I'm completely hooked on this open world business sandbox sim, and I'm not alone

Yachts and boats at a dock
(Image credit: Hovgaard Games)

I'm a successful businessman in the financial capital of the world, New York City. You can tell just by looking at me, because I'm wearing a suit and a tie. Also, I'm running down the middle of the street pushing a hand cart stacked with 300 frozen hamburgers the day after I spent 48 hours sleeping on a park bench. That's what successful businessmen like Mark Cuban do, right?

Which is to say my entrance to the Manhattan retail management scene has been a bit of a scramble. In business sandbox sim Big Ambitions, you arrive in New York City with little but the clothes on your back and a simple dream: to have a successful uncle give you an apartment, a used car, and a $15,000 loan to start a business empire. But even with my uncle's help, there's a lot to do in Big Ambitions. A helluva lot. 

This is an extremely hands-on sim, by which I mean to make anything happen you really have to roll up your sleeves and get to work. After renting my first retail space, a gift shop I name ChrisCo Gifts, I have to go out and buy things to fill it with. 

That's a physical activity. I have to get into my car, drive to a wholesaler and then to an appliance shop, and actually do the shopping: walking through the aisles and selecting sales counters, storage shelves, cash registers, furniture, cleaning supplies, and everything else a store could need, then wheeling all those big boxes to the checkout aisle with a cart. Then I have to pay for the stuff (waiting in line if there are other customers), and then load everything to the car, drive back to my store, and unpack and place it all. I even need to buy shopping bags for my customers to carry out their purchases with, and when we run out, I have to restock them.

This is all taking place on a big map of New York City. There's lots of traffic, and yes, you do need to legally park your car or you'll get a ticket. I have gotten several tickets already by assuming I could just leave my car on the sidewalk, videogame style, while I ran into a store to buy a set of speakers so my customers could listen to blaring music while perusing my shop.

(Image credit: Hovgaard Games)

And you can't go full GTA with your driving, either, at least not for long. My car slowly accrues damage as I slam into ambulances, t-bone taxis, bonk into lamp posts, and use parked cars to come to a full stop. Smash up your car too much and you'll have to get it towed to a mechanic. Between parking tickets and autobody work, I've spent most of my meager business earnings on my car.

Heck, the driving is so perilous to my pocketbook that when I visited a marketing agency to create an ad for my store and discovered they weren't open on the weekend, I just slept on a bench outside their doors until Monday morning, rather than risking another damaging trip back to my apartment.

Big business

The first day ChrisCo Gifts is open I work the counter (thankfully, you can fast-forward through the day if you're running the register) but after that I hire my first employee, give them a uniform, and set their schedule, freeing me up to rent out other retail spaces to grow my empire. Hiring people means using a recruitment agency to place ads, then looking at each candidate's skills and deciding which will be the best fit for your business. You have to keep an eye on their happiness, too—I've had several employees quit, leaving me to scramble to find replacements before I started losing money.

(Image credit: Hovgaard Games)

Selecting the right retail space is key to success, as I discovered while opening my second store, a burger joint I name ChrisCo BeefGo. Unfortunately I don't notice the business app on my phone pointing out that it has terrible foot traffic, and no matter what I do, including promoting the store on the internet, adding soda sales, and even putting in a table and chairs so people could eat there (I'm a highly inventive business guru) it never turns a profit. I have to close it, sell off all the furniture, and open a second burger place (ChrisCo MegaBeef) in a more popular part of the city.

You need to take care of yourself, too, by eating, either at home—visit a grocery store, buy food, and stock your fridge—or by stopping at restaurants for a quick meal. (Though at popular burger joints, you'll again wind up waiting in line while precious minutes of in-game time tick away.) What happens if you don't eat? I found out when I woke up in the hospital with another expensive bill to go along with my auto repairs.

You can also hire managers and executives to take some of the work off your hands.

It's a lot to handle, but as you slowly become more successful there are plenty of ways to make your life easier. Open a warehouse and a headquarters so that you can contract importers and a delivery company so you don't wind up pushing a handcart full of hamburgers down the middle of the street yourself. Take business classes at the local university and open up more options for running your retail empire. You can get deep into the sim by designing company logos and fussing over the smallest details, but you can also hire managers and executives to take some of the work off your hands.

(Image credit: Hovgaard Games)

And your character even ages as you play, so you really need to think about your future. Save and invest wisely, or blow your cash on fancy cars and fancier yachts. I'm not quite at that point yet myself: I just had to make another trip to the store because my gift shop ran out of shopping bags again. Maybe someday I'll have a network of companies and employees to manage my bag supply chain for me. More likely, I'll just keep making my auto mechanic rich while I spend the night on a park bench again.

I'm really hooked on Big Ambitions, and I'm not alone. According to developer Hovgaard Games, the indie business sandbox has already sold 150,000 copies since it opened its doors on March 10. You'll find it on Steam, where the devs estimate it'll spend between 8-12 months in early access before it celebrates its grand opening. Here's a peek at the development roadmap, too.

Christopher Livingston
Senior Editor

Chris started playing PC games in the 1980s, started writing about them in the early 2000s, and (finally) started getting paid to write about them in the late 2000s. Following a few years as a regular freelancer, PC Gamer hired him in 2014, probably so he'd stop emailing them asking for more work. Chris has a love-hate relationship with survival games and an unhealthy fascination with the inner lives of NPCs. He's also a fan of offbeat simulation games, mods, and ignoring storylines in RPGs so he can make up his own.