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The Demoman: Mob Ties Tokyo

[Christopher Livingston is a freelance writer with a plenty of time for games but not enough money to buy them. Thus was born The Demoman; a shadowy yet helpful figure dedicated not to helping you decide which expensive games to buy, but which free game demos to play.]

The mafia, much like a heroin habit or a romantic relationship with a gay cowboy, is hard to quit. "Mob Ties Tokyo" puts you in the shoes of a hitman employed by a Japanese businessman who is trying to go legit and sever his mob ties. Various gangs are not taking news of his departure well, and they're not willing to let him go without a fight. Luckily for you, their definition of "fight" involves a lot of running sideways into walls or simply standing motionless.

I didn't learn the back-story by playing the demo, which is very light on plot, but from perusing the game's website--which also has a FAQ page that includes the question, "Can I save my games for play later?" The answer is a resounding yes. When you sit down to play Mob Ties Tokyo, the developers have thoughtfully seen to it that you don't have to play the entire game in one sitting. What an age we live in.

"Use crouch if you feel you are stuck." Lucky the bad guys never read this.

The demo itself begins in an alleyway, where someone has painstakingly lugged in and assembled a bookcase, then placed a number of weapons on and around it. It's a bit like the weapons storehouse in Far Cry 2, and the similarities between the games don't end there. Far Cry 2 kept you in real time even while using your map or healing yourself, and Mob Ties Tokyo does the same with its controls menu: someone, perhaps the same thoughtful someone who scattered all those guns around for you, printed out the game controls on a giant square of foamcore poster board and propped it against a wall in the alley for you to read. If you happen to forget some of the controls while playing, and you also happen to have never left that alley, they'll be right there for easy reference.

Once you've gotten your weapons, read the controls billboard, and noticed you can't change your mouse sensitivity or video settings, your boss gives you a call and lets you know you can infiltrate the building through the air vents. In fact, most of your time in the demo will be spent crawling through identical, gray, floor-level ductwork. There's miles of it. I don't know what the Japanese mafia is using this building for, exactly, but I'm pretty sure they don't need this much air to do it.

A beautifully rendered vision of downtown Toyko, as seen from inside an air vent.

Actually, this could be a mob cloning facility, as all of your opponents look identical and move as if they haven't yet learned how to use their adult legs properly. Upon your approach, they sort of shuffle-step left and right, sometimes running backwards or sideways into walls or pieces of equipment. Clones or not, I don't really blame them for their spastic movements or blank expressions: they work in a drab, windowless environment, they have nothing to sit on during the long weeks and months when an hired assassin isn't infiltrating their building, and they're probably a little woozy from the immense volumes of air that are constantly blowing harshly against their legs through the network of enormous air vents. It's a wonder they can stand, let alone jog slowly sideways into walls.

Only in death do the employees of Mob Co. get to sit down.

The gangsters' oppressive work environment could also explain their behavior upon being shot, which is to either have no reaction whatsoever, or to fall and simply pop back up without so much of a cry of pain. I used my revolver to shoot one fellow, and he fell flat on his back, then sprang back up to his feet, his face blank and impassive. I shot him again, he fell, then leapt back up in the same fashion. This happened four times until he finally stayed down. I'm not sure if he was really dead or just wanted me to leave so he could crawl through an air vent to the cafeteria and have a dull, gray lunch.

Miles of identical ductwork and hallways later, I found an old-timey skeleton key that let me open an electronically locked door and into the second level of the demo. Peering through a grate in the floor, I witnessed a conversation between some mobsters, who were now aware I had infiltrated their headquarters was selfishly breathing in some of their highly treasured air supply.

If you've seen one mob goon, you've seen 'em all. Literally.

The next room actually looked like it could be interesting: there were stairs, a catwalk, and multiple enemies who shouted "He's here!" as I entered. I shot one down and turned to face the others, and the demo abruptly ended right there, in mid-fight. I've seen demos that ended just before something happened, as a tease, or after something happened, as a promise of more, but never in the middle of something happening. That's the mob, for you -- they give you a taste for free, but show the slightest sign of getting hooked, and you've gotta pay for more.

On the plus side, the weapon reloading animations are pretty well done, and, though it's not brought up in the game's FAQ, deleting the demo from my hard drive was a snap.

Download the Mob Ties Tokyo demo.

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