Fast Forward: Games - Simulated crime

Want to practise golf? Learn to pilot a plane? Replicate the birth of a city? Sim games will show you how. Now you can even play SimGodfather, and decide when Luca Brazzi sleeps with the fishes. OK, so it's really called Gangsters: Organized Crime, but the makers of this latest sim-and- strategy game haven't missed a trick in their rendering of the world of crime.

In most computer games you're the good guy. Bullfrog's recent Dungeon Keeper was an exception, with its good-natured torturing of chickens and dwarves. But with games such as Grand Theft Auto courting headlines and outraged attention from all sides (it was one of few video games to have Max Clifford as its publicist), things have taken a turn for the grimmer. GTA, as it became known to the digerati, involved the player in a reckless chase across a metropolis, grabbing the nearest driver and stealing his car.

Now the Bristol-based software company Hothouse Creations has devised a strategy-oriented game set in the Twenties in the city of New Temperance. The player's mission is to rise through the ranks of criminal organisations, beginning with a small team of hoods at your disposal. Success is achieved through protection rackets and illegal liquor business, bribes and beating down the city's rival gangs. You assign your mob tasks according to their skills, then watch as they bribe, intimidate and kidnap their way around the city. Younger players may be interested to learn that one of the mainstays of a thriving evil empire is prostitution (can you hear those headlines being scribbled now, Hothouse?

The makers have gone to great lengths to simulate reality: the inhabitants of the city come from the 1921 Chicago census. The police characters are entirely corruptible, in a city led by a mayor who costs a lot to bribe, but who can influence the chief of police.

A fair amount of strategic skill is required, because business management is a key part of running a criminal empire. Although there's tabloid exposure to be creamed in this game - "Mad" Frankie Fraser was hired to publicise the product, though later dropped - violence is minimal. In fact, chances are you won't even see it, and it'll take the pop-pop of machine gun sound- effects to tell you it's happened. And you can choose to go straight at any time. But you won't, will you? Aimed at adult players, this game won't deprave anybody, and it's engrossing to play. Of course, despite Hothouse's attempts at making the game truthful, real life could never be this corrupt. Could it? David Phelan

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