Gangstar Rio: City of Saints Review

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?

grio1From 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.

grio3The 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!

grio2The 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.

grio4And 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.


Gangstar Rio: City of Saints is out now as a universal app for iPhone and iPad for $6.99. Get it on the Gangstar Rio: City of Saints - Gameloft

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  • Nico

    Wow that is a low score. The story must be terrible I take it?

  • Pete

    I’v been playing this for while on my 1st gen iPad and the draw distance is definitely still an issue… P.s I liked the review , I think 2.5 is about right.

    Now back to modern combat :p

  • Pete

    P.p.s I’m aware the pop in won’t be anywhere near as bad on later devices ,just thought people would like to know what the’re getting if they have a 1st gen iPad or iPhone 4 :)

  • Austin


  • ryan

    the review doesn’t mention many of the improvements in rio unfortunately.

    I’m speaking from an iphone 4s viewpoint only and a the review should discuss the differences in devices and how this game just can’t run on old hardware and look good. if you have new hardware the game is so much better graphically than MV was. There have been a lot of other improvements in how your character interacts in the environment that aren’t covered in the review. rio is an improvement all around. If you like MV, pick this up for sure. sure it doesn’t have the same great story telling as gta series but also didn’t have the same budget. gta 3 is only coming to ios now that devices can run it like ipad2, and specifically iphone 4s. gta is a port on a game that has already been paid for as well.

    that said i can’t wait to get gta3. the story telling will be much much better, but i bet graphically it will be a step down and I’m curious how well the character interacts with the environment. it’s been so long since i’ve played gta3.

  • Nigel Wood

    @ryan Er, I pretty much cover all that in paragraphs 3,4,5,6 & 7… As I’ve said before technically this game is excellent, but I can’t stress enough how bad the story is, and how important that should be for a game like this. I don’t think budget has anything to do with it. They clearly had the budget to get a writer and voice talent, but they obviously chose that talent poorly. There are plenty of good writers and actors that are coming up in this world that don’t demand massive pay checks.

    If story is not important to you then you will no doubt love this game, but I must review the game as its whole. And not just on its merits.

    The best way I can describe this game is if you were eating a juicey fillet steak. Unfortunately the steak has been garnished with rotten eggs. No matter how you try to eat around it and enjoy the steak, the smell of the eggs has already ruined the experience.

  • TellTales

    Yeah it’s pretty mediocre. I should have known better after playing their other mediocre 3rd person games like 9MM (more like crap), Silent Ops, Splinter Cell Conviction, and Shadow Gaurdian.

    I just bought their Modern Combat 3 game, while I enjoyed the multiplayer, the single player was a mediocre rehash with the stale now-regular Gameloft lame one liners, voice acting, story, and snoozefest campaign.

    I think Gameloft has gone down the tubes. All they’re good for is making low-baked console like games for mobile platforms, but somehow reviews and people go nuts over their really poor efforts

  • pete

    @telltales I thought 9MM was good and there most original game yet…

  • pete

    ^^^^ their * ^^^^

  • Nigel Wood, UK

    I agree 9mm was good. The action and story were a perfect fit. The dialogue was over the top, but intentionally funny.

  • Karma32

    Eh, 9MM wasn’t original and while I don’t think it was crap like TellTales, it was just an average game – 6/10.

  • whoouuat??!

    could somebody tell me why all the pictures on the appstore look quite nice and when I play on my Ipod Touch 4g 32gb the textures look like shit? gangster miami was looks much better.

  • Nigel Wood, UK

    I assume the textures are optimised for iPhone 4S and iPad 2. The screens I captured above are from my 4S.

  • Sako Hamilton

    I want the black English guy ! Aka Kevin on the next pOd cast please, his writing is really hilarious & descriptive at the same time. I think he’ll be a great addition to the podcast Mr. Wood aka white English guy <3

  • pak rocks

    sir does this game run on iphone 3G

    I tried to install it on my jailbroken iphone 3G through (installous). but it keeps on saying invalid ipa.

    someone pleaaseee help

    any advice will be highly appreciated.

  • Nigel Wood

    @pak rocks. Try paying for the game instead of being a pirate!!!!

  • Some body

    @pak rocks. This game is not compatible with iPhone 3G. also DONT PIRATE GAMES

  • ADR

    This isn’t a jailbreaking community, bro. Anyway this game runs great on my ip4g.

  • pakrocks

    Sir, I jailbroke my device just for the reason that I didn’t know how to pay for games with my iPhone alone, whenever I tried from AppStore it said please go to your iTunes in computer and then give the billing information. I am extremely sorry that I offended honest people. So can someone please help me pay for the game with my iPhone alone. Because unfortunately I don’t have a computer.

  • pakrocks

    Sir, how can we get the 2.0 graphics capability without buying an iPhone 4s, if someone can help me.

  • Cheapest Tablet PC

    I bet if Gameloft released the next chapter of Gangstar series, we would absolutely need to upgrade our iPhone or iPod Touch because the graphics would be significantly enhanced and the map would be a lot bigger than this..

    And if they do release the next chapter from this GTA series, i hope it’s in Cuba or anywhere around the jungle. And the gameplay will be just like “Just Cause” from consoles.

    Full of sky diving, chopper shooting, beach, sea, waterfalls, jungle, sexy lady, and other hot stuff.

  • pakrocks

    Thanks Sir.Nigel Wood, your inspiration inspired me to buy an iPhone 4s and buy and play the game. But the game is way inappropriate, for teens. Unlike the predessors. Gameloft should work on making the game dialogues more clear .

  • Nico

    @CheapestTabletPC If they make another gangstar game I would like to see a city like New York, Chicago or London. A (for lack of a better word) bigger and more populated city. It they did Cuba it would be a lot like Rio de Janeiro. Plus in my opinion Rio is cooler than Cuba so since we already have a Gangstar Rio a gangstar Cuba would not only seem to similar but also a step down

  • Shahab10

    In iPad 2