The perfect game to indulge your inner rebel
Gangsters: Organized Crime is a 1998 Eidos Studios release with a very simple premise. Devoid of all but the most necessary form of linearity, G:OC presents you with a populated, randomly generated city (always called New Temperance) and then takes no part in your decision making. From the moment it runs, the game stands back and with a respectful dip of its head acknowledges that you are the Don.
Content-wise, it’s a particularly small title. There’re only a few setup options and these have little more than a superficial impact on game play. ‘Hoods’ (your soldiers) can be quickly accrued in their dozens, so the option of starting with six or ten under your command is meaningless after two in-game weeks. Other options, like setting your opponents’ passivity or aggression, don’t seem to have much appreciable impact either.
But there are also no missions to complete and no objectives that must be periodically met in order for your operation to grow. Gangsters appeals directly to what mob-boss fantasists crave, and it does this by letting go of the player’s hand and allowing them to build a criminal empire exactly as they wish.
G:OC is undoubtedly flawed. Too few character models and building textures make the population and city rather shallow and repetitive. Feedback on events that took place during the last ‘working week’ is sketchy at best. So it’s far too easy for something as significant as rivals bombing a casino you own to go unnoticed unless you happened to be looking there at the time. Which is unlikely.
And yet, the lack of structure the game places on your style of mob-boss-ery creates an addicting sense of power and freedom which more than compensates for the game’s flaws. When I play, for example, I’m a slave to the graphs that relate week by week how my power and influence are expanding in relation to my rivals. Even after a particularly bewildering week on the streets, wherein 50 of my ‘hoods’ were killed or arrested and five of my businesses were torched, I remain compelled to press on through the confusion. In many cases, just because my overall power rating bar went down or didn’t get enough of a boost.
The reason is simple. As I have repeatedly muttered to myself, voice hushed and angry and somewhere between Tony Soprano and Don Corleone: ‘This is my city’. And I feel this way because everything I own was acquired by my orders and strategies, rather than as rewards for completing missions and levels. With this easy format, G:OC makes me feel real ownership of both the power and assets the pixelated version of me lords over.
The crime genre in general is awash with excellent titles. I’m a particular fan of Grand Theft Auto Vice City and V. Since acquiring my Sold Out Software edition of Gangsters: Organized Crime on a whim some years ago, I have keenly anticipated a polished remake or similarly ambitioned project. The type of game, whether it be simulation, strategy or action based, has never been a limitation on the search as long as the game satisfies my desires. But Mafia, The Godfather game, Saints Row and GTA all have something in common with G:OC’s disappointing sequel, Gangsters 2: Vendetta – they all give you a character and a story to progress through via episodic missions.
Even the much anticipated GTA V Online has a similarly coaxing structure, and suffers from the same diluting problem that Mafia Wars on Facebook also had. Namely, that I can hardly feel powerful when there are millions of other criminals making crime a gleefully abundant, ever day thing. You’re not a superhero if everyone has super powers.
G:OC is fun because its repetitive tasks are rewarding. The chore of collecting your protection money, week on week, is redeemed by the increase of cash in your safe. The game is fun because it’s addictive, but could so easily have been addictive because it was fun as well.
Gaming has made many triumphant technological and developmental strides since the 90s and yet in 1998 the ingredients for this formula were evidently already present. If G:OC was neatened and tweaked only a little then the majority of its flaws would be removed entirely. It strikes me as strange, then, that the closest to a revisit of G:OC’s strengths is Omerta: City of Gangsters by Kalypso. And, as a progeny of the original Gangsters, it’s disappointing.
Omerta: failure to deliver
Om:COG was released in early 2013 and has vastly improved upon Gangsters’ graphical limitations. But reviews of game play could say nothing more favourable than ‘had potential’ and many chastised its repetitiveness. Gangsters: Organized Crime has set a precedent that I will not compromise on. I do not want a prewritten story or fleshed-out characters. Om:COG, despite its presentation, failed to deliver on the sense of challenge and scale of freedom that Organized Crime permitted. What I want is an honest-to-god simulation that gives me an in-depth, responsive world and interface that facilitates my style without in any way trying to direct it.
A new approach to game development
A project with these goals would be more important, however, than simply satisfying my particular need to exercise criminal power over my fellow man. Sandbox games are trending now, so much so that it seems to be the natural progression for any game series to demolish its walls and play outside instead. Metal Gear Solid, for example, has evolved from the strictly linear nature of its first incarnation into an open-world prospect in its fifth. Gamers are becoming more accustomed to freedom. To this effect, developers are coming up with new ways to tell linear stories to players increasingly dissatisfied with being told what they can’t do and where they can’t go.
A mafia sim like the one I propose might well accelerate this process by addressing its challenges from the opposite end. Instead of finding ways to transform structured stories into freedom, this new angle would create opportunities for freedom of game play to be transformed into emergent narratives. With only a few improvements and a host of new features, G:OC could have done this.
The basics foundations are present
A multiplayer option is already given. Karma and reputation mechanics used in games like Fallout 3 would enhance relationships with the other bosses, adding an extra dimension to the player’s sense of influence and presence within New Temperance. This could manifest itself as a ‘fear and respect’ system that very simply modifies the opponent AI. Have this system also influence the game’s plethora of other elements, like bribing city officials, employing police, extorting citizens and running your legal/illegal businesses, and the result would make G:OC as immersive as any big budget, AAA title available today.
Telling your own criminal story
Dynamic character relationships are the appeal of online gaming, since other humans (at least in theory) will always provide better interaction than scripted NPCs. Short of Skynet-grade neural net processors, in-game characters cannot ‘live’ without writers behind them. But the randomly generated citizens and hoods in G:OC don’t need back-stories and voice actors and a script to have character. Interacting with the new Temperance population need be no more complicated that a strained business relationship to start feeling ‘real’. Humans are a pattern seeking animal, and can infer motivations and narratives with only the mildest motivation. If your motivation is criminal power and dominance, a mafia sim need only hint at disrespect, betrayal or a targeted FBI investigation for an entire narrative to emerge in the player’s mind.
Gangsters: Organized Crime is a basic game – its length subjective, its utilities limited. But within it, somewhere amidst the unrefined strategic elements and demanding interface, is a premise that offers new perspectives on game development. An improved mafia simulation in which we can play as ourselves, rather than as in-built characters, would directly satiate our fantasies of great power, coolness and badassery. It would appeal to the anti-social animal in all of us, helping to vent the pent up frustration that being a law abiding member of civilisation can sometimes create.
And in this day and age of resurging indie developers and Kickstarter funding, a game as comparably simple to make as Gangsters: Organized Crime is surely plausible, if not necessary for a new type of game to emerge.
Images: Square Enix,