Gangstar West Coast Hustle is a ruthlessly great crime epic

Posted: August 20, 2009 in Action, Shooter

You know how they say that violence begets violence. After playing Gangstar, I can see how the whole experience could do that because Gameloft has created one of the best, if not the best, open-world environments you’ll experience on the iPhone/iPod Touch platform. Gangstar has developed a near console-quality game with beautiful graphics, interesting characters, and even a decent storyline that combine to deliver the immersiveness you’d expect with this type of game.

If you’ve played Grand Theft Auto, then you’ll be pleased to know that Gangstar offers a similar versatility. Set in Los Angeles, you play an aspiring gang member with the Los Locos de la Muerte gang hoping to rise through the ranks by carrying out ruthless and brutal tasks. While many of these tasks are carried out against rival gang Los Matadores, you’ll also have the opportunity to take on optional side missions and build alliances with other characters.

What Gamelot has accomplished is an open world where you have freedom to explore and create mayhem from carjacking, join in street races both with cops and other thugs, and shoot whoever you want to name a few things. Through 50 missions broken into 6 chapters, money earned by taking out gang members and pedestrians along with completing missions can be used to buy weapons, rent vehicles (when you’re not carjacking) and bribe officers. As is typical with Gameloft games, the game opens with a cinematic video, and throughout the game, various cut scenes and dialog set the tone for each mission.

Gangstar does a nice job of using flashbacks to add some variety to the game so you won’t simply be carjacking and shooting. The game has a great set of controls that really don’t take much time to get used to. In fact, it took less than 5 minutes to learn and effectively use the controls. For walking and running, an analog stick is provided with action icons for punching and shooting as well as an action icon for entering/exiting a vehicle. When in vehicles, 3 options are provided for steering: slider, wheel or accelerometer, along with a choice of pedals or stick for throttle. Personally, I found the slider/pedal combination worked best for me, but accelerometer-controlled driving was actually fun especially since I could drive anywhere I wanted. One shortcoming is collision detection is non-existent so driving through street posts and signs without damage is common and even inconsistent, although crashing through anything else will cause damage.

A mini-map is provided that serves as a guide to various locations. In addition to first aid kits and armored, 6 types of weapons are available for your thug: handgun, semiautomatic, shotgun, assault rifle, sniper and RPG. Switching between the various weapons and fists is easily accomplished by tapping the weapons icon with aiming done by tapping a target and shooting. Weapons can be purchased at designated shops in the neighborhood or by tapping the mini-map which opens a series of options where side missions, services and car rentals can be accessed. It’s really a well thought out design set-up easily accessible at any time during the game.

Visually, the game looks terrific with no lag on my iPod Touch 2g 3.0. In fact, it runs extremely smooth with little to no pixilation, although but the draw distance is low resulting in a delay in how graphics render in the background. The viewing perspective can altered at any time by touching and dragging the screen which works well. The game is inherently violent so obviously there is blood and bodies, but it’s not overly graphic. Audio wise, Gameloft outdid themselves with the addition of an in-game radio that appears when you’re driving. The radio has several stations that can be accessed, and while the music is ghetto, the humor is absolutely the best. From commercials about gas to news broadcasts about ice store flavors, you’ll have fun just flipping through the channels. By the way, some vehicles have CB radios which can be used to access even more side missions.

To further replayability, Gangstar also has an achievement system that any thug would be proud to accomplish from owning weapons and carjacking vehicles to visiting car dealers and meeting monetary milestones.

Gangstar is about mayhem, and the content should keep most busy for hours and hours. From drive-by shootings and carjackings to the sex and drug references, Gangstar has it all, well, as much as Apple allows. As I mentioned, the missions occur in various spots including strip clubs, prisons, and even playgrounds among others, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The police chases can be brutal albeit not overly difficult since the police AI tends to be on the weaker side and forces you to pick up badges throughout the city, while the street races offer good diversionary play. Inherent in this entire experience is the humor which is nicely and even subtly incorporated within the game. For better or for worse, the game is heavy on stereotypical characters down to the bikini-clad women and overly exaggerated gang bangers.

Aside from the issues I mentioned including draw distance which is minor, the typical Gameloft load times and the relatively low police AI, Gangstar plays extremely well and definitely exceeds my expectations. With well-designed controls and a beautifully designed open environment, Gangstar is easily a top pick if not the top pick for the platform.

Albie Meter: 5 Stars (highly recommended for great gameplay, originality and creativity; this game is ruthlessly good)

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