Anybody who has worked the nine-to-five will know Ricky Gervais' The Office TV smash really is a documentary, not a sitcom. Some of humanity's lowest points in history have occurred largely unseen within the dull grey walls of office-dom.
Okay, so office politics isn't quite as bad as the stuff that Attila the Hun or Hitler got up, but there is no denying that many offices are tedious human menageries that bring out the worst in people. Which is what makes such subject material utterly compelling in game form in Vivendi's latest mobile title, Office Wars.
Presented as a sim style offering, Office Wars is set as you'd expect in the confines of an office. As the employee of a seafood company, Spicy Squid Inc., you start the game as one of four different characters who each have contrasting attributes, responsibilities and ambitions.
The aim of the game is to interact with your fellow co-workers to boost your popularity. Nodding solemnly along to their rants about the virtues of the Territorial Army and bringing in decent biscuits won't cut it, either – the only way to win friends is through a subtle blend of ass kissing, aloofness, a willingness to work, and a disdain for authority.
Conversations are handled by a system where you pick a phrase that intimates a general sentiment, then through the use of a gauge you pick the force with which you wish to express it. So if you select the conversation option, "I like my job" and then pitch it at the high end of the gauge, your character will gush an enthusiastic, "I am so happy to do this job. It's just awesome and amazing in every way."
It's a disarmingly simple approach that makes for a complex and unpredictable set of conversation possibilities.
The particular trait or attitude you have to display in order to score the friendship of a colleague is dependant on who you're playing as and which co-worker you're speaking to. For instance, if you're playing as the resident slacker, Bob, and you're trying to win over the conscientious money grubbing boss, Buck, it's best not to mention in conversation that you only turn up to waste time and look good doing it. But get the blend right and you'll soon have hordes of comrades tripping over themselves to be the first to come to your defence when you're accused of vandalising the coffee machine.
As you successfully communicate with your colleagues, your status and likeability increase, opening up new opportunities for interaction with other, more senior members of staff, both in terms of company rank and social standing.
There are also various missions that you need to complete to take the lightweight but effective narrative of the game forward. Dependant on your character, these are usually of the 'go fetch this', 'go talk to that person' variety and in lesser games would come off as pointless and boring. But in Office Wars your missions are accompanied by just the right amount of mini-game and interaction-flavoured distraction to keep the experience moving along.
The mini games, of which there are only two, are enjoyable enough to encourage repeat visits. The best is Mole Bashing, a simple reaction-based game where you must use the keypad to hit the numbers that correspond with faces that pop out of a grid to bash them back down. The second, Waddy Ball, is basically the office version of golf, where you have to pitch the correct angle and power behind your throw to get a wad of paper into differently positioned waste baskets.
These different gameplay elements make for a nicely cohesive whole, and by hitting the right balance between work, play and interaction you will happily strive to ascend the popularity stakes to become the most valued member of Spicy Squid Inc. As a mobile game, Office Wars works brilliantly, presenting a near fully featured sim-style experience, capped with a sense of humour and quirky visual style that gives the game an atmosphere that is as much a part of the experience as its more hands-on aspects.
Not that there aren't some niggles for the game's developer to discuss in its 'Office Wars Post Pocket Gamer Review Follow-Up Debrief Session' (8am Monday, bring your own coffee).
Most notably, the loading times are yawnsome and all too frequent (though the Spicy Squid Inc logo that appears during these sections is definitely cool enough to appear on a T-shirt). Also, the game's 44 missions compared to its two mini-games feel slightly top-heavy. The presence of more mini-games, specifically integrated with the narrative, would have been welcome, even at the expense of chopping out a few of the missions.
Still, it's hard to complain about a game as fully realised in concept and execution as Office Wars (especially given the poor quality of its dire rivals). If you're completely fed up with your office job to the point where you're willing to be sacked, there couldn't be a cooler way to go than by getting caught playing this little gem. Well, unless you have the guts to feed the pot plants into the paper shredder.