Life is Crime adds a location-based twist to the Mafia Wars formula

In retrospect, it’s a bit odd that while so many other successful social genres transitioned successfully to mobile smartphone platforms, the venerable old mafia RPG never quite did. Instead, mobile freemium leapfrogged right to the second wave of major social games, the cute management sims where you raise pets, design towns, or take care of any number of other things. In light of that, it’s a bit odd that Red Robot’s Life is Crime exists at all, since at heart it’s an extremely traditional mafia RPG of the sort that would be right at home on Facebook in 2008.

What Red Robot’s done with Life is Crime, though, is give the mafia RPG a very mobile twist. Life is Crime incorporates location-based gaming into the basic idea of the mafia RPG. So instead of going to imaginary locations that are little more than drop-down menus full of missions, Life is Crime generates missions based on the locations that are really around you. You interact with players based on whether or not they’ve been to that real-world location and can attempt to seize control of locations to advance in the game.

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Beyond the location-based element, which shall be discussed further, it must be emphasized that Life is Crime is otherwise a very polished but completely standard mafia RPG. It livens up the proceedings with onscreen avatars whose appearance will change as you equip new items and lots of other slick art assets, as well as moody music. Still, once you get over the location-based element, this is entirely a game about doing fairly repetitive missions until your energy gives out, then fighting people until your stamina gives out, then checking back in a few hours later to do it all over again.

The location-based element adds a degree of immersion, since you know you’re fighting people who’ve been in the same area and taking control of territory you can “really” go see. For someone who lives in a densely-populated urban area, it’s easy to see the appeal of Life is Crime. The downside to the location-based approach, however, is that if you happen to be playing from a boring area, the game is only rendered a bit more boring through its ties to real life. For instance, it happened that I was in a Sacramento suburb as I tested the game, so most locations nearby were effectively deserted and of a very identical nature (all restaurants and businesses).

Red Robot is clearly working on adding more content to more locations now, though, so Life is Crime could bloom into a mafia RPG that’s more fun than most others even if you end up playing it from the middle of nowhere. Right now, Life is Crime is still set apart from other games of its genre by simply having the potential to grow into something new and different. Text RPGs on social networks had a tendency to be so identical that it was hard to make players try any new ones. Life is Crime is definitely worth trying out, even if you’ve played a million text RPGs before.