App Reviewed on: iPhone 3GS
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Since the iPhone has all these wacky gadgets tucked inside of it, plenty of developers have been putting them to use. Accelerometer controls, touch screen interfaces, and even GPS functions have all been used to create a vast number of apps and games. Parallel Mafia falls distinctly into the third category (and the second, technically, but every iOS app does). Players can establish a base of operations and run their own organized crime ring right in their own neighborhood, only this time things have gone cyberpunk! It looks and plays a little awkward, sure, but it's still a good location-based empire builder.
After Parallel Mafia takes players through the basics of double-tapping to move, establishing a base, attacking, healing, and so on, they get thrown into the game proper in order to spread their influence. Visiting local eateries and the like (whether to take-over or shakedown) is only the beginning, however. Before long players will be constructing their own buildings, protecting their turf, and getting into brawls with NPCs and other players. Suffice it to say, equipping random loot with good stats and upgrading the main character with skill points is essential.
It's interesting just how much more personal a location-based game such as this can seem when there's an actual player avatar involved. Simply having a "physical" digital representation of a character on the map is novel, but this holds true for every player. That is to say, everyone who's playing shows up on the map and can run amok attacking each other as much as they see fit. It's not all about the little big-headed avatar, though. Being able to construct buildings, equip cybernetics, make use of robotic minions, and so on are all welcome mechanics that keep Parallel Mafia moving.
The flip-side to all of this is that Parallel Mafia isn't much to look at. The buildings look nice and the characters are decent if a little on the small side, but there's almost nothing else to the visuals. While playing over a sterile map makes identifying streets and such easier, it's just not all that interesting to stare at for minutes/hours. The interface isn't a whole lot better. While the initial menu screen is fine, the sub menus are somewhat cluttered. That is to say, they're very cluttered. And cramped. And very little about their use is explained in the tutorial. I had to figure out on my own through random menu diving about using skill points.
Of course Parallel Mafia is still a good way to kill time when it comes to location-based shenanigans. It might not be all that pretty or super-intuitive, but it's a great deal more personal (even a bit "tactile") than lots of other offerings in the genre right now. Just beware that first step out of the tutorial, it's a doozy.