by Matthew Byrd1
Notorious Inc. Review
Evil By Numbers
If there’s one thing I’ve always found it hard to fault a game for, it’s good intentions. A game can be a complete miss, but as long as it’s evident that a sufficient amount of love went into its creation, it’s always hard to not be a little charmed by it.
Notorious Inc. is nothing else if not charming. It places you in the shoes of the CEO of a cartoon evil organization, and asks that you build your evil empire from a small business, to the worldwide leader in wicked ways. To do this, you’ll need to travel to various points across the world, to buy and sell various good. The idea is to find locations that are offering commodities at the lowest price possible and sell them to the other locations at a higher price. The clerks that run the single screen storefront at each location will often tip you off as to what is currently in demand, and what they have in bulk. Otherwise, you’ll have to use your experience of what’s hot and what’s not to buy blindly and hope you can turn it around for a tidy profit.
As you earn money and notoriety from this system, you’ll be able to upgrade your evil lair to allow you to do things like store more goods, visit more stores, hire and upgrade your henchmen (here referred to as junior executives) and research an evil project or two. However, you’ll have to be careful with your funds, as random events sometimes require you to make pay-offs or sacrifice henchmen. Furthermore, at the end of your year you are required to put a little money away into a savings account for the company, meaning you’ll have to balance your own personal spending money with that of the organization’s.
A big part of what makes this seemingly dull lesson in basic economics so very charming is the game’s art direction. Every character and location in the game looks like it came from the rogue’s gallery of a twisted James Bond/Looney Tunes crossover, thus providing that always welcome blend of nostalgia and original design.
Remarkably, Notorious Inc.’s writing shines even brighter. Everything from the descriptions of the random events to the constant advice of your assistant and the banter of the shopkeepers features razor sharp wit and a surprisingly dark sense of humor. My favorite examples of these qualities are a potential random encounter with the devil that can potentially be resolved by giving him a hard staredown, and a brain in a jar who gives you good deals on narcotics because he happens to be high on narcotics at that moment.
It’s a sense of style that’s hard to not fall in love with. Unfortunately it also makes it that much worse that the game is quick to break your heart by revealing a serious lack of depth. It’s not long before you realize that the bulk of Notorious Inc.’s gameplay is essentially a rotating series of visits to RPG merchant screens. Around that time, you’ll also find you possess enough cash to never have to worry about money again, and unfortunately the main thing you are supposed to be spending it on(upgrading your evil lair) doesn’t really expand that gameplay beyond the point of giving you more storefronts to trade with, and subsequently more cash you’ll never touch. The random events do help break up the monotony somewhat, but in most cases can easily be resolved with the push of the “throw cash at the problem” button, and quickly begin to repeat themselves.
And then, the game just ends. About 40 minutes into my first playthrough, I was stunned to reach what is essentially the end-game scenario. Until that point, the game had hyped that moment as the incident that would give me more control over my in-game finances as well as allow for new gameplay features. However, after completing it, I was only presented with the ending screen, and was disappointed to discover that the game automatically resets itself to the very beginning without allowing me to continue my previous playthrough.
Confused by this outcome, I played up until that same moment again and discovered that I was able to prolong the experience, as long as I intentionally ignored the end-game option. At some point, you do get greater control over things like your company finances, but again the experience never really evolves past the point of visiting multiple merchants and participating in a barter system for money that you quickly run out of uses for.
It’s truly a shame. Here’s a game that absolutely nails those charm factors that even the best games lack, and features no in-app purchases, but reveals all it has to offer from a gameplay perspective in a scant half-hour or so of play. In a game all about making the right financial decisions, it saddens me to tell you that if you’re looking for more than a few minutes of entertainment, the worst investment you can make is spending the $0.99 required to play Notorious Inc.
Is It Hardcore?
Summary: Though filled with charm, Notorious Inc.'s gameplay deficiencies make it a tough sell.