Test: With Captain of Industry, Factorio gets dangerous competition

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The construction game Captain of Industry is making a name for itself on Steam. Because it combines Anno islands with Factorio automatisms – and that’s addictive!

The best construction games are those that make us forget all sense of time; where we firmly claim “Only five more minutes, then it’s really over!”, only to look at the clock in amazement and realise that it’s already half past three in the morning. But what choice do we have when our Anno residents have once again run out of beer? Leave them acutely under-hopped? Never!

Captain of Industry is also one of these games – or at least is preparing to become one. Anno is a good keyword here, because the Early Access game from the two-man developer studio MaFi Games mixes elements of the traditional German-Austrian series Anno with game mechanics from the factory simulation hit Factorio and garnishes the whole thing with a pinch of Sim City.

In the test, the game turns out to be a rough industrial diamond that will probably accompany construction gamers for years to come.

The island is calling!

Your first order of business in Captain of Industry is to choose one of the five maps in the game. These are islands that are divided into different difficulty levels depending on their size and nature.

But this is already our first point of criticism. Although some of the maps play differently, they are visually very similar. They consist largely of green areas, here and there you will find a beach, a few mountains and many conifers. For the future, we would like to see more variety, for example snowy areas and more diverse vegetation.

After you have made a few fine adjustments to the difficulty level, you enter the map. Similar to Anno, you start with a ship and an associated harbour. However, these need to be repaired before we can use them.

Your goal is quite clear: bring your colony up to scratch, build your own industrial empire and launch a rocket at the end – that’s probably a good thing in factory simulations by now.

(Five islands, each with very different terrain, are waiting for you to build them up.)
(Five islands, each with very different terrain, are waiting for you to build them up.)

Invisible residents with high expectations

But before space calls, start small, for example by setting up farms. Your inhabitants, who initially live in a container settlement, have a number of needs. If you run out of food, your colonists die and the game is over!

Fortunately, you can save freely at any time. However, this is no substitute for a good long-term strategy. In general, Captain of Industry is one of those games in which you get through your first playthrough rather badly than well. It is important to learn from your mistakes and use the knowledge you have gained to your advantage later on.

(Control towers let you determine exactly where your excavator should go about its work.)
(Control towers let you determine exactly where your excavator should go about its work.)

While we were on the subject of inhabitants: Unfortunately, this is where the first graphical weakness of the game becomes apparent, because the small workers cannot be seen in the game itself, but only live in menus. The atmosphere suffers not least from this. On the other hand, the rubbish produced by the colonists is all the more visible and wants to be stored somewhere – reminiscent of Sim City.

The simplest form of waste disposal is to simply store it on the ground. To do this, select the “dump” function, define a zone and your busy trucks will start piling up a mountain of rubbish.

Happy trucks!

These trucks are the backbone of your infrastructure, automatically bringing building materials to where they are needed or storing mined materials. In the vehicle depot, you not only produce new trucks, but also excavators, among other things. With the latter you can mine the many different ore deposits on your island.

In addition to the coveted goods – coal, iron, gold and the like – the mining work also produces by-products such as earth, which, like the waste already mentioned, must be disposed of in some way. Captain of Industry is quite true to reality in this respect, which should please realism fans. When you dump soil, rocks and the like into the landscape, you can also use it to terraform and create new driveways for your excavators – very exciting!

(We use harvesters to cut down trees, which we need as building material and to make coal.)
(We use harvesters to cut down trees, which we need as building material and to make coal.)

The realism approach is also evident in the pollution: For example, the production of diesel from crude oil produces waste water, which we have to pour into the sea. Here, however, you have no other choice at the beginning, because your starting supply of diesel is scarce and when it runs out … well, hopefully you will have saved often enough. At the same time, however, pollution must not get out of hand so that your inhabitants remain satisfied. It’s a dilemma that requires a delicate touch!

(With the pump we produce oil, which is processed into diesel in the distillery. We just dump the waste water into the sea if Greenpeace knew!)
(With the pump we produce oil, which is processed into diesel in the distillery. We just dump the waste water into the sea if Greenpeace knew!)

Good core gameplay

Generally, Captain of Industry is a game that often requires careful consideration. The bigger your factory gets, the more there is to fiddle with and optimise. You have to plan long, highly complex production chains and at the same time make sure that there is always enough electricity, maintenance units and so on so that nothing comes to a standstill. As in Factorio, you also automate as much as possible, for example with chutes and conveyor belts.

At the same time, you’ll be working through the 150+ technology research tree, which will keep you busy for a few dozen hours. Here you will also often be forced to rebuild your system, because if your system is based on burning coal, but you then unlock the much more environmentally friendly solar energy, renovation is first in order. And time flies again. The actual gameplay is complex, runs pleasantly bug-free and is simply a lot of fun already.

(Captain of Industry likes nothing better than to introduce a new mechanic with every second technology. The game is already very complex.)
(Captain of Industry likes nothing better than to introduce a new mechanic with every second technology. The game is already very complex.)

Average presentation

In other areas, however, the game is weak. Remember that broken ship you started out with? Once it’s seaworthy again, you can use it to travel the seas and discover cool, new things that will help you in your settlement, such as an abandoned freighter with valuable goods on board.

Well, at least that’s the theory. In practice, you just rattle off the hotspots on the world map and experience these discoveries in unadorned menus. Apropos: The interface provides us with all kinds of information, but the building menu in particular seems very overloaded towards the end of the game and could do with a bit more streamlining.

question marks in Captain of Industry. At least we haven't been able to spot any Ubisoft's radio towers yet.
question marks in Captain of Industry. At least we haven’t been able to spot any Ubisoft’s radio towers yet.

Generally, the presentation is not necessarily a strong point of Captain of Industry. On the surface, the fully animated production chains look very coherent, but in detail there are weaknesses in the textures. You should also not look too closely at some of the animations. When you erect new buildings, it looks like turquoise containers drive out of the ground, then disappear again, and the place is already standing.

(Building animations consist of turquoise containers mysteriously emerging from the ground and tracing the rough shape of the building. This looks ... interesting looking.)
(Building animations consist of turquoise containers mysteriously emerging from the ground and tracing the rough shape of the building. This looks … interesting looking.)

As the success of Factorio proves, cutting-edge graphics are not the top priority for many construction fans anyway, so this should all be bearable. Especially since the soundtrack is really good: bass, keyboards & Co. are catchy, sometimes even distorted guitars can be heard. Great, because let’s be honest: What suits heavy industry better than metal(l)?

A look into the future

The tutorials are also far from perfect: Instead of letting you build an exemplary production chain, teaching you the optimal placement of buildings or even comprehensively explaining its basics, the game leaves you largely in the dark.

From time to time there are tutorial entries with small video snippets, but you mainly have to read a lot – and above all: try out a lot. If you get stuck somewhere, the game won’t help you much. So if you’re not already a factory simulation expert, be prepared to resort to YouTube tutorials and community guides.

In terms of game modes, Captain of Industry also offers very little at this stage – we are currently talking about a pure endless game. There is no campaign or different scenarios. The former seems unlikely due to the manageable team size, the latter should still find its way into the game in the future, as the developers’ roadmap () for two to three years of Early Access states. Mod support is being worked on, but a multiplayer mode does not seem to be concretely planned so far.

(A small step for a player, but a big step for automation: with gutters we connect blast furnaces and foundries, for example).
(A small step for a player, but a big step for automation: with gutters we connect blast furnaces and foundries, for example).

Captain of Industry still lacks variety to finally climb the building Olympus, but even in its current Early Access version the game already offers a pleasant tinkering experience for which we can (under the aforementioned limitations in terms of accessibility and complexity) already give a cautious recommendation. (The game is available on Steam for 28 Euros). But don’t be surprised if you look at your watch at half past three in the morning – we’ve warned you!

Preliminary score box

Editorial conclusion

Oh Captain, my Captain! After an hour or two of play, an initial sense of the complexity of this title crept up on me. My immediate reaction consisted of an awestruck “Whew”. Even in this early Early Access version there is quite a lot in it – at least in terms of core gameplay. The whole shebang (modes, maps and the like) is admittedly still expandable.

Due to its suboptimal tutorial, Captain of Industry is not exactly beginner-friendly and requires a lot of initiative from you to learn the mechanics. But once the game is up and running, it really takes off! Personally, Captain of Industry is a bit too complex for me, but even a grumbler like me has to soberly acknowledge how much the game already does right and how strong the pull is. For construction lovers – and Factorio fans in particular – Captain of Industry is undoubtedly worth a look.