Industries of Titan review: a curious hybrid builder that's less than the sum of its parts
The moon and a stick
I imagine Industries Of Titan started out as an ambitious concept. A hybrid of a factory layout/logistics sim, integrated into a city builder, combined with an RTS, all wrapped up in a satirical dystopia encouraging you to be the most appalling villainous hypercapitalist possible.
All of those parts are present, and as a bonus it's incredibly gorgeous, with strong voice acting and a distinctive soundtrack that will haunt my head for weeks. Most of its parts are made to a high standard, it's tragic that its final design just doesn't work at all.
Of all things, IOT reminds me of Fragile Allegiance. You're a 'founder', sent to an already colonised and abandoned Titan to build a new city at the behest of the Council. You're a 'founder', sent to an already colonised and abandoned Titan to build a new city at the behest of the Council. First, by salvaging its ruined buildings for minerals and isotopes, then mining for surface deposits, all of which goes back into your building resources. Curiously, you never combine two resources to produce a third, you can only upgrade minerals through a tier system. Higher tier resources are more potent, meaning, for exmaple, a building site will accept 100 raw minerals or four higher tier units. It’s a bit strange, but it mostly works. Double clicking on your starting buildings summons an interior view, where you lay out machinery, little modules for workers and storage, power pylons and so on.
But every other building besides the starting one (a "factory", ie an empty room) is specialised to produce one thing, with no internals. As soon as you have enough money to unlock these, you'll bulldoze every "factory" except the one that's condensing your resources and never look inside it again. The internals have a very different (worse) interface and feels like vestiges of an earlier design that wasn't properly expunged.
Money, too, is vital at first. Citizens are bought from passing ships with constantly-regenerating "influence" in a weirdly random system. You give them free housing and they generate money by, er, watching adverts, somehow your only source of income. If it's meant to be satire it falls completely flat, as it makes no sense on any level, and doesn't fit what you're doing. That's another oddity: it's not clear what industry this actually is. If it's an all-consuming ultra-monopoly corporation, fine, but at no point do you provide any service or export anything.
Citizens have no needs beyond minimising pollution, which is very easy as they never go anywhere. There's no reason to pay any attention to them at all besides replacing them when they die. They never complain or rebel and their onely use is producing money, and being converted into the 'Employees' who do the actual work. This means shoving them into a machine that turns them into automatons, but they already were only now you pay them a wage? What?
This is the only truly evil thing you do. It's toothless and disconnected from anything else. Rebels periodically attack from distant bases, but they might as well be aliens or zombies for all the interaction you have. "We know you're taking money from the council," said one in their first broadcast. "I'm bloody not! I wish I was!" was my immediate thought. In Tropico, every rebel was a former citizen with objections to your politics. On Titan, you're supposedly the baddies but never feel any culpability or any kind of relationship with anyone. It's never clear why you'd accommodate a thousand citizens to generate wages for a few hundred lobotomised labourers instead of simply hiring the citizens.
Once you've made enough money, you can unlock some building types, but then it never matters again. All your other resources go into slooowly spreading across the map, and you find yourself asking why you're actually here. The obvious assumption is to wipe out the rebels and rival founders, right? Corporate rivalry turned unofficial war? Well, sort of. Build shipyards (each supports only two ships), and labs to research better hulls and equipment. Shipbuilding itself becomes a chore, as you're suddenly, many hours later, returned to placing building internals. You design each ship's layout, placing components onto awkwardly shaped grids, then crew it with spare employees.
Ships can fight rebels and other rival ships, and you can even view their internals to watch crew scurry about, FTL-style, operating weapons and putting out fires as you optionally target specific enemy components. It looks superb, but it's completely pointless because whoever's ships have the most HP will win, very slowly, without moving. Even at triple speed, everything takes forever to shoot down. Incredibly, you can't even control multiple ships at once. In 2023! Controlling a fleet becomes another chore that undermines the beautiful combat effects, and what should be the joyous way enemy buildings take collateral damage and spread fire to each other (which workers have to be manually told to put out. Christ).
Let's say you wipe out all threats. Well, you haven't won. You win by acquiring victory points, which are granted for meeting apparently random objectives like "have 70 influence" or "build 12 air purifiers". They run directly counter to the design, as they mandate many small buildings over efficiently upgraded ones. I've won every level by resentfully building a dozen redundant truck depots or garbage furnaces wherever just to get it over with. You also have to build the logistics to support them. It's an anticlimactic grind to build things you don't want or need.
If it's a satire of target-setting culture it falls flat again because it's never clear who the Council are or what they want. They never ask for anything, money is irrelevant, your rivals are so static that they might as well not exist, and I was dismissing its inconsequential character transmissions within a day because they felt like alt-tabbing to a different game.
That's the fundamental problem with Industries of Titan. It's a beautifully animated and scored game with the bones of a great city builder/slower-paced RTS, and the flesh of a management game full of dystopian satire and cheerfully amoral characters, but no tendons. Everything flopping about in a kind of cool but dissatisfying pile. I could complain about UI niggles, the excessive time spent waiting around, and the predictability of every map (discounting the visuals, which make it probably the prettiest strategy game ever). But none of those things undermine it so critically as the persistent feeling that it's far less than the sum of its parts.