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The Mastermind

Published by Total Gameplay Studios
Price $19.50
Primary Genre Secondary Genre

Total Gameplay Studios market this game on their website as a "menu driven turn-based strategy" offering. I will admit that I have limited experience with similar titles. As you may have deduced, this is a game that is filling a very niche market, and quite possibly, "The Mastermind" is either a game that you will love to play, or toss aside after a few turns. The demo is fully featured and is only limited by turn count. If you are still having fun at the end of the demo, then the game will probably be for you. If nothing else, this game demands attention for boldly venturing outside the puzzler/shooter/platformer comfort zone that so many of its contemporaries fear to tread - and it's a jungle out there!

Pick an avatar for your criminal mastermind alter-ego. Home Sweet let's go mug somebody in the park!

You start the game by choosing an avatar and selecting a difficulty level for the game. As a guide, I have never come even remotely close to winning the game even after repeated attempts to play through the easy mode, so I would heartily recommend starting there. Once the game starts, the map centres on your base of operations with a personal assistant and two gangsters under your command. You have limited cash and need to be very proactive in securing more right from the beginning of things. Initially, robbing and pickpocketing seem to work fairly well, but you'll soon find the need to diversify.

You see, each of your gangsters needs to be paid each turn. The cash they make robbing and pickpocketing will only just cover what you need to pay them, and they will lose health after each crime they commit. As a mastermind you will need to buy and sell shops, hotels, hospitals and museums, smuggle illegal goods, run protection rackets, manage brothels and drug houses, win street racing prizes and defend your turf from rival gangsters to make sure your 'legitimate business' remains successful. The possibilities seem endless, and it's all up to you as to how you make your money. There is a great deal of strategy involved, make no mistake about this. Use a gangster who is a good driver but a weak fighter to rob people in the park, and chances are that he'll come back unsuccsessful, drained and unhappy - or even worse be arrested. Trust a mindless thug with your expensive sports car in an illegal street race and odds are that he'll end up in hospital and the car will be written off. Many crimes will require careful planning and a coordinated effort by two or more gangsters.

Menus upon menus is what the game is all about. The cityscape.

Aside from cash, the player needs to be concerned with "wealth". This seems to me to be a generic indicator of standing in the community which decreases as crimes are committed, but can be increased by actions such as donating to charity, or investing in businesses such as the museum. The third variable that concerns the player is "mastermind points" which dictates how much action can be performed each turn. This increases as a player recruits more gang members, for example, and must sometimes be saved over a few turns before a big job can be executed. It's a continuous juggling act to keep your cash, wealth and mastermind points within desirable limits. I guess the most important of the three is wealth, since if that falls to a low enough level then you will be arrested by the police (if they are not sufficiently bribed and friendly), thus ending the game. This is the way all of my games have ended.

Buying, selling, recruiting, planning, executing crimes, viewing status and skills - nearly all of your time playing "the Mastermind" will be spent cycling through menus. And lots of them. All information is available at your fingertips for just about any action, concept or character in the game. Paradoxically, this is both the beauty and the downfall of this wonderfully complex game.

The game features a living and breathing 3D city that admittedly could use a bit of anti-aliasing, but otherwise looks very realistic with roads and streets that connect an adequately large number of businesses and amenities. The shame is that I hardly ever found myself using the cityscape, instead, prefering the menus to locate people and businesses that I needed to deal with.

In my opinion, being able to click and drag your gangsters around the city to engage them in activities, and the ability to watch your carefully planned crimes unfold at the end of the turn on the cityscape would add a huge amount of fun to the game. Unfortunately, all the satisfaction you get is yet another menu telling you how the plan fared, leading to another one asking what you would do next. Not only that, but I'm guessing (and I'm no programmer) that the bulk of the files in that 61Mb download are affliated with the 3D art and animations, as well as the sounds and music. In truth, the real beauty of this game lies in its complexity and depth as well as its freeform nature and none of these are significantly affected by either the cityscape or sounds and music (as good as they may be). A lot of the game content is superfluous to its strengths.

Artistically, the game has a nice overall theme with all character art being hand drawn. The developers need to have someone work on the English in the game. Some syntax and grammatical errors are expected from non-native speakers, but the level to which English is contorted in "The Mastermind" could lead to gameplay issues for some players.

Technically the game is not rock solid, and I have experienced crashes and sound issues. However, support was prompt and Myint Kyaw Thu from Total Gameplay was polite and helpful in all dealings. I believe that lots of sound issues have now been rectified with the issue of the v1.01 patch.

"The Mastermind" is a cerebral and innovative offering that will not appeal to all gamers. Fans of action games or aficionados of Rockstar's GTA series looking for something similar will not be impressed. Conversely, this game may appeal to you if you enjoyed games such as Floor 13, or are an avid chess player. I am not personally drawn to the game; I'm just not very good at it more than anything else, and the endless stream of menus becomes a bit much for me after a while. It is definately one of the more original ideas out there though, and gets credit in the score department for that.

Graphics 75%
Sound 65%
Playability 59%
Longevity 64%
Overall Score 69%
Bronze Star

Published on 19 May 2006
Reviewed by Steve Blanch

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