You'll never get me, ya dirty coppers!
How does this sound for a plot: You, as a (ahem) business partner of the Godfather, are given a city to create your empire, build up your own businesses, and generally wreak havoc with the city's police force. Sound fun? With a concept this cool, it's too bad that Mob Rule is one offer you can refuse.
Mob Rule walks a different path than most games by combining two genres: Real Time Strategy and City Simulation. The Simulation part has you buying land to build on, building structures, and assigning a tenant to live in each building. The tenant can either make money for you or breed workers for your organization (if there's only one person in each building, how do they breed?). The Strategy portion involves creating gangsters to kill people (yours or theirs) and destroy or capture your opponent's buildings.
First off, the game looks and sounds exactly as it should. All the backgrounds and settings are done in a mid-30's gangster style, with the buildings looking like they were ripped straight from the past. From drinking halls to flop houses to brothels, everything looks perfect. All of your characters are cartoony stereotypes: the workers are big and dumb, while the gangsters are thin and slick looking. Even the voices have a hilarious Brooklyn accent (it's cool when you hear the fixers say "My respects, Godfather").
There are lots of little things that make this game entertaining. For every person, building, or action, there's a little video that plays in the lower corner. When you're building a structure, it shows a worker getting hit with a pipe, and when you look inside an infested building, you see some really creepy bugs. The multitude of things to manipulate make the gameplay interesting. You can buy off the police station to give you police protection, buy off other gangs to get some peace, put dead bodies in front of your enemies buildings to get the police to harass them, or even send out thugs to kidnap members of the other team. Fun for the whole (crime) family.
With all these good things, it's a downright shame that Mob Rule doesn't quite make the cut. The problem isn't what the designers didn't try, but that the combination of RTS and Simulation turns into an ugly mess, mixing up the worst aspects of the two genres.
In a strategy game, you want predictability. You want to know exactly how much gold it takes to build a dragon and how long it will take to make it. You want to know that, while you go off to seek more crystals, your temple wont stop working unless the enemy blows it up.
But in Mob Rule, all of these normally static values are variable. The amount of money you get from each building depends on the mood of the tenant, the land value, the number of people who come in, and so on. The rate of worker production depends on how many children the tenant has had and whether or not the building is on fire (which happens more often then you'd think). Your tenants can die behind your back, forcing you to quickly find a replacement of some sort. In a normal simulation game, all of these things are welcome additions, adding more depth to the gameplay, but in a RTS game, it's just too much to think about at one time. I found myself downright confused at several points, wondering how the heck to get out of my current situation.
There are two more minor things that hurt the quality of Mob Rule. First, the control system is confusing. It looks sort of like a combination of SimCity 3000 and Starcraft, but without capturing the simplicity of either. Secondly, you can't start a game without going into the tutorial first. I know that the average person needs some practice at the game before they dive in, but I have the right to get completely confused if I want!
Although the developers tried hard to come up with a high quality game, their attempt to blend RTS and Sim games just didn't pan out. What we get is an overly complex and confusing game, with lots of fun little parts. If you have plenty of patience and a brain that works faster than the speed of concrete shoes falling off a bridge (or really like the idea of building a crime empire), then you may like this game. Otherwise, pick either a RTS game or a simulation and buy that instead.