether to continue with the story, or to try the first of the challenge missions.  It is at this point you become aware of how short the campaign is.  These first two levels took me less than an hour to complete, and despite how full the campaign map looks with 15 levels, only 8 of these are actually part of the story.  That said, they have noted in the roadmap linked above that more campaign levels are part of the ongoing development so this should be fleshed out.

The challenge levels will challenge you in a form of open play where you have a series of win condition and a timescale in which to meet them.  These will require you to utilise the skills you have learned in the story levels and include things such as sell as many modules as you can in a set time period, stop your company going bankrupt as long as possible and make a minimum level of profit within a set time scale.  The first challenge see you trying to sell as many batteries within a 90 day period, however as you progress these get gradually more advanced and you need to watch out for you finances as you can run out of cash very quickly, however you do need to think about scaling up as time passes and I failed the level on my first two attempts, one due to being to aggressive in my expansion and running out of cash, and once by being too conservative and not scaling up production as I progressed.  I was unsure of these levels when I first saw then, but they actually breaks up the story missions quite nicely, as it gives you a chance to play about and learn a bit more through trial and error and working out things which could help you in later story levels.

In the second campaign level you have to manage two buildings,
note that in this image you can only see into one building,
this has been addressed with the recent update to the camera
allowing you to see into both buildings at once.

I decided to take a very quick look at the free play mode and was surprised to see this isn't exactly what I expected.  I had expected a large empty square factory with all items unlocked and being able to design to your hearts content.  In fact you start from a brand new company with 100k in the bank, and need to develop your company from the ground up, but without the same level of guidance as in the campaign.  You  start out, as with the campaign, working from your dads garage and have certain milestones to reach with the company.  As you reach these milestones you will unlock additional items and generate larger market demand for the various products you can make.  For me, this is better than a traditional sandbox mode for this game.  There is still a progression system and you will have a sense of achievement as you build the company up.

The game has a lot of positives and I have been thoroughly enjoying it, however there are also a number of things which I find frustrating.  I mentioned previously about the logistics lines being tricky if you change the output for the crafting tables and part of that is relating to camera movement (see below) as the game automatically pauses the game when you enter logistics mode, although you can toggle this off within the game menu, and I did find the logistics system to get easier the more I played with it.  As with the campaign though, logistics is something which is identified for short term development in the roadmap including staff work zones and conveyor belts due to be added.

A basic set up in free play.  The item in the blue box by the outgoing area indicates the current goal module for construction.  The logistics point in the centre allows you to assign haulage staff, freeing up construction staff to keep on working.  Staff don't have defined roles but can be assigned to any available workstation.

When I started playing I had some issues with the camera controls.  Initially I thought it was quite cool that you could move your character around using the WASD keys and was something a bit different from what I have seen before, but I quickly found some frustrations with this.  As you control your character there was no way to freely move the camera around your factory which made placing your workbenches etc a bit tricky if you wanted to place more than one item.  You also could not move the camera when paused which was problematic if you wanted to pause and plan your layout taking in your whole factory.  The character control mechanic also prevented you being able to configure work stations without first moving your character to that location.  I am extremely happy to say that the developers have definitely been listening to feedback, however, with a patch addressing all of these issues.  There is now an unlocked camera mode (implemented but pressing Tab) which allows you to move the camera freely and also whilst paused, and you can now configure crafting stations and incoming resource orders without waiting for your character to move to them, although for manual crafting you character needs to be at the station.

My remaining minor issues are with the way they have implemented save slots and the tutorial.  When you start your first campaign you name your company, design your logo and customise your character after which it launches you into the campaign.  When you return at a later time if you select campaign it continues your last save campaign.  For the first while with the game I was convinced there was only one save slot which I felt was a bit of a limitation.  It turns out you can actually have up to 5 campaign saves.  To change the save slot you need to click on your avatars picture in the top right of the main menu to open your save slots list.  With the tutorial it doesn't hold your hand, which is good as there is freedom in how you complete them, but it also means that I felt some concepts, such as the logistics points, weren't well explained but the campaign will hopefully be iterated on throughout early access.

I have thoroughly enjoyed the game and I would recommend it in its current state if you are particularly into resource management and production line games and have an interest in playing early access games to see how they develop.  I know that early access is a bit of an issue for many people and I could see people finding the gameplay as feeling quite repetitive so I would say that for most people this game would be a case of putting it on their wishlist and waiting to see how the development progresses and features are fleshed out during early access.

Good Company is available in early access now on Steam priced at £19.99/€22.99/$24.99.  The game is also available on GOG.

Good Company: A Corporate Machinery Simulator - Early Access Review Good Company: A Corporate Machinery Simulator - Early Access Review Reviewed by Parcival on April 13, 2020 Rating: 5

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