Agent K: We’ll take it from here.
Me: Be my guest.
If you were to conduct a poll amongst gamers and non-gamers alike to discover the most popular videogaming tropes, I’d be fairly confident that aliens and guns would fall comfortably in the top ten. I’d lay a fair bet that the humble first person shooter would also crop up somewhere along the line.
So armed with arguably the essence of our culture, Gameloft, a company responsible for two of the biggest first person iOS shooters in Modern Combat and NOVA, have proceeded to turn the MiB licence into an ok-ish agency manager sim with time management elements and ok yes, a little bit of shooting.
On one hand they should be applauded to trying something different when such an obvious route could’ve been taken. On the other hand, they should be punched in the face for it. Repeatedly.
After creating your rookie agent, you’re tasked with building up your MiB Agency from scratch by dropping different departments such as a weapon shop, locker rooms to recruit more agents, garages and a medical bay into your headquarters. Note this happens literally moments after you’re introduced to the agency. That’s some serious career progression.
These departments aid you in researching new tech that helps you complete missions, but take real-world time to build and deploy. After completing a medical centre, my agent visited to get healed, but could only be patched up at a rate of one HP per real-world minute. Naturally this can be sped up by using energy, which can be purchased using something else in the real world – money. It’s always better to go private when it comes to medical care.
Stuff like upgraded weapons, cars and even new agents are on offer, and the promise of shiny new gadgets in headquarters alone keeps you tapping away for a while. Although you’ll begin to wonder why a game centred around aliens and guns is encouraging you to decorate your office with plants. You want to get out there and shoot something.
And you can do that. Kind of. Missions take place in an isometric city grid resembling a few blocks of New York City with people going about their daily lives and cars hooting on the streets. It doesn’t ever change apart from when you travel back in time to 1969 where all the vehicles are classics and the people on the sidewalk are wearing flares. The game’s dialogue also switches to talking about hippies. A humorous touch.
On the plus side, there are a large variety of missions ranging from interrogating staff in a hairdresser about the disappearance of a mysterious red-suited man, to cheering up a sad alien. Something we should all try and do once or twice a month.
The problem is that these missions play out in too similar a fashion each time: enter location, perform action by tapping on screen (you don’t actually get to see any action take place, your agent just enters a building then walks back out again), fight bad guy. Sometimes you get real variety to the structure though, i.e. you’ll do all of the above with no fight. Way to mix things up.
When you do get to draw your weapons, you’re engaging strictly in turned based combat, something that has always seemed too civilised to me (I’ve just shot you in the buttock, please return the favour before we continue), and certainly makes you yearn for a more high-powered game type. These scuffs always seem to take place on the same sidewalk, regardless of your location in the city beforehand. Wrong side of the tracks I guess.
You do also get to wipe people’s memories cleansing the iconic Neutralyzer, although its simply a case of tapping the icon and waiting to the blue bar to fill before being told it’s done. This lack of interactivity in missions combined with the fact they all take time-sucking energy to complete is a problem that makes you feel like you could let the game play itself while you pop down the cinema to watch the movie. You’d probably get half way through it before the game allows you to start another job.
It’s decent looking. HQ holds your interest for a while as you scroll along picking up some of the incidental activity in the office like aliens waiting in line to be seen by a receptionist, or deciding what to eat at the fast food canteen, although see these once and that’s pretty much your lot. The animation style is basic, but appropriate for the type of game. Heading into new areas of the city is fun as it’s well designed and the change of scenery is welcome. Building a new department is also gratifying just to see what it looks like, until you realise you’ve spent your last credits constructing a bathroom for alien cockroaches. Whoops.
There’s also social gubbins where you can team up with a friend to take turns defeating an alien in turn-based bottom slapping, or strangely, have them visit your agency to see exactly where you placed your leather sofa.
It’s a shame the MiB theme tune wasn’t included somewhere along the line. Instead, a generic hip hop soundtrack is on offer, but never seems entirely suited to the game. I need my 1990′s Will Smith cheese damnit.
Aliens. Guns. Shooting aliens with guns. I would’ve been happy with a re-skinned MC3 based on the MiB licence with a few original elements thrown in. But no doubt if that was the case I would’ve spent the whole review slating it for being unoriginal; I guess Gameloft can’t win, so I have to give them some credit for attempting something other than the obvious.
Followed of course, by a swift punch in the chops.
Men in Black 3 Free Universal for iPad/iPhone/iPod