Who you trying to get crazy with ese…? Dont you know I’m loco?
Gameloft have become the go to studio for creating the games that everyone wants, albeit good clones of the originals. Thanks to them we have a Mario clone (Castle of Magic), a Guitar Hero clone (Guitar Rock Tour), a FIFA clone (Real Football/Soccer 09), a Madden clone (NFL 2010), a God of War clone (Hero of Sparta)…. and any day now, a Call of Duty: Modern Warfare clone (Sandstorm: Modern Combat). But, there’s no doubt that the wish list of most gamers out there is for a full 3D Grand Theft Auto (GTA) clone… and now, with Gang$tar: West Coast Hustle, we have one.
If you have been living under a small rock for the past 12 years then I’ll quickly explain that Grand Theft Auto is a sandbox game which allows you to roam a sprawling city, where you take on missions to jack cars, rob banks and gun down anything that breathes… all to the beat of a multitude of radio stations. There have been many games in the series, but it wasn’t until it moved to the fully 3D realm that the game really took off. Gang$tar strives to replicate this, particularly the San Andreas outing of GTA. So, does it succeed where others have so gallantly tried but ultimately come short of the mark? well, you’ll have to read on!
Gang$tar takes place in a city on the West Coast of the US. In a tale of greed and revenge you play as Pedro, who, no sooner arrived across the border from Mexico, has gotten involved in some gangster sh*t. Cue a story line that involves Latino gang-bangers, street racers, the mob, Yakuza, Tri-ads, bent cops, and even politicians.
The first thing that strikes you is the presentation of the game, this isn’t a rushed port, and everything is well put together, from the menus to the cut-scenes. It begins with the now expected FMV sequence, which sets the scene perfectly, and then into an easy to use menu where you can change options and start your saved game, or begin a new one. Once in, and after a long but expected loading time (due to the whole world being loaded into memory) you are in the game world and off into your first tutorial style missions. Each mission starts with a cool illustrated title screen featuring the character of that particular mission that you will encounter, and then an in game cut-scene plays out that sets the story and acts as briefing for that mission. These look pretty cool and can look cinematic in their direction, so hats off to Gameloft for those. While the character models do not feature a hefty amount of polygons, they do animate well and their textures look good close up. The city itself is a good size with detailed districts like downtown, Chinatown, tinsel town, the burbs, industrial and the port. It’s all laid out to get the most fun out of driving around its many roads and alleys.
Sound has always played an important part in this genre of game. It’s now pretty much expected to supply the gamer with a selection of radio stations to drive-by to. You don’t get any licensed tracks here like Payback or Car Jack, but the instrumental only music does sound pretty cool, with a mix of rock, punk, funk and hip-hop as well as voiced adverts and news bulletins.
The story in Gang$tar is very stereotypical and not remotely original by any stretch of the imagination. However, a bit like porno storylines, it’s the cheesy dialogue that makes it funny and ultimately enjoyable (although Porn does have a few other things going for it, if you are into that kind of thing, Dave?). When I got my hands-on preview of the game last month, I didn’t get a good impression of how long the game would last, and judging by the length of other Gameloft games I was a little hesitant. However, Gang$tar features a plentiful array of missions, spanning multiple storylines, with even twists in the tale. Granted, you can always wish for more, but I think for the price and the fact that it is a mobile game, you’ll get a good 6 hours out of it in the main story, plus the free roaming and races that go beyond.
On foot you get the tried and tested virtual analogue nub on the left of the screen, and on the right, a fire button and context sensitive buttons which appear when required. Pedro reacts well to your control, allowing you to make him walk or jog depending on position of the stick. At anytime, you can also move the camera by dragging you finger around the screen. Once you have entered a car, the controls change to one of three options. There is a wheel; which while functional I felt was a little unnatural. There’s tilt steering; which is great for most racing games like Real Racing, but for some reason I didn’t like it here, which I think was down to the jump from tilt to touch once out of the car and back on foot. Finally, there is a slider control; which is very similar to Car Jack’s solution, but feels a lot more responsive. It’s like the analogue stick, only it is limited to horizontal motion and so is perfect for steering left to right quickly. For acceleration and brake you use the buttons that appear on the right.
This genre rests on the performance of it’s car models, and Gang$tar’s cars handle perfectly. They have a weight to them that feels very realistic, as well as great contact physics and damage. You can hit the brake and power slide round corners, and if you jump a ramp you come down to earth with a pleasant thump and bounce. Maybe the physics are over the top, but it sure is fun. It’s so easy to just forget you mission and burn round the city at high speed, and smash up you ride. Different vehicles handle differently too. You’ve got your mini cooper style ride which is nippy and nimble, you’ve got your Japanese import which is fast but slides all over the place. Your standard sedan, which isn’t too responsive, as you would expect. Then you have your bigger cars like the hummer, fish truck and limousine, which are harder to handle, but stronger.
The second most important aspect of this genre are the firearms. Again these control well, using an auto/touch based hybrid targeting system. If you are facing the enemy and you shoot, the game will auto lock-on when in range. But when multiple targets are available you can simply tap on the desired target… oh to have that feature in GTA!… if only! There are a range of guns at your disposal. Hand Guns, which you can dual wield matrix style, ouzis, shotguns, assault rifles, rocket launchers and sniper rifles. All control the same except the sniper rifle. Once targeted you hit the shoot button, which brings up a silent scope style sniper sight. Pinching the screen then lets you zoom to your target and take them out. Just like GTA 5 it’s one of the most satisfying if a little sick parts of the game. And it bodes well for the sniper weapon in Gameloft’s upcoming Modern Combat FPS. Later you’ll also be required to take paparazzi style snaps on a camera, which works just like the snipe rifle but with out the blood shed!
For music, which is only accessible while driving, you can change station by simply sliding over the stereo graphic at the top of the screen. It’s a cool feature and sure beats going to your menu screen to change it. You can also shoot while driving by simply tapping the shoot icon, for that all-important drive-by.
Finally you have the in-game menu, accessible by tapping the mini map in the top left of the screen. I’m not a big fan of the colour scheme, but it sure works well. The map can be dragged and pinched to find where you are and where you are going, as well as a key to where items of interest are such as gun shops and auto repair. You can drive to these stores to pick up guns or activate missions. But the great thing about Gang$tar is that you can access it all from your menu, this is a great time saver and perfect for an on-the-go mobile game. You can buy almost all the weapons at anytime, start a mission without driving across town, and even rent any of the cars in the game to save searching for it. It will be dropped in you facinity and marked with an arrow.
The majority of the game is of a high standard, but there are a few things that knock it down a peg, or two. While I mentioned above that the overall presentation is very good, particularly the style and feel of the game, there is a downside, and that is that the game’s 3D engine really feels the strain. Gameloft have created a detailed city with many streets, buildings, terrain and beaches. They have also added some good-looking textures to these objects. The problem comes when the game attempts to present this to you while you travel at breakneck speeds. When in the distance models and textures are low in quality, but as you near they are replaced with slightly better models and textures, until finally they are rendered in full quality when in range. This can look very off-putting, and unnatural, and only demonstrates the lack of power in the iPhone’s hardware at streaming textures and models. To begin with you’ll be driving down the street, only to have a building or overpass appear dead in front of you. Sure, you can flick your eye tot eh mini map every now and again to see where you are going, but even then it’s hard to decipher what is exactly coming up. To be fair even GTA on the PS2 had some of these problems, not to the extent of this, but pop-up none the less. It even shares GTA’s car cloning problem. Because, the engine cannot render too many cars at the same time, you’ll find that you will see more of the same car that you are driving on the streets than any other, this obviously saves on processor as the assets are already loaded. It’s quit jarring to begin with, but eventually you get used to it and it becomes part of the game. Although suddenly seeing a limousine turn into a mini is a sight to behold. Add to this some texture tear and magical disappearing and repapering walls, and it’s apparent that some more work could have been done in tweaking the engine, and that Gameloft should have settled with lower quality textures and polygons, for a more fluid engine and better draw distance.
3D-engine bugs aside, Gang$tar is the best GTA clone on the AppStore right now. The whole package looks the part, sounds the part, feels the part, and above all it’s great fun from beginning to end.
Presentation & Graphics
Great presentation throughout, with a well realised living and breathing world. Unfortunately the graphics engine can’t quite handle what is thrown at it. [Played on an iPhone 3GS]
Sound work is of a high quality. Guns sound great, and the music, though instrumental, sound the part. I particularly like the sound of the cars. Especially the throaty revs of the mini.
It’s one hell-u-va cheesy story, but it’s an incredibly fun romp. The controls work a charm, especially the touch controls.
Early missions are on the easy side, but the difficulty soon ramps up when you meet the various mobs. Once the story is over, there are a bevy of races to enter into, as well as free roaming around town taking down cops and jacking cars.
Gang$tar: West Coast Hustle is out now for the bargain price of $6.99