Creara USA’s Criminal Empire, which has been available for over a year now, has been enjoying a resurgence of growth recently. This appears to be thanks to 6waves picking up the title as part of the company’s new focus on publishing rather than development. The title is a surprisingly deep strategy game with some great artwork, and showed up as the No. 2 emerging Facebook game last week, marking the third time the game has seen a sharp rise in user figures, and the biggest peak it has ever enjoyed.
Criminal Empire casts players in the role of a faceless, nameless criminal overlord. They are quickly introduced to their first “hero” character, a scantily-clad woman known as Linda, who promptly walks the player through the basics of gameplay via a series of story-based missions. Players will find themselves searching for items using fishing boats, building structures on their own personal island to provide income and spending a lot of time in combat in order to “liberate” various buildings and take down rival criminal masterminds.
Combat unfolds in a very simple manner. The player’s stock of “heroes” lines up on one side of the screen, and the “targets” appear on the other side of the screen. Upon clicking the “Attack” button, the player loses a point of “hero power” (energy for combat, essentially) and depletes their opponent’s hit points by an amount equal to the hero’s attack power. This process is then repeated until all the enemies are defeated, the player runs out of energy (at which point they may restore it a point at a time by paying a small amount of soft currency, waiting for an overly-long restoration period or purchasing larger restorative items with Facebook Credits) or they give up to go and do something else. Enemies do not attack the player, making combat more of an energy-expending button-clicking exercise than a thrilling battle to the death, though this is nothing unusual for the genre.
The game is very well-presented, featuring an excellent “comic book” art style complete with visual onomatopoeia during gunfights and other special events. The writing of the character dialogue could do with a proofread, however, as there are numerous spelling and grammatical errors throughout. It also frequently falls back onto stereotypes and some unnecessary (if mild) profanity. Sound is mostly high quality, but includes some rather incongruous cheerful background music that seems totally at odds with the violence being perpetrated under the player’s command. This makes the game feeling somewhat like it is suffering a bit of an identity crisis at times — does it want to be a lighthearted take on the criminal underworld, or a gritty, uncompromising drama?
Non-paying and solo players may have a satisfying experience throughout the early stages of the game. Further progression is friend-gated, however, with expansion of the player’s island town dependent on social play — though this may be bypassed with the expenditure of Facebook Credits. Credits may also be used to purchase a variety of premium buildings that provide significantly larger soft currency income streams or new heroes to add to the player’s arsenal. This, in turn, allows combat scenarios to be resolved more quickly and easily, allowing for faster progress through the game’s episodic storyline.
Criminal Empire has a surprising amount of depth, monetizes well and features strong — though optional — social play. It also makes an effort to tell a reasonably interesting criminal underground story. While the narrative falls down a little on its actual writing and willingness to resort to national stereotypes (the early game is particularly anti-Mexican), it provides a compelling incentive for players to progress, helping to retain users beyond their initial discovery period. Most importantly, though, it doesn’t feel like a clone of rival criminal games. Hopefully it will enjoy some renewed success with the help of 6waves’ promotional and user acquisition skills.
A good example of how to make a fun, compelling criminal-themed game without falling back too much on genre conventions.