Gangstar is back for its third outing. So, can the latin beats of Rio bring passion and energy to the series? Read on…
The sandbox genre (or GTA clone) has become pretty formulaic over the years (as is generally the case with all successful genres). Tying all these elements together into an engaging and worthwhile experience falls to its storyline, and in turn the success of its story will define whether the game is any good. So, based on this assumption, how does this third outing in the Gangstar series fair?
From a technical standpoint it’s hard to fault it. Any worries about the horrendous pop-up we experienced at our hands-on last month making it into the final release can be put to rest. On an iPad 2 and iPhone 4S at least (we haven’t tested it on older devices) the pop-up for buildings and environmental objects is rare, even when viewing the landscape from up high by chopper. Vehicles, on the other hand, do fade in (not pop-up) a bit later than I would have liked, but that’s a small price to pay in a sandbox environment.
Gameloft have delivered on their promise of providing a more detailed environment in which to roam, with more people (many of them NPCs) and traffic giving the impression of a living city (an area where the last two Gangstar games failed).
The city, which is around the same size as Miami Vindication (Gangstar 2), is crammed tight with objects and buildings, all realistically rendered with high quality textures – including smaller details such as graffiti on the walls. The same goes for the cars, and close ups of NPCs. It even features decent lip-syncing, which was a pleasant surprise.
I particular like the day and night cycle. The city looks best when bathed in either the early morning sun, or under the moonlight, particularly down by the bay as it bounces off the well-rendered sea.
The addition of building interiors gives the game far more scope than in previous Gangstar’s. Gun battles in locations such as nightclubs or banks, are far more satisfying than being limited to the streets, much like the excellent 9mm before it.
The physics system, though, is less successful. Cars behave fine, as does your character when on foot. However, on a bike, real world rules do not apply. Hit a car or object at full speed, and you’ll simply come to a sudden halt, instead of flying off the bike in a heap. It really breaks the realism and takes the threat of danger away from riding, which should be part of the fun.
Another technical tour de force are the controls. Be it on foot, in a car, on sea, or in the air, the controls are excellent. The only suggestion I would have for potential players is to switch from the default motion driving controls, to the slider/pedals combo… it’s far more responsive.
Add to this an intuitive interface and map system, the ability to customise your character with clothes and accessories, plus the authentic sounds of Rio, then what’s not to like… Right?
Well, unfortunately the story – in particular its delivery – is atrocious!
The included missions are uninspired, retreading old ground: drive to and retrieve X; take out character X; escort person X; defend area X; race against challenger X. So apart from the setting, there really is nothing new to see and do.
More importantly, the stories that sets these missions in motion are completely lifeless. There is not one character you care about, or even remotely like. You are supposed to be driven to revenge with the death of your girlfriend. Yet, before her death she proved that she was a complete bitch, and only with you for your money. So it’s really hard to believe your characters motivation and emotions (or lack thereof) to his cause. At least with GTA games you grew to love your character, despite their intrinsic faults. Here though, everyone is brain dead, and the voice work, while authentic, is very wooden and serves only to make matters worse. It’s as if someone – where English is clearly not there first language – has been asked to read from an English script. It just doesn’t work.
And it’s a script that any writer should be ashamed of. Pushing copious amounts of sex, violence and swearing onto the player just for the hell of it. Games like GTA (and even Gameloft’s own 9mm, to a point) at least manages to portray these themes with witty Tarantino-esqué banter, which serves only to drive the authentic gangland story-lines. This is just gratuitous drivel designed for shock value only.
Beyond the story, you can of course roam the city, taking on mini missions, including the usual pizza deliveries and taxi missions, or just enjoy taking in the cities sites (the game’s only redeeming qualities!).
Ultimately though, you can throw the whole ‘technical’ kitchen sink at a sandbox game, but if all these great looking elements are not woven together with a great story to engage the player, then in my book the game is a failure.
Gameloft have proved again and again that they are the masters of technicality, pushing the games that appear on iDevices onward with great graphics and touch-based controls (Modern Combat 3 and Tin Tin are the latest great releases)… but too often they stumble to combine their technical output with their creative output, resulting in a severely lackluster experience (Sacred Odyssey and Silent Ops are examples of this). Gangstar Rio: City of Saints falls into this camp.