There’s no such thing as good money or bad money. There’s just money
When one hears about grand strategy, one often thinks about warfare or Paradox’ sociopolitical titles like Crusaders Kings or Europa Universalis. The term refers to a genre worried less about the individual impact of armies and military tactics and more concerned with the logistics or politics of centuries of development affecting millions of lives. Right off the bat, The Commission: Organized Crime Grand Strategy sets a high bar for itself to beat – a bar which it unfortunately fails to reach.
The Commission is a turn-based strategy game themed around the American Mafia, taking place in the fictional city of New Shore during the 1930s. It offers players the chance to control one of five fictional crime families and spread their control over the city through violence, politics, and a lot of illegal activities.
While it bills itself as a grand strategy game, The Commision is rather simple. The basic gameplay revolves around assigning individuals to boroughs, then assigning other individuals to areas of a borough and investing on business and soldiers to make it all profitable and secure. Competing families will obviously want control of the same area of the city sometimes, leading players to either share the space with them peacefully for lower profits, or go to war and take the whole region for themselves.
The war part of The Commision basically revolves around bringing a lot of soldiers to an area and pressing the “attack button”. The more soldiers you have at the end of the turn, the more casualties you inflict, and once all enemies are dead, the region is yours. It’s a significantly dry endeavour, not helped one bit by the abstract design of the game which infuses every moment of gameplay with the excitement and emotional investment of an Excel sheet.
Outside war, The Commision features several illegal activities and rackets be performed on each neighborhood, from gambling dens and speakeasies to straight forward robberies. Each one requires a significant investment that pays dividends turn after turn, allowing you to slowly build your empire. As those activities go on, they consistenly generate heat – an indication of the increased police interest in an area. The higher heat gets, the higher the chance an investigation concludes and one of your guys gets arrested – and once that happens, you need to either get them out or risk the meliant ratting out the whole operation.
True to its inspiration, the game allows you to use influence and bribe to get politicians or police officers to release an arrested mafioso or turn a blind-eye to shady happenings. Every few turns, the mafia families also reunite and vote on issues currently affecting the game world, allowing players to generate less heat or increase their profits via temporary bonuses. Those aspects add an interesting portion of investment to gameplay, even if they are also dry in both presentation and execution like everything else.
That dryness is the main problem I had with The Commision – as much as the developers clearly like the game’s setting, I am not convinced they really understand how to make a fun game. The Commission’s moment to moment gameplay lacks basic feedback like what your characters are doing or what actions are being undertaken. Upon assigning a guy to a borough, for example, you get absolutely no indication if that order was queued correctly, and the person doesn’t get removed from the list of potential candidates – meaning you can accidentally assign him somewhere else and leave a borough empty next turn (and it also means you have absolutely no idea which orders you’ve already gave to who at any point in time).
Making matters worse, the game launched without a tutorial, which is a gross offence to commit in any strategy game – for a studio to assume newcomers will understand a game the same way developers do after years of working on a product indicates a worrisome lack of understanding of what players are like. A shoddy tutorial was added after launch, but it mainly consists of several clickable screens that dump loads of text on your lap with a half a dozen “click here” instructions spread around, making the whole ordeal marginally more helpful than a YouTube video – and far from a proper interactive introduction like the game deserves.
Graphically, the game is positively ugly thanks to an absurdly low resolution artwork even on 1080p, and the game inability to support higher resolutions makes it pretty unsightly on large monitors. At least the jazz music is surprisingly competent, even though the composition suffers due to the low quality of the samples used on the brass sections – they immediately cheapen the whole atmosphere the moment the wind instruments kick in during a track.
In the end, The Commission is an unengaging endeavour with a plodding pace and an obtuse interface that would feel at ill even on a mobile phone. Developer 302 Interactive does seem active and willing to support the game, so as long as they improve the UI and take some time to understand how proper feedback can make a game functional and actually fun, it may bring some hope to this basic strategy title.
THE COMMISSION VERDICT
An interesting concept is let down by some pretty glaring gameplay flaws.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Discovering the politics and The Commission systems.
Clear interest and knowledge of the theme
Soundtrack is vaguely noteworthy
Fails at executing even basic gameplay functions, like action feedback and actions take on a turn
Feels like a concept project or Early Access beta more than a real finished game