Management simulator is a genre with a few recent hits in Planet Coaster and Two Point Hospital. For people wanting to manage transport for a whole country there’s OpenTTD. But there was a niche of the small scale transport. A niche now filled by Overcrowd: A Commute ‘Em Up, which allows you to run your own London underground station.
Overcrowd is, as mentioned, a management simulator that allows players to take care of an underground station. In each mission the player is given a plot of land with couple of tube lines passing through it. After building the platform, turnstiles and the ticket machines, you are able to start running the station, but only basics won’t do.
There is a lot that can go wrong on the Victoria line — garbage piles up fast and passengers can get sick. Occasionally there will crimes. Rats pop out. The temperature can go way too high causing heat strokes. To counteract all of that, you need to equip your staff with different tools or buy additional facilities such as air vents.
The passengers are very demanding. They arrive fast, don’t like overcrowding, standing around and love to litter. And with that, the player has to use Bonds acquired by transporting people to buy new upgrades, stations and staff to keep the station in the top shape. This means keeping the station’s reputation and the checkbook above zero, as well as digging up ground to create new platforms on lower levels..
While playing, you see the map from the isometric view — a classic look for the genre. However it immediately feels smoother. At the beginning, I couldn’t put my finger on it, but it becomes apparent once you zoom in. The whole game is actually pixel art — but to see the whole station you have to zoom out, which blurs it perfectly. And it looks great to boot.
The whole artstyle is incredibly clean, putting readability over details. This is needed if you have to see exactly what is happening on the moment’s notice and respond. The UI is also clean, telling you all the necessary information — and sometimes interesting information the player might not know they need. The only gripe I could possibly have is the repetitiveness in passengers, as I managed to have a whole platform filled mostly with very similar looking characters.
The music feels nice and non-intrusive as well. Simple tracks in the background keep you in the zone while you try to figure out exactly how to put more tracks connected to the station. Similarly with sound effects, they’re a great filler and won’t distract you from the train coming in on platform two.
The tutorial got me through the basics of the game. I knew how to build, set up, staff and upgrade the station. After that, I was let loose to enjoy one of the few game modes — I decided to go with the campaign, as it seemed to be the main mode. The interesting thing about it is that the campaign itself is procedurally generated, giving you a couple of missions to build and run stations in different parts of the city, some more busy than others.
Once I got into the rhythm of the game, I started realizing that I’m not as good as it as I thought I would be. After losing because I had too much litter, I managed to barely scrape by. Overcrowd does not kid around — once you start dropping the ball on a certain aspect of your station, I found it hard to get back up. If not litter, then overcrowding, all while trying to keep my stuff from the verge of a breakdown.
Regardless of that, Overcrowd hits that sweet spot of being challenging. Each time I lost a mission it made me more conscious of how I build the station and what should I avoid next time. I don’t know if it’s the game or my liking of the genre, but I wanted more of it, and as soon as possible. There are difficulty levels, but I found the default level just right for me.
There are other game modes as well. If you want even more challenge, there is a daily mission — running a station and building all five platforms on the map. On the other hand there is the sandbox, which can be customized to your liking. Being able to experience the game without losing and just enjoying the mechanics and all the upgrades can be nice as a break from the demanding campaign or daily challenges.
If you’re a fan of the genre, you probably made your decision a while ago. But if you didn’t, I definitely recommend it for those that like micromanaging a transport company. If you’re not a management simulator fan you might still find Overcrowd interesting. However, be aware of the learning curve that might hit you, not unlike a train on the Piccadilly line.
Overcrowd: A Commute ‘Em Up is available on Steam as an Early Access title.