I loves me a good Grand Theft Auto clone. Give me an open world (preferably one set in an urban environment) and a third person perspective and you’re, like, 80 percent of the way towards making an awesome game, at least in my book. That’s not to say I haven’t been disappointed by the genre before, of course – anyone old enough to have played True Crime: Streets of LA will undoubtedly feel my pain here – but to me, gaming doesn’t get much more fun than grabbing a gun, jacking a car, and painting the pavement with my adversaries.
Gangstar Vegas, the third title in Gameloft’s popular action series, is no True Crime. Its touchscreen-optimized controls and gameplay design make committing vehicular manslaughter a breeze. Compare it to Rockstar’s recent GTA ports, which I personally found unplayable without a physical controller, and you get a good idea of what the mobile platform can do when developers build to its strengths.
Another Vegas Crime Story
MMA fighter Jason is having a rough go of things in Sin City. Though he’s perfectly willing to throw a fight for a local crime boss, he runs into an unexpected snag when his opponent, who’s also on the take, flops before he can. We can’t all be Bruce Willis in Pulp Fiction, after all. With angry mobsters on his trail, he calls another area crime lord – this one a hard-drinking, karate-fighting, strip-club-owning old woman – and begs for protection. She grants it, but she also wants his help.
And that’s just the first ten or so minutes of the game. There’s a whole lot of story for a mobile title here, and it’s pretty decent to boot. Playing it is kind of like watching a corny action movie: As long as you don’t mind shutting your brain off and staring at the pretty explosions for a little bit, you’re bound to enjoy it. The characters, which range from the above-mentioned drunk karate lady to megalomaniac mob lords to ecstasy-popping “quirky genius” types, reflect the quality writing as well, giving players another reason not to skip the (many) cutscenes.
Built For Mobile
As fun as the Grand Theft Auto series is, it wasn’t made with a tablet in mind. That became painfully clear the day I downloaded GTA III from the Play Story. Then again when I told myself Vice City couldn’t be as bad and downloaded it, too. Both games suffered from confusing, inaccurate control schemes and enough onscreen buttons to trip up even the most practiced thumbs, making them good for a couple of plays each instead of the hours of fun I thought I’d have.
Gangstar Vegas suffers no such problems. It has the looks and gameplay of a console title, yes, but the controls are all mobile. It’s an effective combination to say the least. Driving, flying, shooting, stabbing… whatever you’re doing (and whether it’s a felony under the Nevada penal code), it feels natural, thanks mostly to good button placement and excellent car physics. It certainly doesn’t feel like a driving sim ala Forza or Gran Turismo – but do you really want that in a game like this? Save the realism for the real world. When I’m killing scores of pedestrians with a stolen swat van while an inebriated grandma hangs out the passenger side window with a machine gun, I’d rather have a fun time.
Guns, Cars, and Gamblin’
Much like the real Las Vegas, Gangstar’s Sin City offers unlimited entertainment so long as you don’t mind being shot at. If putting new holes in people starts to get old, consider checking out the game’s casinos for a fun (and horribly addictive) way to blow your cash or its multiple street races for a nonviolent way to earn some more. Shops, which are accessed from the pause menu instead of a map, sell guns, cars, clothes, and more, giving you quick access to all the items you need to succeed. And, you know, not die, which is also kind of important. You’ll come across plenty of cash in your travels, too – enough to buy major upgrades fairly early on – which is probably a result of the game’s premium pricing. If I’m paying seven bucks for a game I most certainly don’t want to have to buy in-game currency to progress at a regular rate; here, that was never an issue, though the option to buy was there if I wanted to take advantage of it.
Levelling affects everything from the speed of your car to the blast radius of your grenades. It isn’t the most realistic way of doing things, sure, but making concessions is part of creating a solid mobile title. I’d much rather dump points in a car speed stat, for example, than level each vehicle I buy – it’s less-time consuming and gives me a chance to try every vehicle out, as opposed to maxing a few out and sticking with them.
A Few Gripes
I encountered more than a few weird graphical errors playing the game on my Nexus 10. Textures would often disappear, leaving ugly, blurred polygons in their stead. It crashed on at least three occasions, too, erasing quite a bit of progress in one particularly annoying instance. Between my own experience and the number of similar complaints in the Play Store ratings, I have to wonder if Gameloft would have benefitted from a little more playtesting. Finally, I found the number of cutscenes overwhelming at times. It’s a tradeoff when playing a game with such a good story, sure, but sometimes I just want to play the damn game, not listen to characters make one-liners.
At seven bucks, Gangstar Vegas costs quite a bit more than the average app on the Play Store. Is it worth the cash? I’d say so. It’s the best GTA-style open world game I’ve seen on the platform. Heck, it even beats the games that spawned the genre when it comes to playing on a touchscreen. If you like these kinds of games it’s absolutely worth your attention. If not, check it out anyway. You’ll know if you like it or not well before the return period ends.