Mob Rule (PC)

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You are an up and coming capo in another man’s mafia given the dubious privilege of commanding the Don’s forces. If you succeed, he takes the credit, if you fail, you take the fall. The big man’s got plans for you though, plans that will take you far. You’ve got to build businesses and organize your subordinates in order to destroy rival families and keep your ledger in the black. And whatever you do, never disobey the Don.

History

Made by Studio 3, the internal development branch of System 3, Mob Rule was meant to be a more combat oriented version of their previous game, Constructor. Mob Rule recycled the engine and a lot of the mechanics. It received worse reviews than Constructor at the time in large part to its UI change and mission goal restrictions.

It’s been picked up and distributed by Good Old Games these days and their port is competent and flexible but missing a vital aspect from the original, multiplayer. For whatever reason they removed the option to get a multiplayer game going. The multiplay format is no longer supported by modern Operating Systems but savvy coders have found ways to get it to run with a few downloadable programs. So I’ve got to ask GOG, where’s my mafia based multiplayer?

I mean, that’s the UI on the bottom panel. It’s not exactly intuitive.

Mob Rule was released on September 30th, 1999. It’s competition was Rollercoaster Tycoon (PC and apparently this game had an XBox port.), Dungeon Keeper 2 (PC), and Baldur’s Gate: Tales of the Sword Coast (PC).

Experiences

This is one of the first RTS games that I ever played and the first time I did it was on a demo disk. You remember, demos, those things that don’t exist any more where you play a little bit of the game to see if you like it — yeah, those. This demo was unlike any other I had played because it incorporated its ending into the mechanics of the demo. Lemme unpack that. So, most demos ended because they just told you that you’d played enough and would have to cough up the cash if you wanted to keep going. Mob Rule’s demo unleashed a giant enemy force on you that was too strong, who The Don ordered you not to harm, that wreck your businesses and kill your dudes. Then, when you get wiped out, the game says that if you want revenge that you could get it by buying the full game. Cheap, efficient, brilliant, and dastardly.

Gameplay

This game is not your average RTS, there’s no real base building, there isn’t really a diverse arrangement of units, and everyone is using the same tools. Since there’s no multiplayer anymore it’s all about the main campaign. The campaign is split into missions where The Don will give you various tasks, some of which put the hurt on your enemies whereas others are just there to create a challenge to forward progress. To achieve these ends you’ll have to employ workers, the low health/low damage guys who build buildings and perform menial tasks — but have strength in numbers. Fixers, who literally repair buildings, can hold their own in combat, and can take over enemy business. And Gangsters, who are the fast moving, hard hitting, well dressed, gun-toting, enforcers.

You build businesses on your available land that can either produce units or money, but not both at once. Each building can be upgraded twice, and lead into higher tiered businesses that produce more money and better units — ie. you can convert workers into fixers or gangsters but higher level businesses produce gangsters instead of workers. You upgrade buildings by installing gadgets from your gadget factory. There are also gadgets with more practical uses like the dog house that will provide a given property with a faithful — if glitchy– hound who will try to defend it.

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Low class businesses are things like Soup Kitchens whereas high class business are Night Clubs.

If you’re still having some trouble crushing your enemies then you can hire the Undesirables to apply the hurt-lock by destroying their businesses or stealing their resources. And if your enemies are throwing these low-lives at you then you can bribe the police to aggressively patrol and arrest them. The game is like a giant Rock Paper Scissors game where everyone is trying to buy bigger tools. Just make sure you’ve got enough cash to keep the train going.

 The Gush

I love making a well oiled and self perpetuating machine in games and Mob Rule provides. There comes a moment when your security is tight, your businesses are in order, and you can just crank up the speed on the game. All pretense of micro-management thrown out the window — until that one prick builds a haunted prison and starts haunting your buildings.

Very rarely does the game put a time limit on you. You’re free to fart around as long as you please as long as you’ve got the cash to keep it going. You can build up your businesses and forces as long as you think you have to. With timed sections thrown in to increase the dramatic tension.

The game does a great job at teaching the player neat tricks to get an edge over their enemy especially through the missions. From focusing your gangsters and police at the choke points of your empire, putting buildings near your opponents businesses and letting them burn down and explode, or dumping bodies on your opponents property to inspire the police to raid the business. The game’s missions actually inspire the player to think laterally.

This game is silly as fuck. The 3-D sections and intermission cutscenes are pretty funny. I mean, I always wanted to command a giant, sentient, bipedal, walking cockroach and this game has given me that opportunity.

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The animation and design is just totally goofy.

The Kvetch

The mission goals are sometimes poorly defined. About once per campaign I was given a mission where I didn’t know exactly what I needed to do or worse yet, thought I was doing the right thing and either the game wasn’t counting it or I wasn’t doing it correctly. It’s a real pace killer when it happens.

This game cheats. It’s form of difficulty is measured in how much the AI is allowed to cheat. They don’t have to worry about producing people, running out of money, or running out of undesirables. I know this is there to compensate for their AI, they’re not as good as a player, but there’s something unsatisfying about how they and I are not even playing by the same rules.

Sometimes the AI will just crap itself and you suffer because of it. There are plenty of mission scenarios where there’s someone you’re not allowed to attack or a building you’re not allowed to destroy. Sometimes though the AI will just start neglecting this building or character, they get destroyed, and then you lose.  And it happens once every time I play through the campaign so always keep an extra save file around.

A small quibble but sometimes the game doesn’t keep its terms straight is. The Don says that electric lights improve trade but they do nothing but allow you to upgrade your buildings. Sometimes its confusing when a gadget has a different name in the factory and in text that informs which gadgets are required to upgrade buildings.

The Verdict

This game is quite flawed. If the game didn’t catch your attention as soon as you heard about it then it probably won’t. The game is twenty years old and predates common RTS user interface. I’m pretty nostalgic for it so I keep going back but I think the real quality is finding ways to abuse the game and make a perfect machine. It’s 8 dollars on Good Old Games so I recommend it only if you think it sounds cool.

Next Week: Command and Conquer: Red Alert 3

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