Overcrowd: A Commute ‘Em Up

If life had a stat screen, I’d be very curious about just how much time I spent on public transport. I commute almost everywhere even though I have a driver’s license. I like to sit back and chill when I travel. Maybe read a bit on my tablet. Maybe play a game. Perhaps, even, play a game about public transport. Today we are reviewing Overcrowd: A Commute ‘Em Up.

Overcrowd is a management game that puts players in charge of a metro station. You start out with a randomized plot of land full of features to work with. You have different entrances that people want to access your station through, as well as transparent train tracks that mark where you can place rails. It’s up to you to puzzle together an efficient way to build a station around these conditions within the budget afforded to you.

The building tools take some getting used to, but are straightforward once you’ve practiced a bit. By clicking the Edit Floor button, you can then click and drag to shape the interior of your train station. You can then designate some areas as specific rooms—like a staff room or a utility room—which will wall them off from the crowd. Once you have it shaped the way you want, you can lay down some tracks and start placing all the machines and decor from a standard build menu. The only restriction being that some items are restricted to specific rooms. You can’t just toss a generator or two in the staff room because it has space left over.

There are some advanced concepts like lowering or raising floors to facilitate underground rails. These are more difficult to wrap your head around, but the beginner maps don’t require you to understand them right away. You can get comfortable with the basic systems first and then deal with the harder ones when you feel like it.

Keeping a metro station running does require a lot of work. You have to install ticket machines and turnstiles, as well as other necessities like an energy grid, lighting, and trashcans. As you expand and automate more of your station, this increases the requirements for power also. You might be shocked actually how quickly you start getting brownouts unless you keep investing in more generators.

You’ll also have to make the station itself appealing for visitors. Place and maintain decorations, put up advertisements, and place some shops around so people have something to do while they wait. Did I mention you also need to manually summon the train until you get the technology to automate that? We haven’t even talked about managing staff yet! Overcrowd is a surprisingly hectic game. Especially early on, it can be a real challenge for your station to get rolling. Money is tight, yet you’ll constantly feel the need to do more. Both because commuters will voice their every complaint and because you keep unlocking new stuff to work with.

That’s not criticism by the way. It’s engaging and a level of challenge that I find satisfying to overcome. It feels so good once you finally get your station running smoothly. At which point you can start eyeing other entrances or contemplate adding more rails; further expanding this intricate logistics puzzle.

Managing staff also feels involved. Everybody you hire has a list of stats and skills that dictate what they can do and how well they do it. Chores include stuff like cleaning, providing medical aid, customer service, or even dealing with criminals. Staff also has emotional states. They get tired from working or thirsty, so you need to equip the staff room with everything they need to rest up. As well as set aside time in their schedule to actually take that rest.

What staff will do is further decided by a Rimworld-like list of priorities. You have a grid where you can set per staff member what jobs they will do and in what order of priority. If you set medical aid to first priority for someone, then they will drop any second or third priorities to provide medical aid when necessary. Assuming it happens somewhere they can detect. It’s functional, but does run into some annoying issues. I frequently caught staff not abiding by the priorities; continuing to do less-important jobs even as they should be switching to another. Employees are also terrible at returning items they don’t need. This means someone might not be able to do a priority task because someone on the other end of the station is still hogging the necessary tools. The AI can’t deal with this, so at that point you have to manually intervene or buy more tools. This makes the strength stat problematic too, as that gives employees more inventory space to hog even more of your stuff.

3 levels of priorities is also not enough in a lot of cases. Say you have a medical expert. You probably want their first priority to be medical aid, but that is split up into medicine, cardiac arrest, and heatstrokes; each requiring different tools and different squares on the priority grid. There is no way to instruct staff to do something right away. Thus you might run into a problem where your doctor ignores a heart attack case to instead help somebody that just sneezed. Your only fix at that point is to alter their priorities on the fly and trying not to forget to change it back later.

I do really like how staff gains experience points over time. Once they level up you can invest points to upgrade their stats, the results of which are very immediate. I usually put points in Perception, which increases the range at which staff notice jobs they need to do, or speed. It made me quite attached to some of my senior staff after a while, which lessened the frustration anytime they ran off with the medkit again.

Technology is also handled in an interesting way. You gain “bonds” based on how many people you have successfully transferred, which can then be used to unlock new options from a tech tree. Some are locked off until you have acquired total amount of bonds, but you are otherwise free to pick what you want. This includes new tools to counter problems around the station with, better trains or permits to have more tracks, or all kinds of items for your station. You can also invest in upgrading facilities you already have, like better seats or nicer plants. It might seem like a waste of bonds, but you’ll notice the effects in the customer satisfaction meter.

As for game modes, the game effectively has 2. You can play a sandbox map and just work your way up. Expand the station, make money, unlock tech, and keep going. You can also play a variant of this mode through the Daily Commute challenge. Alternatively, there is Network Mode. Rather than a LAN game, this refers to a campaign where you are presented with a city cut up into districts. You go through these 1-by-1 to build new metro stations, but with limitations placed on which technologies you can unlock. As you progress through these maps the layouts get more difficult and the restrictions are gradually removed.

It’s not a mode suited to me, but I can see the appeal. It gives you the opportunity to get introduced to mechanics piecemeal and it makes failure less painful. If a metro station starts going south, you can learn from those mistakes and start anew in the next district. You can even go back to your old stations later with new tech to try and mend what you left behind.

I play a lot of indie management sims and Overcrowd quickly became one of my favorites in this niche. It’s a very well put-together game with enough depth to be worth its asking price. I am also really fond of its aesthetic. The isometric view, the cartoon pixelart, it gave me a very Habbo Hotel feel. Even the way how characters wander around and animate fit that nostalgic viewpoint. I am not sure if that was deliberate, but it is what first drew me to the game. I bought it on impulse and certainly don’t regret doing so.

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