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Genre: Strategy


PC Review - 'Gangland'

by Ben Zackheim on March 31, 2004 @ 1:15 a.m. PST

Genre : Strategy
Publisher: Whiptail Interactive
Developer: Media Mobsters
Release Date: March 3, 2004


Some games need to age like a fine chianti before they taste good. Sometimes you have to trudge through some bad sips before you get to the sweet stuff. Gangland is a perfect example of how the best part comes to those who wait.

Gangland has you play the part of Mario, who is in Paradise City to track down and kill his 3 brothers. Why, exactly, isn’t clear at first (unless you visit the website), but as the story moves on you get filled in. At the start of the game you are to work for your mob boss uncle to prove your worth. Follow his instructions to a T, please. To do otherwise is to swim with the fishes. Slowly you must build your power until you are man enough to take on your elder brothers.

The start of Gangland is bumpy. I always put a game through the “manual” test. Can I get through the first level without reading the instructions? Are the controls and goals easy enough for me to pick up naturally or do I have to study up first? Well, I can definitely tell you, Gangland requires some heavy reading. You must read the manual to know that you can rotate the camera. You must read the manual to learn the awkward controls. You must read the manual to learn that there is no save game feature. That’s right. Another game with no save feature. It’s like a cherry without the red, a basketball without the bounce – there’s never an excuse to leave “save game” out – even Halo would have been better with it. I don’t know why anyone thinks that no save feature contributes to the fun. It is NEVER the case. No, in Gangland you have to get through “conquests” before you can reach a save point. And on medium level difficulty that can take quite a while.

In the first level, the default camera angle hid my target. I had to go through my freshman mob errand several times before I figured it out. Nothing will get a game off on the wrong foot like an unclear mission.

Obtuse controls and no save game feature. Two strikes. One more swing…

WHAP! Triple! Gangland is fun!

Once I stopped fuming over the controls I realized I was enjoying myself. Gangland gives you a Sims-like point of view of the playing field, complete with wandering avatars, moving (stiffly) from point A to point B. The POV requires you to get good at moving the camera around, and fast. Once you get the hang of it, though, it’s actually not so bad and I was swooping around the game like a cameraman on a crane, getting good views of the action.

Gangland is mostly very linear, being a task-based game where you are told exactly what you need to do. But it also has an element of the Grand Theft Auto series in that you can, for the most part, take your time getting the task done. In the meantime you can build your own mini-empire on your way to the top. You can hire thugs to watch your back as you go from store to store. You can either demand protection money (a cut of the profits) or you can take over the store altogether. Once the store is under your rule you are responsible for taking care of it. That means you can’t run off and look for tail, you have to either stay in the hood yourself or assign guards. Though you usually don’t carry everything from one level to the next, you do develop your character consistently with experience points, adding an RPG element that works well.

As you get promoted the mob boss starts to give you cuts of the family profits. So all the stores you secured under mob rule start to pay you a steady dividend. The more you push people around the more you make. But it also means there’s more for you to maintain. On top of this already addictive element to the game you get some pretty fun tasks from uncle.

The tasks range from delivery boy to assassin, as the old fart seems to have it out for just about everyone. He compliments you when you do well and threatens your worthless life if you fail him. A failure doesn’t mean the end of the game though. There’s always another task around the corner. Though Gangland isn’t as expansive as GTA it is big enough to keep you going for a long time. On top of the many tasks you must complete, the city itself is huge, with various parts of it being controlled by different mobs (so watch your back). To get around all this expansive space you have your choice of cars you can steal. The controls of the cars are pretty awful since the streets are too narrow to navigate. Overall the vehicles are a weak spot in the game but they’ll be necessary in certain levels. For instance there was one level where I had to take out another boss but his army was so huge I couldn’t get past them. I decided to bring a couple of vehicles with me, ram them into the punks and spray the gas tanks with bullets. BOOM. No more army.

The story itself takes twists and turns as Uncle gets kidnapped and you have to confront your family on your way to the top of the food chain. The story is no award winner but it’s competent and certainly gets close to the GTA level of mob-tale. At a certain point you get your own safehouse and you even get to find a hot chick, settle down and have a kid. What is a family without a bloodline after all?

You have many tools at your disposal as you politic your way through the violent city. You can infiltrate another mob with a mole. This allows you to listen in on plans and even take out a boss from the inside. And, of course, you can do favors for the community. Which keeps the community under your thumb. Many people will come into your office as the game goes on and ask for help in dealing with certain problems. Succeeding will add another soldier to your growing army.

In between each of the 16 chapters are short challenges which have you do a small task to prove yourself to the international mob community. Success in these challenges yields a special type of unit. The special units are amongst the coolest touches to the game. You get thieves, bombers, ninjas and assassins, killer grammas and businessmen (and many others). The units flesh out the game well.

Probably the biggest pain in the game is the combat controls. Though they can be transparent and easy they can also get in the way. You have close range combat fighters (bouncers and street ladies) and long range (henchmen). If you don’t bring a nice variety into a brawl you may find yourself with no chance of winning. I don’t know why I can’t go fist to fist with my enemy just because I’m a long range character. Seems to me just because I can shoot a gun, doesn’t mean I can’t fight. Though this element of the game adds a level of strategy to the mix, it can also be frustrating. Luckily you can zoom in nicely to see brawls up close. It helps you discern the characters and lets you micromanage battles well.

The graphics are both a weak point and a strong point. The characters look straight out of the Sims, but with guns. They verge on two dimensional. The surroundings on the other hand are quite nice and atmospheric. Even zooming in on them doesn’t take away from the immersiveness of the environment. There are NPCs lugging heavy suitcases of money around, ladies of the night, drunkards, cops, etc. The whole crowd is here.

The music is pretty good with some unusual tunes popping up once in awhile. Usually these games are all old Italian songs, with whining violins or a tenor. The Gangland music is hard to explain but it has a more contemporary feel to it. I like it. Though it’s risky enough where I could understand why others might not. The sound effects and voices are okay, but not great. I wish the dialogue had some more variety. Uncle always says the same thing over and over again. His actual instructions come to you in a text window. Sound effects are standard stuff. None of it strikes me as impressive enough to remember as I write this review.

Gangland includes online play with two modes to shoot your way through. In Conquests you build businesses, breed families and build your empire faster than your opponent. Last man standing, wins. In Shootout mode you just kill each other. No intrigue, necessary. Personally I find the Conquest mode more intriguing, though it is just like playing the game over again, except online.

Gangland delivers where it counts. It’s hard to stop playing, you want to play it when you’re not and it makes you hungry for ziti. Okay, maybe not the last part. But that’s only because I’m on the Atkins Diet.

I always root for games that grow on you. I’m a late bloomer myself (so says my momma at least). Whenever a game can climb out of mediocre beginnings and catch me I have to applaud. Get Gangland, give it an hour to get up to speed and enjoy yourself.

(NOTE: the developers claim to be adding a save feature in the 1.2 patch)

Score : 8.2/10

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