After the disappointing performance of 2009’s Brutal Legend, respected developer Double Fine has seen much critical and commercial success following it’s decision to focus on smaller, downloadable titles.
Middle Manager of Justice is the company’s new free to play game that contains all the trademarks of Double Fine’s recent output: High concept ideas that have a strong vein of irreverent humour.
You start off as a very plain, stereotypically dull office manager, whose task is to build, develop and motivate and team of crime fighting superheroes, by hiring, giving pep talks and generally looking after your genetically superior employees.
Your stable of potential icons starts off small, with the choice of a single solitary hero from three: the muscle bound Sweet Justice, the alien Galaxy Girl and the ghoulish, Masked Mummy. Each character has three stats – Power, Strength and Intelligence, and these RPG-lite features don’t’ seem immediately obvious, but they do have an important part to play later into proceedings.
There are two portions to the game. The lesser of the two is the combat sections, where your heroes are sent out to combat instances of wrong-doing that pop up on a regional map. During these sections, you can choose to delegate their actions, where you simply see the end results. Alternatively you can watch and issue commands, such as using your heroes’ special abilities as well as utilise your own, inspirational managerial orders to boost your troops performance. Player engagement feels slight here, but is countered somewhat by divertingly amusing exchanges between your heroes and the criminals they encounter.
The second part of the game is larger and much more important. Here you engage in a Theme Park style management simulation, where you must take care of your troops and your offices, through the creation of and utilisation of training and relaxation facilities, giving pep talks and motivational speeches as well as doing general admin work to generate income.
You need to expand your initial base, by adding facilities’ such as laboratories to research new abilities, to have any chance of defeating stronger foes. As you clean the streets of criminals, your investigation meter scans and identifies the current location and activities of the area’s current super villain.
You are also given a checklist of things to do, which include such tasks as ‘upgrade your base to 500’, ‘collect 100 coins from one district on the map’, ‘buy a level 2 piece of equipment’, and so on. These are mostly something that playing naturally will lead you to, but do provide currency awards.
And so to currency, both in-game and real – There are two forms: coins and Superium. The former is used to purchase upgrades to your offices and to buy equipment to boost and aid your heroes. The latter is to entice and hire new superheroes to aid you in your cause, with better quality personalities costing more Superium. Needless to say, both are available via purchase packs.
Because of this, progress is slow. It takes a few turns of the cycle for all the interconnecting mechanics to mesh together and for you to see the beneficial connection taking part in one activity leads to another. However, once you realise how things work, you also find yourself taking part in a very seductive and time consuming loop, where a quick five minutes suddenly becomes an hour.
The developers seem to have found a good balance between a game that can be played completely free and one that genuinely deserves an extra few pounds here and there thrown at it for the time you will be inevitably spending with it.
Customization is one area where the game can be criticized. There is potential for a variety of costumes, equipment and office options, but in reality, options are limited. A greater sense of ownership would be desirable, but maybe Double Fine were making a comment on the restrictions of resource managements – who knows?
Double Fine has crafted a very impressive free-to-play game, which feels grindy but constructed fairly. It has a strong sense of its own ridiculousness, juxtaposing the craziness of crime fighting superheroes, with the monotony of secretarial work. Middle Manager of Justice is very charming, funny and simply good to spend time with, exactly the Double Fine formula we have come to expect. Highly recommended.
MLG Rating: 8/10 Platform: iOS Release Date: 13/12/2012
Disclosure: Craig Hallam purchased a digital copy of Middle manager of Justice for review purposes. The title was reviewed over the course of two weeks on an iPod Touch. For more information on what our scores mean, plus details of our reviews policy, click here.