TAG games bring their answer to GTA to iPhone with Car Jack Streets. So, is it a drive-by delight or a bank job gone bust?
Originally out for mobile devices, Car Jack Streets has you playing Randal Meyers, a bit of a douche that has found himself in debt to a rather nasty and powerful mob boss, Frankie. We’re not talking a few hundred dollars here… you owe a million! Luckily Frankie is business savvy, and instead of fitting you with concrete boots and treating you to a little swim with the fishes, he’s cut you a deal. Pay back $50k a week or else! Oh and just for fun he blows up your car.
Cue Uncle Murphy [probably pronounced M-o-y-f-e-e] who cuts you a lucky break and gives you the use of his car, 50 grand and a base of operations. From there on in it’s up to you to go out into the wide world of Jack City and earn the right to stay alive!
Jack city is a bright and colourful urban jungle of grid-like streets and palm tree-lined beaches. It’s presented in a 2D top down view, much like the original GTA on PC, and features 3D objects stretching into the sky towards you, such as bridges, trees and buildings. Locations include dockyards, various parks – including a raceway, beaches, business districts and residential areas too.
It’s a relatively busy city with pedestrians minding their own business, and various vehicles roaming the streets. Of course, this city is your playground and every element is there to be exploited.
You start out on foot, and after a few wise words from your uncle you are soon underway in your first car – a slow SUV. At anytime you can hit the pedestrian icon to exit the car, this will in-turn become a vehicle button, which when tapped again near a vehicle will cause you to enter it. There are a good selection of vehicles to choose from of all shapes and sizes including: the nimble mini-like Micro; the muscular General Lee; the Mafioso Sudan; utility vehicles such as pickups, Sand Rover and SUVs; there’s service vehicles such as the Cop Car, Ambulance, Fire Truck and Taxi, plus many more… and all with spoof names of their real world counterparts.
Controls are in both digital and analogue flavours. When on foot you are presented with a d-pad like overlay on the bottom left of the screen and pressing on any direction causes Randal to the do the same. On the right is the icon for entering cars – which appears when you are next to one – and, if you are carrying a weapon, a fire button too. When behind the wheel of a vehicle, the control overlay changes, with the d-pad changing to a simple left/right button set up for steering and on the right, two buttons for accelerate and brake/reverse. Holding these buttons causes you to accelerate and/or reverse and if you let go, the car slowly comes to a complete stop. There is also a turbo button that appears above accelerate… while holding down accelerate you slide your thumb up to activate it. This gives a short burst of speed and, with it, looser handling for all those adrenalin junkies out there.
The word quickly get’s out that you are looking for ways to make a fast buck, and soon you begin getting calls from like minded criminals who are willing to pay big bucks in return for successfully carrying out dodgy favours. These include honest tasks such as delivering pizzas or driving taxis, but to ensure bigger payouts you must undertake criminal tasks, such as bank heists and taking out rival gangs members.
The most straight-forward way to make money is, as the name of the game suggests, stealing cars. Once ‘jacked’ you can take it to Kirk’s auto’s in the dockyard. Depending on what condition the car arrives in will decide on the price that Kirk is willing to give you, so it’s best you drive carefully and avoid any shunts from other drivers or getting in trouble with the police or the mob.
Once you have learnt of a particular mission, the location is automatically added to your GPS, once launched you can tap on the address you want to visit, and back in the game a red arrow points in the direction you must go.
Each time you earn some cash it adds it to your wallet, which is shown at the top right of the screen. At anytime you can take it to Frankie’s house at the top right of the city and pay back some of your debt. As long as you pay back 50k each week you’ll stay alive.
The game is played in real-time, so if you don’t play a little each day and earn that 50k with in a week, Frankie will set his goons on you. It’s impossible to escape death at this point, with every corner of the game world covered with mobsters in their sedans, but it’s fun to try!
The game looks fantastic, it doesn’t have the more realistic lighting of Payback, nor the over the shoulder 3D angle. But Car Jack has a great cartoony look to it that I find more appealing; it works well with the cartoon violence in the game and the stereotypical criminals you encounter.
The iPhone edition ads more horsepower, and it’s nice to see this power used subtly in the way the otherwise 2D world pops out of the screen at you. It gives an enormous amount of depth as you pass by trees, streetlamps and buildings.
The city itself is a good size and has been lovingly created by the same fair hands of the guy who worked on creating the original Vice City in GTA. It’s fun just to cruise or walk round and enjoy the scenery.
To add to this joy is the sound track, brought to you by some great unsigned music talent ranging through genres like pop, classical, rock, hip hop and even country. In a GTA style these are split across different radio stations such as Beat 101 and Cathedral FM, complete with amusing DJ voice over’s. Sound effects are also good with atmospheric sounds of a bustling city with car horns, and other traffic noises in the distance. The weapons sounds are good too, with only the car engine sounds letting the side down a bit and coming across as a bit whiney.
As far as gameplay goes there is plenty to do to earn that weekly $5k. Missions are random, and while many are based around the same premise, there’s enough variety to avoid them getting stale. They don’t have the depth of storylines as the GTA series, but they are fun and perfect for on the go gaming. It’s possible to simply launch the game, steal a car and deliver to Kirk’s autos in a few minutes to make some quick cash, and then put your phone to sleep, and pick up the game later.
There’s a good selection of cars to jack. They all handle differently, some slow and heavy and some fast and light, and while handling may feel a bit sluggish in general when compared to Payback or GTA on the DS, the added turbo boost is a welcome addition and adds a new dynamic to car control by giving you a the choice of speed versus control.
The controls are good for the most part. The on foot controls work well, especially the auto lock on weapon control. But once behind the wheel, things are not as solid. They are not terrible, and are a marked improvement over the earlier mobile version of Car Jack and an early build we tested, in fact it’s good fun speeding round the city overall. But, I do feel a bit more work is needed to get the cars feeling perfect. It might be down to the small target areas for your fingers to hit the buttons, but right now the acceleration and brake/reverse buttons can sometimes fail to respond. Another problem is that the cars tend to auto centre themselves if you take your finger off the steering controls, this can get particularly frustrating when trying to navigate narrow streets, and maneuver yourself round walls and bollards, especially when delivering a car unscathed to Kirk’s Autos is top priority.
The cars are also a bit on the sensitive side. It’s too easy to get in trouble with the law or hit a pile-up of traffic, only to find yourself on fire after only a few more shunts. You’ll certainly want to avoid a run in with the law if you are damaged.
The physics also need some work. TAG have promised to address some of these issues, but as of this reviewed version cars tend to come to a complete stop when hit, or bounce off each other like fun fair dodgems when in turbo mode. The same happens when you hit stationary objects like walls and buildings.
The GPS while good for the most part, lacks a map so if you are blindly following the red arrow, you can end up in a dead end or in a park area. A small map overlay would help this.
Smaller issues that don’t affect the gameplay to a high degree, but I feel should be implemented in a mobile game are: Hard to read mission text and a fiddly scroll bar to navigate it; no auto save when on a call or after receiving a text, the game simply reboots you to the title screen; there is also no in-game menu to change options such as sound and controls, which means you have to exit to the title screen to access these features. Again, TAG is working on these for future updates.
The bottom line
There has been much hype surrounding the release of this game. It’s always hard to balance your expectations when you are so pumped for a game. When you finally get your hands on it, there are always going to be certain things that you might find are slightly less than stellar. It’s the same with many summer blockbuster films, if you go in with high expectations you will never be completely satisfied!
However, take a step back and look at the game for what it is, which is what I have tried to do with this review, and you’ll discover that Car Jack Streets is a thoroughly enjoyable GTA style romp which, while not featuring the depth of story or character developments as that series, still manages to extract the best elements of those games and create an on the go, pick-up-and-play gamestyle that suits the iPhone perfectly.
Yes there are some problems, and even with its seemingly long time in development, you could argue that the game is not quite ready for release. But, even in it’s current state, as an overall package it is a solid and enjoyable game… and certainly worth the price of admission.
Graphics and Presentation
Great quasi 2D/3D game engine with an appealing comic book artstyle. The car physics are not quite up to scratch, and there is occasional framerate drops which stops this getting a perfect 5.
Fantastic sound track and great sound effects throughout. Definitely one for the headphones!
a solid range of missions. But right now the car handling and controls aren’t up to par with other driving games out there, and at times border on frustration. Overall though, it’s a fun game
The real-time element works well for the on-the-go nature of the iPhone. Most missions are short but with enough variation to keep you coming back for more, and not put you off playing again, should Frankie’s goons take you out for not paying up. An interview we had, with TAGs’ Paul Farley, revealed plans for new features, such as competitions and deathmatch multiplayer, should ensure replay-ability and value for your investment.
Is it as good as Payback? Well I’ll leave that for another discussion, but it certainly stands side by side with that game, offering enough for you to pick it up should Payback already grace your iPhone’s home-screen. Car Jack Streets is available from Tuesday 28th April for $4.99/£2.99