|What's the best scene from
any movie ever filmed? Just in case you thought that was a rhetorical question, the answer
is the sequence in Miller's Crossing where Casper's thugs come to bump off the local mob
boss, Leon, in his home. Danny Boy plays pervasively in the background, and Leon is
alerted to the hitmen's presence. He calmly puts out his cigar, drops it into his smoking
jacket pocket, steps into his slippers, and ducks under the bed just as the goons enter.
They shoot up the bed, but Leon manages to plug one in the knee, then in the head, and
what follows is a gorgeous ballet of smoke and bullets, culminating in the deaths of at
least a half-dozen hired hands, including one automobile explosion. As one of Leon's
cronies remarks, "The old man is still an artist with a Thompson."
It's the epitome of the kind of noble savage romanticism that surrounds the mobster era, the same fascination that has contributed to representation after representation of gangsters in modern culture since the heyday of the gentleman gangbanger in the 1930s. It's the same thing that leads to software like Gangsters, a strategy game from Eidos Interactive.In Gangsters you play a mob boss in New Temperance (situated remarkably close to Chicago). You build your empire from the ground up, beginning with a few hoods and a legit business front. Anybody who thinks this means you run around blowing things up is gonna dangle, because Gangsters is for ladies and gentlemen (who aren't afraid to take necessary action). The game is much more concerned with strategy and management than muscle, although you'll need plenty of expendables to get your territory secured and keep it that way.
You start by setting up your character. The only options you can really change are cosmetic. You pick your boss's hair style, face and name (you can call me "Knuckles"). It's a little thing, but bits of customization like this are helpful for getting you into the game. You can pick from several racial characteristics including caucasian, african-american, latino, and asian. Again, a seemingly small part, but I found myself appreciating the variety of race and gender I encountered throughout the game as useful and formidable hoods and bosses.Once you've played with that, you begin the game in your mob boss day planner. I think they call it a "business ledger" or something to that effect in the manual, but it's funnier to picture Scarface running around with a little vinyl binder that velcros shut. You plan your week in your planner by assigning tasks to hoods, recruiting hoods, forming teams and managing your assets. You can also get the usual analytical data of strategy games including diplomacy and power rating bar charts.
I'm a sucker for management, I guess. Or maybe it's just fun to put together teams called "Extortion," "Bombers," and "Collections I & II." Just like you'd imagine, you tell your hoods to patrol various areas of your territory, extort business owners, collect protection money, rough up or possibly kill troublemakers, bribe cops, blow up buildings, etc. Just like the good old days when Valentine's Day could turn into a bloodbath, nothing is sacred in New Temperance. It just either makes money or it makes trouble.Once you've assigned duties and plotted your week, you hit the streets. It's impressive just how interactive this game is. You can view the city close up, in the street view, or at two larger views that give a better sense of spatial relationships. The streets are crowded, and you can click on any of the individuals walking around to find out their name. You can even open up tracking windows that will follow that person around the town. Clicking on different parts of buildings will tell you about those businesses or tenements.
You can also track your own hoods as they go about their tasks. You get messages about fights, arrests or any rival hoods in your territory. During the week you can pluck out your gangsters and tell them to follow somebody or kill them outright. When one of your hoods blows up a building or gets in a gunfight you can watch it all take place.
The graphics are good. The city is rendered in 3D, and there are a lot of types of characters walking around. I was surprised at how many of them carry guitar and violin cases. It's as if everybody in New Temperance owns a shotgun. Ultimately, though, the graphics aren't the big selling point in the game.As with all strategy games, the allure lies in the planning and management. I've read reviews that have called it too complicated, but those guys have their pigeons crossed. I had a difficult time trying to just pop it in and get anything done, but after spending a half hour going through the tutorials, I had all of the basics mastered and took off on a good learning curve. I would place it somewhere close to Civilization II in complexity, possibly a little higher. You can have fun with Gangsters on a low level of complexity, but the depth is there and beckoning to you.
Eventually major gang wars erupt, you should have at least some of the city government in your pocket, you can buy legitimate businesses and set them up as fronts for smuggling and counterfeit operations, and you can even run for mayor if things are going your way. Of course, the major goal is to become the most successful gangster in town and then go legit.
Overall, I think Gangsters is not to be missed. The premise is involving and speaks to us on a deep level of being able to indulge in behaviors we would never condone in real life. It's a great addition to the varied ranks of strategy gaming, and a welcome addition to my software library.