UPDATED: The wait is over! Gameloft’s highly anticipated sequel ‘Gangstar: Miami Vindication’ is finally here…
The original Gangstar: West Coast hustle was one of the first games to give us a taste of the possibilities of gaming on the iPhone and iPod Touch. Since then the AppStore has been in-undated with games of every size and genre, and while much of it is a steaming pile of manure… I’m looking at you Jirbo! – there are many titles that shine through said shite, and deliver premium quality experiences. Gameloft are one of those studios that push the envelope across the many genres, and while their games don’t always deliver on their promise, on the whole we’ve done all-right by them.
Not only has the AppStore grown in size, but so too has the technology and most of all, the goal posts for quality. Despite the relatively low cost of games on the platform, we all expect high quality visuals and production in our games, and in a way this is a double edged sword for Gameloft, spoilt by games such as N.O.V.A and Hero of Sparta 2, we have high expectations for their games. So, does Gangstar: Miami Vindication, or Gangstar 2 for short – meet those high expectations? Well, yes… and no!
Gameloft have kept this game under wraps. It’s been in development for a long time, but wasn’t shown to press at all, not even at E3 where we got hands-on with many titles, some still to be released. We’re not sure why, maybe they were not confident of their game. But, from my initial play through, they should be.
Gangstar 2 doesn’t continue from the last game, instead featuring all new characters, and of course is set in Miami. Expect to see a lot of Gators! As with GTA, from which it takes the majority of it’s ideas, you must take on missions from various character around Miami, in a bid to embed yourself further into the criminal underworld, in order to discover the whereabouts of your missing younger brother. As with the first game there are many missions ranging from taking out rival gang members, delivering packages, reconnaissance, steeling cars, and racing. There are many more this time though, 75 missions in fact, as well as various civilian side quests such as taxi, delivery and cop missions. Bigger and better seems to be the order of the day here, but the only thing it doesn’t do is anything new… new to Gangstar maybe, but nothing we’ve not seen anywhere before. Remember, we are living in a time now where GTA is alive and kicking on the AppStore. Still, much like Saints Row plays second fiddle to GTA on the Xbox 360, I think there is a place for Gangstar next to GTA on the AppStore too.
According to Gameloft, the story is co-written by a writer from the wire. Quite how much input they have is unknown, but it is a definite improvement over that last game. It’s no Pulp Fiction, but it’s a fun popcorn style story nonetheless that spans from plot twist to plot twist until the end. Voice acting is much improved, which is a huge thing for Gameloft, even dropping in some F-Bombs for good measure too. Some of you will know that I’m particularly critical of their usual voice talent, but they seem to have done a good job here. Well, at least so far they haven’t hit the red of my cringe-o-meter! The music is a particular stand out of the game, featuring a good selection of radio stations. None of the music is fully licensed, but what you do get is tongue-in-cheek spoofs of tracks, including an 80′s tune that is spookily close to Phil Collins’ ‘In the air’ (a nod to Miami Vice) and Dance tunes that sound like Madonna, right down to the singer sound-a-like. Some re-hashed ads do appear from the first game, however, which is a little lazy.
Visually it’s not a huge improvement over the original though. On iPhone 4 it does look crisp and run smooth, but the game still suffers from terrible pop-up. The car models do look better, as do the character textures, but overall it’s not jaw dropping. The characters appearance in general is probably the least impressive, sporting simplistic low poly models that would look good back in games such as the N64′s Goldeneye, but not in this day and age. They don’t even have fingers for Christ sakes. And while the voice acting is improved, don’t expect any animated lip syncing, which is disappointing and makes the characters look more like wire puppets.
Much of this lack of detail is to do with rendering a large city area, and in Gangstar 2 the city you can explore is a lot bigger than the previous game. It is less linear too, with more varied streets and new to Gangstar, waterways. If there is one improvement, it’s the global lighting. In the previous game it was all day time, and ultra bright. This time however, the world is lit with more realism, be that under the orange glow of sun down, or the blue hue of moonlight. At night the game exhibits some impressive vehicle and stereo light effects. Though whether these are supported by earlier devices, I’m not sure.
Unfortunately, the world of Gangstar is still a lifeless place to live. I presume a bird flu epidemic has hit the residents of Miami, as you will only encounter a few people at any one time, and many seem to be directly related to each other. However, with vehicles being the most important element, it’s imperative to have a fast and smooth sandbox environment in which to take them, even if the graphical realism suffers as a result.
New vehicles including bikes, boats and helicopters are all available, and they control as well as before. I would go so far to say that the controls are better than GTA’s. once again they don’t stray far from the original, featuring the same accelerometer, touch slider, and virtual wheel as before, but they feel tighter and precise. The touch wheel is my personal recommendation. Despite a small learning curve, it’s not long before you’ll be swerving through traffic at speed, and skidding round bends. The helicopter is a new addition, and controls well too. It’s not as enjoyable as I’d hoped it would be and spent more of my time on the motorbikes which are great fun and very fast. Find yourself a good ramp off a multistorey carpack for some awesome stunts.
The on-foot controls are improved, particularly combat. Not only can you now run, but you can do this while shooting. Whereas before you would stop dead to engage in battle. Combined with the same tap-to-target mechanic and a new Splinter Cell style cover system, and firefights are far more enjoyable this time around.
The games’ camera shoots the action from over your shoulder pretty well, and you can alter your view at any time by swiping the screen. Occasionally though you will find yourself lost in an object, or floating in the air. This I can live with, but there are some bugs that detract from the experience. The main one is collision detection, while it doesn’t affect your character control so much, the computer AI on the other hand does have a problem. After only playing it for a couple of hours, I experience more than one instance of this. The most obvious of these was during a follow mission. You had to keep at a safe distance to the car in front, too close and you failed, too far and you failed. However, on one stretch of road, the target vehicle came into contact with another and they became embroiled in a vehicular wrestle with one pushing one way and the the other to opposite way, with neither willing to give-way. This resulted in a fail through no fault of my own. Other insances include pedestrians flickering between front and back postures stuck between invisible boundaries, and at times your car will become stuck on tress or lamposts, which if the said car is essential to a mission, will once again result in a fail. Thank god then that you can restart a mission from the menu at any time!
Things have changed on the AppStore, and we expect more and more compared to a year ago. While I understand that the games need to be backwards compatible for an increasing amount of devices, right back to the original iPhone, I would have liked to see a larger leap in graphical technology for this sequel as well as see Gameloft stretch themselves more creatively with perhaps touch based mini-games, multiplayer, and RPG elements… etc. Instead they played it safe. Having said that, while the gameplay innovation and technical quality might be missing from Gangstar 2, it’s damn fun. And to be honest that’s probably what’s most important here. For the price you get a good 6-8 hours storyline (depending on if you skip the cutscenes and jump from mission to mission without traveling) and with all the side missions, races and general freeroaming, there is a whole lot to keep fans of sandbox games entertained for days, if not weeks. Is it better than the first?.. well it’s certainly bigger, but it is more of the same and doesn’t quite have the fresh feel that the original had back when it wasn’t sharing the AppStore with the real deal (GTA:CTW).
Gangtar: Miami Vindication is out now for $6.99. Get it here. The iPad version rolls onto the AppStore sometime this October.