Overcrowd: A Commute ‘Em Up Review – MY HEAD IS DEAD
Overcrowd: A Commute 'Em Up6th October, 2020
If you've ever spent enough time in the London underground, or any underground system, you've likely thought to yourself that the layout was a load of old claptrap, that you could do better. No? Just me? Okay, fair enough. I've thought to myself that I could do better. If Overcrowd: A Commute 'Em Up has taught me anything, it's that I have nothing but the utmost respect for these people because while I'm good when things are on one or two levels, start going deeper and my brain starts leaking out of my ears.
If you're like me, you'll like games like Theme Park, Theme Hospital, the Planet series - anything where you're building and running a business. If you're like me, Overcrowd: A Commute 'Em Up is immediately worth a look. You can essentially think of this as Theme London Underground. The game, developed by two-person team SquarePlay Games, makes no qualms in showing what inspired it. Where are you building your network of metro stations, connecting the overground and underground? Lubdon of course.
Much like London, you'll find yourself getting infuriated with the utter selfishness of people in Lubdon. The set of self-centred skin bags will throw rubbish anywhere and everywhere, despite there being a bin just a few metres away. They'll come in despite an outbreak of norovirus. They'll start having heart attacks or passing out due to heat-stroke. There are so many things they'll do and every one of them seems to annoy other commuters, giving you a hit to your reputation.
Now, I will admit, the heatstroke is partly my fault. Packing vending machines, hot dog stands, stores and other electronic equipment in a building is always going to have a slight Abu Dhabi-like effect on the temperature in the building. I do put some air conditioning units down, but nothing seems to cool them down. I would put more air conditioning units down but that uses valuable wall space where advertisements could go, advertisements that make me more money!
I think this is what really grips me about Overcrowd: A Commute 'Em Up, there's so much to manage. You're managing your finances, which also means you have to manage ticket prices, as well as the prices of items sold at the merchants in your station. You're managing commuter happiness, an impossible task on the best of days, so you need to make sure everything's working, clean, there's enough seating, enough stores, enough in stock. Let's just say you have to manage everything.
You'll do this by building smart. That's always going to be the key thing. Building smart isn't always as easy as it may sound, particularly when you get into even deeper levels on later maps. Eventually, you'll get tracks on four different layers and this is where it starts getting complicated. Due to Overcrowd: A Commute 'Em Up being a 2.5D game, and the design choices made along the way, you can't actually build on top of something you've already built. It adds a puzzle element as you've got to make the most of the space you're given.
I'm not going to say I find this system ideal. It becomes a massive pain when you've got to limit the length of platforms. Naturally, this limits the number of carriages, restricting the number of passengers you can carry. The more platforms you have to contend with, across ever deeper levels until you feel like you're in the bowels of hell, the more space is used for stairs - at least until you unlock lifts (elevators), though they have a capacity which then can cause a bottleneck.
I fully appreciate why platforms can't be placed upon each other. Here in the UK, which the game is based on, you rarely find platforms on top of each other. What is missing is the ability to build a path, a bit of concourse, that goes above or below a platform or another concourse. This would make it so much easier and intuitive when connecting areas. I appreciate they didn't include this due to it being a 2.5D game and to avoid the need to toggle through layers constantly, that feature would have been nice.
It should be made clear that, even though you can't build above or below an existing building, there is a big amount of verticality here. The use of stairs, escalators and lifts, and the efficient placement of them, are essential. This is particularly true for those requiring wheelchair access. What's even more essential is the efficient navigation of these, as well as other signs placed around your station. These signs aren't placed manually, they're automatically created with turnstiles and stairs, etc. You just manually select them, choosing a direction for the stairs and pointing out where exactly they go to. What I really like is how this is reflected in the signs above. It's a lovely bit of attention to detail that is rarely seen.
You can also see this same attention to detail throughout the game. Zooming in can be a particular pleasure, even though this isn't what you'd call a traditionally good-looking game. When you set up a store, you'll see the person working at the store as well as the items they sell. There are so many randomised characters that it's a joy just to watch them go about their business. Also, it is charming to see the love hearts above a rat's head as they breed like... well, rats.
One aspect I haven't spoken about yet is how you keep your station running. This also has great attention to detail placed within it. I've said how people will litter everywhere or start dying on you, but how do you remedy this? Throughout the game, you'll be able to hire up to nine members of staff. These feature some RPG mechanics too, where they have four stats that determine their speed at moving throughout your station, their speed at being able to perform tasks, the range they can act and the number of tools they can carry.
They also have hunger, food, and fatigue meters, as well as an overall happiness level - something else to manage. You'll do this by building a staff room and the amenities inside, giving the staff a place to rest, eat and drink on their downtime. This is also downtime you'll manage by giving the staff set break and work times. The one thing I'd recommend, however, is to game the system. Once you've got a working station, just keep it running in fast-forward mode. Your staff will level up, you can upgrade the four stats, making them incredible for the more complicated stations.
If I have any issues, other than the design choice preventing you from creating concourses over and under other areas, it's that the interface can be clunky. The reports for your reputation and finances aren't the clearest, though you can get an idea what's going wrong. You'll also find the AI just doesn't seem to want to target the most littered areas of your station. The game can also slow to a crawl if you zoom in when the station is particularly busy. Finally, some of the random events can trigger at times where you quite literally don't have the facilities to deal with them. A particular annoyance are heat waves because the AC units are terrible.
I could go into so much more detail about the fact that you can create a control room, letting you automate the arrival times of the trains. Or I could mention more about how the game features CCTV, how it measures waste, seating, commerce and so much more. Maybe I could tell you that it's got near-infinite replay value due to a combination of procedural generation for both singular maps and a campaign. Actually, one final problem - the profits you earn on earlier levels should go towards investment in later ones. What's the point in making a profit if you can't use it?
There's so much more that could be said, but I just want to make it clear that however complicated Overcrowd: A Commute 'Em Up gets, it never stops being fun. This is a game five years in the making by two people and they've done an outstanding job. Is it for everybody? No, you do need to like this sort of simulation management game. However, it's easily accessible, the aesthetics and sound, as well as the attention to detail make it terribly charming. Most of all, it's addictive. Enough so that I've played more of this, by choice, than any other game this year. I've also decided to write a 1300+ review of the game, recommending it to every one of you.
Overcrowd: A Commute 'Em Up is an incredibly compelling game that can suck you in for hours, and days. With a charming aesthetic covering up a game with a massive amount of detail, there's a surprising amount to get yourself lost in as you try to build a series of ever-more detailed metro stations, managing facilities, staff and more. Now, it's not perfect, it can be a little clunky at times and some features are lacking, by choice and due to the style of the game. Still, the game does all it can to make itself as accessible and approachable as possible.
- Huge amount of replay value.
- Very compelling, you'll sink hours and days into it without realising.
- A great amount of detail across all aspects of the game.
- Very charming and detailed aesthetics.
- Quite accessible...
- ...However, even then it's very difficult
- Interface can be a little clunky and uninformative.
- The AI doesn't always target the worst parts of your station to help with your reputation.