Video games can let you run everything from a theme park to a railway company but this new management sim features a very different kind of business…
As Ubisoft’s portfolio constantly reminds us, video games don’t really do politics. Although it’s a potential problem for any entertainment business, it’s only video game publishers who are always so desperate to give the pretence of being apolitical – for fear of putting off even a single person from buying their products. We hate to think what that means about how companies view their audience but as you might imagine this game, about running your own marijuana empire, is very much an indie production.
Now that it’s been highlighted, it is surprising how rarely video games reference drugs in general, with even Grand Theft Auto and its ilk usually only dealing them in passing. You can run your own pot shop in GTA VI but it’s a very superficial option in terms of both gameplay and how it treats the subject matter. But Weedcraft Inc tries to go deeper, as both a business simulator and in terms of its narrative.
It’s a difficult balance to strike though and, perhaps because there are so few other games like it, Weedcraft Inc struggles to decide whether it should take itself entirely seriously or act like the video game equivalent of a stoner comedy.
Weedcraft Inc’s main story mode has you playing as a failed student, who does not himself partake, and delves fairly deeply into the practice of using cannabis for legitimate medical reasons. It also deals with the different effects the trade has on poor and rich communities – raising issues such as gentrification and the random, from an ordinary person’s point of view, distribution of places where use is and isn’t legal.
In gameplay terms, as well as the narrative, Weedcraft Inc is a business sim and when it comes to the former a surprisingly realistic one. Your first task is simply to grow the plants yourself, which involves experimenting in the basement to see what strains and cultivation techniques work best. The game puts quite a lot of emphasis on this element but too much of it is just trial and error and you’ll be glad when you can palm responsibilities off to someone else – although cutting different strains is something you constantly return to no matter how well everything else is going on.
Not only do you have to grow the cannabis yourself but you also have to sell it and deal with the various characters that want you to stop – including the police, rival dealers, and your family. Soon enough though you can afford to start hiring other people, to grow the plants, sell them on the street, or run a front for you. The scope then increases again when you need people to run operations in an entire city for you, with the game setting clear goals for the expansion of your business.
The game does try to make these employees seem like real people, with each having individual stats that determine their competence and trustworthiness. But it doesn’t go into enough detail and all the potential stories of honour and betrayal just boil down to them asking for a raise every five minutes and complaining about rival gangs. You also have your own stats though, which are gradually improved as you progress and influence your own dealings with the law and other ‘business associates’.
As a business sim Weedcraft Inc is not overly complex, and misses many of the chances the unique nature of your trade provides, but in terms of gameplay alone there is enjoyment to be had here. As your empire expands you realise that, like many businesses, your primary concern is property management, as you closely monitor mundane management overheads such as rent, utility bills, and parts and labour costs. At the same time your clientele segues from random people on the street to celebrities and politicians.
Visually, the game is not much to shout about and at times looks worrying like a Flash game, even though there are proper city views with little cars and pedestrians wandering around. The artwork is the real problem, as its scrappy style only furthers the impression of this being a low-budget mobile game (especially as there are no voiceovers) when actually it’s clear quite a bit of work and effort has gone into it.
There’s also a second game mode (a third is promised later) where you play a 50-year-old man just released from prison and that’s actually the more interesting of the two scenarios. Here you start off with a fair amount of money and merchandise, after teaming up with an old friend, but that makes things harder as you essentially skip the opening hours of the standard game and instantly get to the point where your rapid growth is no longer so easy maintain.
If all this is starting to sound a bit clinical then you’re not far wrong, as in terms of gameplay you could change the subject matter to something less controversial and it really wouldn’t make much difference at all. But when it comes to interacting with other characters Weedcraft Inc plays things very broadly, with little cartoon portraits of various drug-related stereotypes, from stoners dudes to hipsters to, rather distastefully, cancer sufferers – who are portrayed with sunken eyes and hooked up to an IV drip.
The game’s clearly trying to be irreverent, but the script isn’t clever enough for it to seem like anything but lazy and borderline offensive. There’s not nearly enough unique dialogue for any of the characters to seem like real people and the narrative side of things suffers as a result. Which is a shame because through the gameplay Weedcraft Inc is able to make some interesting points about the social-economic influence of the drugs trade.
It’s when it comes to personalising these issues that things fall down and while that still leaves you with a fairly competent business sim the chance to be something more is largely squandered.
In Short: An interesting but flawed attempt to tackle the selling and using of cannabis, that never has the courage to take itself entirely seriously.
Pros: A solid business sim that, in gameplay terms, handles the expansion from basement business to country-wide empire very well.
Cons: Plant cultivation has too many random elements. Weak script and cartoonish art style trivialises issues the gameplay itself takes seriously.
Price: £15.49Publisher: Devolver DigitalDeveloper: Vile MonarchRelease Date: 11th April 2019Age Rating: N/A