Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hoyle Casino Empire

Daily PC Game Review Score: 6 / 10
Game Category:  Simulation, Casino
Date: 22 Feb 2011

Imagine building your very own casino on the famous Las Vegas Strip. Won't that be exhilarating? I should definitely think so.

I remembered 20 years ago when I walking beneath all the glitzy neon lights on Fremont Street in the heart of Las Vegas, I had actually wondered what it would be like to be a casino mogul who gets to build and manage his very own joint. And as I walked into the Golden Nugget, the awe of it all really brings back great memories for me. Of course I was totally flabbergasted when I saw the rows of gleaming one arm bandits, and the many tables of baccarat, poker, blackjack, roulette, and craps. Not forgetting the fine dining and wonderful entertainment available. Back then, I knew that a lot of planning must have gone into the layout of the entire casino.

If you like that kind of experience, then you would understand why I was pretty happy with my purchase of Hoyle Casino Empire. Finally, I get the chance to build and manage my very own casino.

Released by Sierra Entertainment back in 2002, I knew that this tycoon game should be as good as all other simulation games released by them. But, that is not to be true... Casino Empire does have its faults which I reveal in the following paragraphs. Overall, I think the game is slightly above average.

Welcome, welcome...

What greets you after the introduction movie is the chance to enter either Empire Mode or Sandbox Mode. In Empire Mode, you get to try your hand at being the manager for 8 different casinos. You cannot choose from all 8 casinos at the start, the rest are required to be unlocked sequentially. Sandbox Mode on the other hand lets you do whatever you want to build within the casinos that you have already unlocked in Empire Mode.

I must question though - why only 8 casinos? There should have been more levels provided for in Casino Empire. As it is, I think the game is already rather short.

Here I am ready to start the 6th casino along the strip
For every casino in Empire Mode, you get to see an external view of the casino and will also be introduced to it by its owner. The voice acting is not too shabby as the owners brief you on your mission. The mission objective is typically a requirement to meet monetary goals, attaining a certain casino rating or building level, reaching a desired number of casino patrons, or perhaps a combination of all these - and all within a certain time constraint ranging from to 2 to 3 years of game time.

The mission goals don't look too difficult for this one

In your first mission - Buddy's Casino, you are given the chance to run or skip the tutorial. The tutorial I felt was of average quality with just enough information to get you through. For example, it teaches you how to place tables and machines, add services to the walls of the casinos (yes, you read that right), beautify the place with decorations for greater appeal, check your patrons whims and fancies, and monitor the status and graphs for the casino.

The advanced stuff unfortunately will require some reading of the game manual. There is very little in-game help, all you have are just some tool tips and the corresponding shortcut keys.

My first casino

The greatest sin in Casino Empire is this - You can rotate tables and machines, but you cannot even rotate the isometric map. In my opinion, this is simply unforgivable for a simulation game. It's because of this missing feature that I had to lob off points from their game review score. Case in point, take a look at Zeus: Master of Olympus, an earlier game also from Sierra Entertainment, that game allowed the map to be rotated.

Oh, well!

As I mentioned earlier, services such as cashiers, toilets, security offices, cafés, etc, must be placed on a wall space. Most of the initial services you build are one wall tile long, while the more extravagant ones are either two or three wall tiles long. Due to this limitation of a fixed viewpoint orientation, it explains why you will find yourself running out of wall space most of the time just to build your services.

Don't forget that some of these services provide you the option to hire Support Staff or to place special items. For example, building a toilet allows you to hire custodians who walk round sweeping up any mess left behind by patrons. Additionally, you also get the option to place trash cans on the casino floor.

See what your patrons have to say

Your simulated patrons are totally hapless when it comes to their personal problems. Take for example, most of the time, the patrons in my second mission could not find the toilets, unfortunately there was no way for me to use a magical god-like hand to pick up my unhappy patrons and then drop them near one of these toilets. Being disgruntled, these patrons will eventually head for the exit.

The problem was only resolved after I demolished a few large services (like the "good-to-have" three wall tile Bingo room) so that I can rebuild essential services like toilets and cafés.

Let's plan a little mischief for my competitors
In later levels, you get the chance to cause a little mischief for your competitors with the help of a little cash. Unfortunately, your competitors could also do the same to you. When they come a-raiding your casino with thugs and gangsters, you will find yourself having to micromanage by guiding your blind-as-a-bat security guards to the bad guys.

Fortunately, there are some plus points to Casino Empire. The first would be a system that gives you the chance to improve the building level of your casino. The building level is a means of upgrading your casino so that you can build advanced games, services, and decorations. You attain the next building level by attaining a target number of patrons and by paying a certain amount of cash.

Here is an example about building level options for Services. In Level 2, I can get to build a Buffet service to satiate the largest appetites, while in Level 3, I get to build a beautiful Lounge equipped with their very own showgirls who walk around the casino floor pleasing the patrons.

More goodies to build from Level II onwards

Another plus point is this - you don't only get to take care of the casino floor, you also have to take care of beautifying the exterior of the casino. It's a nice touch when you finally get to add the neon lights to your casino façade.

Bling Bling!
Last but not least, when you reach building level 3 or 4, you can start building a poker room or high stakes room to access the tournament modes. When you access these rooms, you have the additional option to enter a tournament game of poker or blackjack - which looks like a certain Hoyle game just tagged on to Casino Empire.

Tournament Poker
I felt the music in Casino Empire is pretty jazzy, but I guess it's appropriate for such a game. Well, if you don't like the provided music, you could always add your own MP3s to listen to.

In my opinion, I found the ambient sound effects of the casino to be pretty realistic.

All in all, I found Casino Empire to be a pretty tycoon style simulation of a casino for its time. It has interesting features that are not so readily accessible (like the tournament modes), but on the contrary also had design issues that detract from the overall game play experience (like the inability to rotate the isometric view).

Consider getting this if you like the idea of getting a casino themed tycoon game, especially if you have time to waste and wish to be occupied for a few hours.


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