East India Company

Thomas Cross

From African nations to Indian ports, your goal is to travel to foreign lands and economically exploit them.

East India Company

Publisher: Paradox Interactive
Players: 1-8
Price: $39.99
Platforms: PC
ESRB Rating: Teen
Developer: Nitro Games
Release date: 2009-07-31

East India Company is more than just a game with an ill-advised name. It’s both more interesting than it appears to be and less engrossing than you would expect it to be. It treats its highly sensitive subject matter apathetically. It is a game that invites comparison to many other titles but feels like none of them. In short, it’s anything but a focused, deep simulation. If anything, it’s a dabbler, unwilling to explore any of its skin-deep fascinations, and thus an ultimately unsatisfying title.

The title of the game is all you really need to know starting out. You control one of many European nations’ trading companies. While not all of these groups are the East India Trading Company, their spirit is the same. From African nations to Indian ports, your goal is to travel to foreign lands and economically exploit them.

Of course, this is only the beginning of your company’s dreams. As the game progresses, you’re encouraged to expand your influence and power through three methods: trade, the sacking and occupying of African and Asian nations, and the destruction of other European interests. It goes without saying that to tell this story and depict these actions with any degree of taste or historical accuracy, Paradox Interactive needs to tread an extremely fine line. It also goes without saying that they cross that line during the game’s opening cinematic.

From the grandly campy Imperialistic opening movie to the flat, urbanely violent tutorial to the game’s omnipresent stuffy “English” narrator and guide, this is a game ironically and blatantly unaware of the historical significance of its subject matter. It’s not as if the rape and pillaging of Indian ports (not to mention the equally violent history of “trading companies” in different African kingdoms and states) is depicted with leering savagery or exultant glee. Instead, the game aims for a bored, just-good-enough recreation of the ports and lands that you will visit. The game makes combat, trade, and violence into minor, uninteresting activities.

In many ways, the game fares just as badly as the unselfconscious Colonization. They both reduce the centuries-long destruction and wanton disrespect of entire cultures and populations to bored, statistics-heavy exercises in management. It’s an incredibly insulting, naïve approach to game-making and storytelling, and apparently, it’s acceptable to gamers and developers alike.

Behind East India Company’s boorish plot and setting, there lies an almost complex management and trading sim along with a shallow naval combat simulation. Most of the strategy comes from spending your money on ships and then deciding what to do with those ships. Most of the game is spent from the strategic, global perspective. From here, you can order ships to travel to a destination, create regular trading routes, survey enemy strengths and production capabilities, and buy better buildings in the ports that you maintain.

It’s fortunate that most of the game can be controlled from the strategic map because ship combat isn’t terribly deep. You can view your ships from two vantage points: close up and far away. When controlling your ships from a distance, you can spin the camera, issue commands to your fleet, alter various attributes onboard (from cannon shot type to furling of the sails), and order assaults on enemy ships. In this mode, the attacks are automatic. Once given the go-ahead, ships will fire volley after volley, though you must turn them back and forth if you want them to fire both sets of cannons.

From the close up, “commander’s” view, you control your flagship directly. Still, your only new ability is a more sensitive set of turning controls. You can now fire manually, but you must still turn the ship to offer up your fresh, loaded guns for the second volley. It’s more engaging than the tactical mode, but it leaves your other ships to their own devices. They may not be dumb, but they won’t take advantage of all openings like you might. All ship combat boils down to two outcomes: you can either board the ship or sink it. If you want to board it, you’ll sweep the decks with grape shot (before which you’d send chain shot into its rigging) and then move in for the kill. Sinking a ship is straightforward enough: blow it to pieces.

Despite all of these options (along with a slightly confusing diplomacy interface), East India Company is not a game with legs. Once you play a campaign or two, you realize that automatic trading routes (with a large, safe convoy) are the best way to go. You may miss out on an extra thousand or so, but the micro-management that you avoid is well worth the price. Combat is a diverting if ultimately forgettable affair, and eventually, you’ll come to hate the sight of an impending assault.

East India Company is a competent game, to be sure, but it’s also quite happy to be a middling game at best. Of course, that’s before you take into account the game’s objectionable, blatant insensitivity and bias. If you’re on the lookout for a somewhat entertaining management/combat sim, this could be the title for you, but there are many other games more deserving of your time, games that choose not to insult your intelligence and good taste.






Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.