Review: miniLAW: Ministry of Law
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This game was selected as one of our two May 2019 Reader’s Choice Reviews. Learn more on our Patreon page.
As the years pass, we come ever closer to having a video game simulation of literally anything you might want to do. At this very moment on Steam, for example, you can be a bus driver, a firefighter, the president, a porn star, or even Bubsy. Yet despite this impressive range of questionable options, there hasn’t really been a good Robocop simulator. That’s why I’m happy to see miniLAW burst onto the scene, guns blazing and perps resisting the whole way. The robust options you have for engaging with lawbreakers here are enough to keep you dispensing justice for hours, even if the overall game still needs some work.
Yep, the world ended again, leaving us in a Megacity-1 situation. New Babel houses the last hundred million humans on Earth, crammed into towering residence blocks and lorded over by totalitarian social engineers and law enforcement. And it’s a good thing, too, because these folks get real rowdy. Rowdy enough to build and plant a bomb that could wipe out most of the city in just 24 hours, in fact. Fortunately, New Babel has you, a robotic Constable designed to handle just about any criminal situation imaginable on your own. By taking out the trash, you can piece together clues and leads left by the organized crime groups of the city, and hopefully track down that pesky bomb before it vaporizes the few un-vaporized persons left on the planet.
miniLAW gives you a chunk of the city to explore, dotted with monolithic city blocks held by the different factions and gangs who may be responsible for the bomb. When a crime is reported, you can fly out to that block and literally eject from your flying patrol car onto the scene, a small randomly-generated side-scrolling level full of crime-doers. This is where the game gets interesting, because you need to neutralize them all but it isn’t as simple as just shooting every perp you see. I mean, it could be, but you get less credit for killing perps than you do knocking them unconscious. And you get less for that than you do for shouting them down to surrendering. On top of all that, you’ll have special directives like rescuing hostages, taking certain perps alive, or specifically executing people.
With the different crime types, the random levels, and a fair variety of enemies to face (they’re not all entirely human), miniLAW has the foundations of something terribly engrossing. It’s just really fun to see how enemies react and then react to their actions, as they can be influenced by commands, being punched, pointing weapons at them, and being shot. Some are too insane to surrender willingly, while others can be talked down entirely peacefully. There are items like ammo, health, and evidence to comb levels for as well, and you performance earns you requisition points to spend on new weapons and permanent upgrades to your capabilities. Supposedly there are also in-depth dialog scenes later in the game but I haven’t found how to trigger those yet, so there may yet be more variety to explore here.
That’s good, because even if the foundation is solid there are flaws in what’s built upon it. As fun as the crime-busting is it can get a little samey across long sessions, especially if you’re not making use of your special weapons. miniLAW is also an impressively difficult game to read, thanks to its purposefully cluttered and chaotic UI. I’ll give the developers credit for creating a display of chunky text, similar overlapping colors, and poorly-explained elements that would absolutely be produced in a crowded, dystopian hellcity. But it’s still legit hard to read as a player, and that’s the sort of priority that should come first and then be massaged into the aesthetic. Levels are fine but it can be hard to pick out important status messages or really just what you’re supposed to be doing at the city level.
These feel like common issues with Early Access games, and the end result is that miniLAW needs more time to be fleshed out and polished before recommending fully. Don’t get me wrong, what’s there now is great and can keep you hooked for hours if you like corralling and collaring crooks. It just needs a little more direction and clarity to go from good to fully great. For anyone with Judge Dredd or Robocop aspirations, this is definitely the one to watch, or the one to grab now if you simply can’t wait any longer to serve justice.