Rescue HQ: The Tycoon is an emergency management simulator by Still Alive Studios, that has you managing police, firefighters, and medical services. Build your headquarters, fill it with all the necessary equipment, and hire the best people to keep your community safe. Just make sure your bank balance stays in the green or you’ll find yourself in the unemployment line quicker than you can say “cat in a tree”.
Rescue HQ: The Tycoon takes things a step into the past by removing some of the overcomplicated and unnecessary fluff of so many recent simulators. Things are kept simple so you can get right to business and do what needs doing while still providing enough of a challenge to ensure you don’t spend most of your time twiddling your thumbs in search of excitement. This then, is a decently entertaining management sim, but does it have enough to measure up against the competition?
Rescue HQ: The Tycoon is available right now on Steam.
Saving people from their own stupidity can be exhausting, so it’s a good thing this game does well in making that job entertaining. There are 3 things main to keep your eye on to ensure you ship keeps sailing, iceberg free. First is your cash flow, you might be saving lives, but that doesn’t mean you qualify for free handouts so you need to keep your bank balance from dropping below 0. Second is your reputation, which functions as a secondary currency. Reputation is earned by successfully completing emergencies and can then be spent to unlock more advanced gear, utilities, and vehicles which you’ll need when you have more than stuck cats to deal with. The last item here is your success rate which is also affected by how you handle emergencies. A higher success rate means you’ll not only get more emergencies to handle, which not only translates into a higher income, but also makes you the governments golden boy and leads to more substantial financial grants.
When you start a new game in Rescue HQ: The Tycoon you receive an empty slate with which to create your factory of life preservation. Plop down a garage with a vehicle or two, open an office to hire capable staff, get some basic gear, and you’re ready to change the world, one rescue at a time. Things escalate rather quickly though, and before you know it people will be screaming in your ears for more… better gear, bigger vehicles, more toilets, etc.
For a start, there are nearly 20 different vehicles to fill your garage with, not exactly a petrolhead’s dream catalog but it’ll do. Some, like the basic police cruiser, act solely as transport for your heroes to get to the emergency scene, while others come already equipped with the gear needed for specific scenarios. A riot truck, for example, will already have riot shields and body armor for when things get rowdy, while some ambulances come equipped with hazmat suits and medicine. Different vehicles also come with varying amount of space to carry people and equipment so having a wide array of emergency vehicles available is an absolute must when the world inevitably goes pear-shaped.
The list of equipment available is quite vast and will take some time to unlock entirely. These vary from fireman’s axes to breach a building on fire, to sniper gear for the odd hostage situation, to mobile crash carts when someone’s heart needs a jump start. Different emergencies require different gear so choosing which equipment to unlock first becomes an intense inner struggle since you always end up needing that which you do not yet have. Each time an emergency pops up, you are presented with a list of skills and equipment needed for optimal work to be done, like the number of water tanks necessary to douse the flames, a high rise ladder to save people stuck in a skyscraper, high powered police vehicles to chase down criminals, or a K-9 unit to assist in a drug bust. Keep in mind that it’s not necessary to check every box before sending your people into the fray, as rescuers with more experience and specific skill sets are much more effective than rookies and can push your estimated chance of success way over 100%, even without all the necessary equipment.
Should you be presented with an emergency that you are woefully unprepared for, you can “Ask for help” which spends some of your reputation to automatically resolve the situation. You won’t receive any payment for this though but you will also not have your success rate penalized for failing. Every so often, you will encounter special events that will increase the chances of certain types of emergencies occurring. Examples of these include football season which sees you dealing with a high number of bar fights after games which requires crowd control equipment, or an Ecology Summit Conference which comes with a risk of a biological attack where Hazmat and Contamination suits are necessary. Some emergencies were quite silly and brought some welcome comic relief to the game. I frequently had to send all 3 service factions to capture a sloth who escaped from the zoo, and for some reason, nature lovers kept getting intoxicated and burning down the forest they loved so much.
Staff members, like vehicles, require some TLC after a hard day fighting the dangers of this world. As such, you’ll need to ensure you have enough skilled professionals available to jump to the rescue when some personnel might not be up for the task. Luckily, your staff gets split into a day and night shift to give them ample time to rest and recuperate. Should you anticipate a high influx of emergencies and fear your night shift might not be able to handle things, it is possible to have day shift members stay behind to help out but you’ll risk burning them out completely. In order to ensure a steady flow of new recruits, you have to set up recruitment desks in an office.
New recruits might not be useful right out the gates though. At the start, you’ll mostly receive rookies which require training before they can ride a big-boy bike. For this, you’ll set up training rooms with various equipment to train rookies into officers, and officers into specialists. Rookies can also be sent into the field under the supervision of more experienced members to learn from the masters. Apart from dealing with HR nonsense and ensuring everyone has adequate training and relaxation opportunities, there’s not much in terms of staff management. The game doesn’t feel lacking because of this but I do feel a bit more could have been done.
Your medical services are utilized in emergencies just like your firefighters and police, but you also require an on-site medical center to deal with patients after the fact. This opens up a whole new list of equipment you’ll need to unlock but luckily patients come with insurance money as well as ouchies. Building the various rooms and purchasing the vast amount of equipment you require becomes the most elaborate game of Tetris you’ve ever played as space is always limited. This presents another challenge to keep your thumbs from twiddling as you’ll constantly be moving things around, expanding rooms, or destroying them to rebuild elsewhere.
This presented me with one limitation in the game’s design which does not allow you to move an existing room but rather requires you to destroy and rebuild, meaning all the equipment has to be repurchased. I would also like the option to place items on “invalid” locations while I’m busy with renovations because sometimes you just need to get a few items out of the way so you can move a wall or resize a room before putting them back where they belong. Because items can’t be moved like this, I often had to sell items, finish up my remodeling, only to repurchase said items at a premium.
I would also like to see the tutorial expanded a bit. For the most part, the gameplay was pretty easy to pick up and run with but there were a few things that I feel should have been explained better. Vehicles, for example, require regular maintenance, an act you have to commission manually. Similarly, when you have alleged criminals waiting in a holding cell, you have to send a police officer to start processing them. I only realized this after I had around 30 men in striped suits wasting time in a holding cell and I noticed their paperwork was piling up. This was a minor annoyance but it is something I feel a well-designed tutorial can solve quite easily.
This section is somewhat bitter-sweet for me as every good point gets countered with something I didn’t like, whether it be a bug or just questionable design.
I love how so many games nowadays go alternative routes in terms of graphic design, instead of sticking to the norm and pushing your graphics engine to the brink of collapse. Rescue HQ: The Tycoon also followed their own path by utilizing basic 3D shapes to make up the majority of the game objects. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, so this is entirely subjective, but I rather enjoy this game’s unique design route.
The interface did not provide a similar experience though, there was something almost clinical about it. Maybe they just used too formal a font but something about the interface made me think of financial statements or something else equally boring. That said, it was easy to use with everything placed where I’d expect it. I would, however, like to see the build menu redesigned to include a name or short description next to each icon to help you distinguish what’s what. The vehicle menu was the biggest pain here with so many to choose from and every icon looking pretty much identical, requiring you to hover over or select it to find the one you need. The hover tooltips are great though providing just enough information with a touch of humor.
The actual vehicles and items look great though, even from a distance there’s no problem identifying anything but once again there’s something to gripe about. As mentioned, a lot of your time will be spent planning the layout of your rooms to get as much as possible out of the space but certain items make this task more difficult than it needs to be. The office desks are a very good example of this since one side of the desk needs to be open for a staff member to get to the chair. The chair should be accessible from both sides but the game forces you to use only one. This simple issue has had me rearrange my office several times just to get the desks to fit without obstructing access to them. It also scratched at my OCD when I couldn’t put desks in a neat line unless there was ample space around them, and ample space was a luxury I could not afford.
There were a few other irritations I couldn’t ignore like broken animations involving the training equipment, the map lying over the emergency notification screen and cutting off some of the buttons, and item unlock options not being visible even though I have enough reputation to purchase it. Additionally, I kept getting low FPS warnings even though my rig was more than capable enough to run the game. I didn’t notice any frame drops when this notification popped up but there were times when I’d have to click on items or menus several times before the game responded. If this was due to performance lag then this game’s source code will need some serious optimization.
None of these were too serious though, but I did find one bug that could potentially be game-breaking. Some items like desks or gear continuously became inactive with no apparent reason or way to reactivate them. Sometimes this would correct itself after reloading the game, other times I had to move the item to another location, or when all else failed I’d sell the item and purchase a new one. This was a real problem, especially since you tend to only discover items being broken when you most need them.
As far as gameplay options go, the game is rather limited. Currently, there are only 5 scenarios available, all of which are basically the same with some just providing an additional challenge like limited space or funding. Most of them have a 5-week time limit to achieve your goals, after which they just carry on to infinity. With nothing to really separate these scenarios, I see this game going very much like the old Sim City’s in that you invest a lot of time in one game and get everything near perfection but after days of grinding I suspect very few will load the next map just to start from scratch again. A multiplayer option pitting you against friends could maybe have been enough to save the replayability value but alas, that’s missing as well.
Turning our attention to the audio and once again things are a mixture of smiles and frowns. The mayor will often pop up to either provide instructions or to inform you of some impending event that could cause an influx of a certain type of emergency. The narration is well written and the voice acting is rather good, but this is the only time voice acting is used. You do get some instruction screens every now and then and it would have been nice if these were narrated as well.
The music is fun enough and gives you an almost carnival-like vibe but it’s nothing special. It’s a similar story with the various pings and pops you hear when something’s trying to get your attention. The notification sounds are a bit too generic and often had me searching the screen for whatever I’m supposed to be attending to. However, when zoomed in you’ll start hearing the sound effects from everything happening in your headquarters, which is a touch I appreciated.