There are some games out there whose subject matter makes you wonder why someone thought it could be turned into a interesting game. Then, after playing, you’re pleasantly surprised at how interesting and enjoyable the game was. A great case in point is Papers, Please. On the face of it working as an immigration worker sounds like an odd concept for a game, but thanks to excellent execution subtle undertones it works. With TransOcean 2: Rivals from developers Deck 13 the opposite looks to be true.
Economic simulators are nothing new and we have fond memories of the classic Transport Tycoon. Having to balance the size of your company in line with supply and demand was a tough task and one wrong business decision could bring your company crashing down. The fun came from this never-ending challenge all the while trying to best your AI opponents. TransOcean 2 has three different single-player game modes - campaign, competition & endless. It’s the latter of these three that ends up being the most fun as it unleashes all aspects of the game, but we’ll get to that later. Let us tackle TransOcean 2’s main campaign first, not only because it’s the game’s weakest aspect, but because it’s likely this will be most players’ first port of call.
The single-player campaign of TransOcean 2 is split into 6 chapters each with a specific focus. For example, one requires you to have more oil tankers than your competition in order to pass the chapter. Tied to a well thought out tutorial system it helps you get to grips with all the various aspects of the game which will become useful in the other modes TransOcean 2 has to offer. However there is also a story to be told and if we’re brutally honest it’s a rather weak one. In fact if the story was stripped altogether things would be better for it as the exposition and silly plot developments just make it a chore. Mercifully you can just click continue and zip through the exposition and get right on playing but it’s mystifying as to why it was felt a story needed to be told here.
As you progress new things begin to unlock like subsidiaries and upgrade docks allowing for new gameplay mechanics. The subsidiaries, for example, allow you to buy up one of the core business of shipping for a specific region - like tugboats. Once purchased, using tugboats in that area is cheaper and if any of your opponents use them you get a cut of the profits. Speaking of your opponents the AI seems to bound from the miraculous to the downright idiotic. We were stuck for some time on one chapter because our opponent seemed to have the uncanny ability to magic up money for oil tankers at an alarming rate. However on the next chapter, which required the purchasing of subsidiaries in Europe, seemed to have a penchant for the ones located in South America. The main campaign is very much a trudge through the motions. It’s a rather soulless journey as the story is pointless and the only real reason to put oneself through it is to make use of tutorials contained within.
Which brings us nicely to the other two single-player game modes, competition & endless. It’s here that things fall nicely into place. In both you select how many AI opponents you have and their ability, then pick your starting point and away you go. The only differentiator is that the endless mode has no goals or tasks. It’s just you versus the world whereas competition is a time-limited mode divided into rounds. Each round has specific tasks which, if completed, award victory points. The player with the most victory points at the end of the game wins. It’s simple, straight forward, and more importantly fun. When compared to the single-player campaign you wonder why you put yourself through it.
It’s not all plain sailing though. To begin with things generally start out fun as you have just one boat and the contracts available for the type of ship. Your first boat can be a container ship, a bulk goods ship or an oil tanker. Each have their own strengths and weakness and it’s important that a balance is had to fully maximise profits and contract potential. There’s also a decent amount of importance placed on which contracts to take. All have a time limit, some have bonuses and all have a monetary value attached. Your ship's size will dictate how much you can carry and so you need to make sure you can make enough money at the other end to make the journey viable. However, once your fleet gets to be a certain size the game is a constant barrage of notifications that your ships have arrived or another has been mended. Each time this happens the game is paused (though this can be changed) and new contracts are required to be selected. While you can select several contracts and automate your ship to sail the route the repeated demands for your attention just makes the game become an absolute drudgery.
It’s a shame that this is the case and there are some neat little additions to TransOcean 2. One such addition is that the tug boats will occasionally go on strike and you have the option to drive the boat yourself. Having a punt at parking a 2,000 tonne oil tanker is rather fun and the controls are surprisingly responsive. Graphically the game is rather pleasing with the UI layout being functional and straightforward. However it’s a shame that despite a few noted exceptions port layouts and design are heavily reused. Still I suppose if you’ve seen one shipping port you've seen them all! Overall then TransOcean 2 is a distinctly average game. It’s not standout in its genre nor is it a weak link and at its purest it’s a solid economic simulator if a touch lightweight.