Gameloft’s gangland shooter impressed us during our exclusive first look at the game in May. But can the total package succeed in doing the same?
Well, I’m not going to beat around the George W and make you wait until the end of the review, so i’ll come right and out and say it…. Yes, it can!
For me it’s perhaps Gameloft’s most focussed effort since the original N.O.V.A. Many of their titles, particularly the ambitious free roam adventures like Backstab suffer somewhat of an identity crisis, cramming in too many genres and gameplay mechanics. 9mm on the other hand knows exactly what it is and what it needs to deliver, and that’s a balls-to-the-wall action shooter.
In 9mm you take on the role of a narcotics cop called Kannon. Who’s unorthodox ways land him on the wrong side of both the gang kingpins and the police themselves. This eventually puts not only himself and his team in the line of fire, but also his broken family. Cue a whirlwind action adventure that is light on story but heavy on the action… and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
For those expecting a sandbox action adventure akin to GTA or Gameloft’s own Gangstar series, you may disappointed. 9mm is very much a linear, point A to point B, experience. However, I strongly believe that this is to the games benefit. It allows both the action and the narrative to maintain a consistent quality throughout, unlike other, more ambitious, titles that start strong only to feel diluted the further in you get. It also means you can concentrate on the intense shooting action, which is what this game is all about.
The game is split into 12 chapters, each containing a mini story of it’s own which then leads into the next. Gameplay consists mainly of set-piece after set-piece, strung together with large ‘clear-the-area’ style fire fights, and book-ended by cutscenes. Areas vary from tight corridors to large open plan areas such as warehouses or facilities. Occasionally the pace is interrupted by quicktime events, where you must perform taps and gestures in time to onscreen prompts. These range from small events like opening gates, to larger set pieces such as an on foot chase through a neighbourhood. With the latter being a highlight, the majority of these are uninspired and only serve to interrupt the flow of action. The interrogation scenes in particular are tedious and don’t really meet their full potential, LA Noire this ain’t! The shootouts easily makes up for these small discrepancies, offering up some of the best action to grace an iPhone or iPad. Enemies seem to behave relatively intelligently; in groups or solo they’ll both hang back and wait, or hunt you down guns blazing. Don’t expect any strategy hear though, this is a run and gun game, and hiding or creeping is for wimps!
Once again Gameloft’s excellent virtual analogue stick control setup ensures that the action is both intuitive and satisfying. New to 9mm is a bullet time mode which, much like Max Payne and the Matrix, allows you to slow down time for more accurate shooting, particularly when you are outnumbered… which is often. Instead of being just a button to activate, it is presented as a secondary joystick, which allows Kannon to perform John Woo style leaps in slow mo, all the while with guns blazing. So, for example, you can leap sideways through a doorway into a room, and while flying through the air, take aim and shoot down the gang-bangers. This isn’t unlimited though, and so you’ll have to wait for the ability to power itself up again before using.
There is a small learning curve to the controls, particularly on the iPad version. Because of the bigger screen some of the buttons are little far away from each other (such as the weapon selector), while two are also too close. Occasionally you will hit the bullet time instead of shooting, and similarly you may hit it when attempting to turn. For reasons unknown Gameloft have opted to omit the usual control customisation. However, I found that after a few levels these small problems vanished. For those that find it tricky, I advise using the gyroscope feature, which frees up your right hand for simply shooting and bullet time. It really is the best way to play. It may cause arm ache over long play sessions, but it’s worth it for the speed of turns and the added accuracy.
Graphically, Gameloft have got the look and style of 9mm spot on. Yes, the graphics are not consistently great – there are some bad character designs (an ugly kid) and instances of low quality textures and animation – but for the most part it does a great job of recreating that gangland look and feel. It also runs well too, I can’t vouch for older devices, but on the iPad 2 and iPhone 4 it ran without a hitch.
The game is character heavy, and a particular bug bear of mine of past Gameloft games is that the characters are often forgettable. Luckily though 9mm features an engaging and colourful set of characters which actually add to the story. Although stereotypical, they feel right in a game that doesn’t take itself seriously and just roles with it. Player engagement with the characters is helped by the inclusion of lip syncing to the voice-work, so you don’t get that disconnect experienced in past games like Backstab. The icing on the cake here is that the voice work, for the most part, is a success. The talent isn’t going to win any oscars, but for once VO is delivered with passion, good timing and is at times genuinely funny… if very over the top. There’s a ton of F-bombs in the game, but the dialogue never takes itself seriously and so, much like a Guy Richie movie, it fits.
Adding greatly to the game experience is the music. The muffled tones resonating from inside an enemy house, which burst into clear licensed hip hop on entry, really adds to the authentic feel. The soundtrack isn’t just background noise either, often changing beat or intensity depending on your situation.
There are not too many games, except RPGs, that span more than six hours on iOS. The devices portable nature and the games low price points guarantee this. Even so, in easy mode I got through the game in just over three hours. Which is a little short. Normal and Hard will add a couple more hours purely based on the fact that you’ll die a lot more and have to restart from checkpoints. It’s not even that easy mode is too easy either. The problem I think stems from the fact that checkpoints are plentiful, and there is no limit to re-spawning. I would have preferred a life system so that if you die a set amount of time, then you have to restart that level from the beginning.
While the main part of the game is no doubt its single player story mode, and is enjoyable enough for repeated plays, the multiplayer is where I see most people spending their time with 9mm. Particularly with the story mode being so short. I was initially surprised when they announced they were adding multiplayer, but I’m glad they did. The matches I have played in are some of the best multiplayer experiences that i’ve had on iOS after Modern Combat 2 and Real Racing. While the single player is very linear and not sandbox like GTA, the areas within the game were actually pretty large, and they work perfectly for multiplayer skirmishes. Rainbow Six earlier this year also has similar 3rd person multiplayer action, but it feels more solid here. Perhaps it’s the run and gun aspect combined with the crazy two handed weapons that makes it more fun, which results in faster paced action that doesn’t take itself too seriously.
Gameloft Live is used once more for you to create, host and join online matches. Much like MC2′s armoury and perks, you can level up and unlock new weapons and skills. Meaning that the harder you play the better you can become. I haven’t played enough matches yet to know if the matches are evenly balanced as far as skill level goes, but if it’s like MC2 then it should. There are only two modes for fights; ‘Free for all’ which is your standard kill everyone and anyone deathmatch mode, and then there’s Cops and Gangstars, which takes the role of the team deathmatch, with one side as the cops and the other as… well, the gangsters. While some extra gametypes would have been welcome, such as capture the flag and king of the hill, the two modes are still a blast to play. There are only four maps too, but they are large and varied to keep things fresh. Gameloft, ever the money spinner, will no doubt support this with extra maps in future. If anything the limited feature list for multiplayer makes it more likely you’ll find a full game, of which you can play with an impressive 12 players.
After a few lacklustre efforts from Gameloft, it’s nice to see them pull their socks up. As I have said before in other reviews, they always put in the effort, but not always the passion. With 9mm though it looks like Gameloft have just had fun for once, instead of what seems at times like a production line mentality. 9mm is a slick, intense, and sometimes sick, ride. I wanted, and expected, guns, gangsters and violence… it delivered, and then some.
9mm is out now as a universal app for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad for £4.99. Get it on the