Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Life of a Mobster

A month ago, or thereabouts, I wrote a post here saying how excited I was about the imminent release of Life of a Mobster, the gamebook application written by Mike Walter (aka Lucid's Games), and released by Hosted Games.

That time is now. That game is here. And, man alive, has it ever lived up to my expectations.

This was my original plan: I play the game, explore its nuances, then write a comprehensive review. But, you know, since I formulated that plan I've played through this game four times, start to finish. And I feel I'm still only scratching its surface. Yes, I'll likely play the game again and again, until I know it well. But that'll take some time, and I want to get this blog post written now, while Life of a Mobster is fresh, and shiny, and new.

Here's my new plan: I'm just going to gush about how great the game is, instead.

So, here you play a mobster. Not part of the Mafia - part of an organised crime family that's very similar to the Mafia (you get to choose the family name). If you've played Life of a Wizard - and you should - you'll already be familiar with the format. The game events are recounted as part of an autobiographical discourse, in the first person and the past tense. You choose your childhood background, and progress through adolescence into adulthood, where you meet your first mobster and, for one reason or another, become embroiled in a life of racketeering, tax fraud, theft, gunrunning and maybe even drug dealing (Apple really let that one past the censors?).

Or maybe not. Maybe you'll become an FBI informant, or a backstreet surgeon, or a US senator (a subtly different type of crook). You can be as moral or immoral as you choose - just keep in mind that your crime family's captain, your caporegime, will be expecting you to pay your dues.

Rather counterintuitively, the staccato, 'tell, don't show' style of writing in use throughout here works really well - in a gamebook, it allows the player to jump quickly from decision to major decision. And there's a real tension to some aspects of the storytelling - I've never yet found out the consequences of failing to pay off my caporegime, just because I've been too scared to take the risk. Similarly, I was for some time too scared to try defrauding the tax man - and when I finally did take the chance, the repercussions were harsh...

There's a ton of stuff going on here. As well as managing your various crooked business interests, you may get married, have affairs, and raise children - one of the endgame achievements mentions you can have five kids; I've never managed to bring more than two little darlings into the world. There are also achievements for cold-hearted butchers and for pacifists, for love rats and celibates. Play through the game ten times, and you won't see everything. There are a whole bunch of different endings to aim for - you can unite the five crime families of New Daria, or you can crush them underfoot. Your life can be turned into a Hollywood movie, or you can live out your days in a witness protection programme. I still don't know how to achieve most of these endings, yet - and in my failures, I've found a few not-so-pleasant endings, as well.

Oh, and the game takes place in the city of New Daria - a city whose football team is the New Daria Wizards. That's a cute callback to Life of a Wizard, right there.

Criticisms? I don't have many. There are so many minor characters that it's occasionally a little hard keeping track of who's who (the reminder on the stats screen helps). So far, game balance seems weighted a little on the difficult side - some skills, and some relationships, seem really hard to improve. And that all-important money never seems to stick around for long. But keep in mind I've still only played the game four times; I suspect that's just because I haven't been playing it well, so far.

So, my conclusion: fun, fun, fun. Eminently replayable. My 'like' for this game is at maximum.

Lifeof a Mobster currently costs €2.99 , or whatever that is in your local currency, and that's a decent price. 

(Post by Paul Gresty). 

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