DETROIT by Impressions Software

Reviewed by Philip Chiu
              Computer     Graphics     Memory      Disk Space 
Minimum:      286 PC       VGA                      5 MB 
Recommended:  386 or better             640K

Control: Keyboard, Microsoft compatible mouse recommended 
Sound: Adlib, Adlib Gold, Soundblaster, SB Pro, Roland

Notes: Modem play not working with released version even with updated
       patch. Updated patch available to correct various bugs and 
       increases AI (ie. computer play).

Reviewed Version:  No ver#.  Latest patch file May 27, 1994. 
Game reviewed on 486 DX2 66, 16 MB ram,  ATI ultra VGA plus, Logitech 
mouse, NEC 3 FGx monitor, PAS 16 Sound Blaster compatible card, MS DOS 6.0

Reviewer recommends: Latest patch file.  486 25 Mhz VGA system,
                     Soundblaster or SB compatible card, MS DOS 6.0

Starting with a limited amount of funds and one territory, you begin in 1908 ready to build an automotive empire. As one of four start-up companies, you decide how many factories and sales offices to build, type of car to design, how many people to hire, and how to advertise your products. Either human or computer can be assigned to the other three companies. The game lasts, if the company is profitable, to the year 2008. Since each turn is one month long, a complete game may take 1200 turns. There are six levels of difficulty ranging from very easy to very hard. The starting amount of money available to a player varies in proportion to the difficulty level.

During the game you can access the administration, manufacturing, research and development, marketing, and archive buildings. These buildings comprise the heart of game. Although it is not mandatory that you look into each building per turn, it is wise to inspect them as technology, profits and losses, demands, and designs change over time. Since the game is turn-based and not in real time, a player should have plenty of time to plan out his strategy before proceeding to the next turn.

Despite the initial awkwardness of the interface(ie. slow mouse controls, computer response etc.), I managed to around playing the game fairly quickly. Turning off the menu dissolve and delay options speeds up the game tremendously. After a few turns, I discovered that the greatest part of this game was being able to design and test cars. If I wanted to design a 4-door family sedan, for example, I would page through a series of graphic layout(ie. front, middle, and rear) sections of a family sedan and select a style that looked appealing. The cost associated with producing a car increases as the more options are selected. There is also an option to choose a color for the car model although it won't affect sales. Finally, you get a chance to name your car. Needless to say, I chose some very appropriate names for my cars like the Roadhog and the Big Pink One.

One of the first cars I designed and tested was the 6000SUX. It was a four door family sedan with terrible gas mileage but was loaded with luxuries like a heater, a radio, wipers, electric starter, windshield, and power windows.

At the time of this writing(ie during the 1944 game turn), there were 6 other types of vehicles that could be built; the van, pick-up, sport, compact car, 4-wheel drive and luxury car. Not all these types were available at the start of the game, but become available as time progresses. Impressions claims that a total of 9 different types of cars could be built throughout the game.

Each car type has its own distinctive "look" to it. As the years pass, the overall shape of the car changes to reflect the times. For example, the pre-1920's autos look fragile and weak compared to the stylish cars of the 1930's. As time passes, technicians on your staff would create new technologies in the areas of brakes, suspension, engine, safety, cooling, and luxuries. In order to stay competitive, you must incorporate new technological changes into your car. Of course, any time you create or improve a current model car, you will need to test it before marketing.

Test driving cars was loads of fun especially when you see how the computer would rate the overall performance of your car with respect to road handling, braking, load capacity, MPG, and acceleration. You do have a choice in selecting what tests to perform for your car as it gets to be very expensive. You can then watch your car take off and skid as the tests proceed. I enjoyed watching the test dummies enter the car, but. was disappointed that there were no impact tests. By the way, my 6000SUX car was rated at 52%, but I didn't care so long as the public kept buying them.

The rest of the game involves creating supply lines from the factories to the sales offices, advertising, hiring employees, dealing with labor issues, facing historic events such as the Great Depression and the world wars, and reviewing monthly reports. Considering how much effort went into the design and testing of cars, the rest of the game is somewhat of a disappointment.

I expected something more detailed approach than the cursory effort which Impressions presented on the business side of the simulation. For example, instead of seeing the expansion and upgrading of all the buildings like in STRONGHOLD by SSI, you merely raise or lower the tech level of your sales and factories offices by adjusting the numbers in a menu. It was a bit of a dissapointment seeing that the buildings and interiors never change over time. The only exception was in the marketing office. I was glad to see that since neither radio nor television were available in 1908, a player cannot use that advertising medium until it is invented.

It also would have been nice to have more direct control on factory operations. Instead of merely assigning workers to an assembly line or simply raising the tech level of a factory. I was hoping to actually increase proficiency by improve the working conditions, purchasing more efficient tools, and developing sources of building materials. Although some may believe that having these features would have been unnecessary or a burden, it would definitely added play value to the game.

Finally, an area that I feel Impressions could really improve in is the monthly report section. This section is a prime importance and a player has to pay particular attention to this area if he or she wants to do well. Instead, the Impressions staff decided to make this section as boring as possible. Quite frankly, I couldn't care less if I made a profit or not, but making money is the name of the game. After reading pages of monthly reports on profit and loss statements, market shares, production figures, comparison of models, and media and consultant reviews, it quickly became a tedious task. Although reviewing reports is optional, not doing so will hurt you in the long run. I firmly believe that the use of plain old spreadsheets and bar charts, in any game, seriously dampens the excitement level and this is no exception. It would have been nice to see those reports spiced up a bit with a variety of human expressions(ie. happy and unhappy faces etc.) as in CIVILIZATION by Microprose) if you are doing well or poorly. A polling system would have been nice to gauge how your cars are doing among all the different age, income, and social groups and what they want. Although there is a demand report that you could ask for, it is fairly limited and really isn't much help. Of course a letters from customers would have been nice just to make the game a little more personal.

Overall, this the game is unique and interesting from the standpoint of originality of design, but it tends to fall short in the area of business management. The game contains some very good features such as the car design and the ability to print reports. The music, graphics, and game manuals are also done quite well. However, there are a couple of points that need to be corrected or at least addressed with regards to game play; weak computer AI and length.

The first thing Impressions has to do is to significantly improve the compter AI. Since most people play computer games alone, it is very important that the computer player(s) be made challenging. Even with the patch, I kept outpacing the computer players in both market share and technology. After a while, I didn't care if I made a hundred dollars or a million. I always had the latest technology, equipment, and the majority share of the market. Even at medium level, it should not have been this easy. After 1920, the game was boring.

The other point is that it takes much too long to complete a full game. With monthly turns starting in 1908, it would take 1200 turns finish. Quarterly(ie 4 month) turns would have been better. Even worse, you cannot start at any other year except 1908 and the territory values(ie. public demands) do not change from game to game. I'm surprised that there is no random feature button built into the game to make it truely replayable. It also would have been nice to see a series of scenarios that allowed you to explore different periods of US automotive history(ie. post war, oil crisis eras etc.)

I have spoken with Impressions regarding these issues and they have acknowledged the lack of modem play and the need for creating a stronger AI. They will release another updated patch to correct these problems. Considering I never purchased a game from Impressions, I was happy with their customer service. They were prompt in responding to all my inquiries.

If you liked AIRBUCKS by Impressions, you will probably like DETROIT. I understand that AIRBUCKS is very similar to this game. Anyway, I highly recommend DETROIT for anyone who is interested in cars and automotive history. This is the only simulation game on the market that I know of which deals with this particular subject. As a pure business simulation, however, you had better look elsewhere. The business side of this game is very simplistic and there were several omissions which would have added more flavor to the game. It would have been nice to see espionage, lawsuits, a stock market, hostile takeovers, car recalls, foreign tariffs, taxes, government regulations, and all the other good stuff in life that plague the modern day automotive industry.

This review is Copyright (C) 1994 by Philip Chiu for Game Bytes. All Rights Reserved.