Review by Old
Is This a Family You Want to Meet?
Be careful what you promise. Gangland, from the new European
developer Media Mobsters, advertises a "whole new breed"
of arcade-style action game, combining elements of real-time strategy,
role-playing and sim genres. This family gamecrime family,
that isoffers us a "living city," character building,
"event-driven plot," "action-driven combat,"
"active resources." Why, virtually everything you can
imagine for a genre-blending, Mafia/GTA kind of game is offered,
except Italian food recipes. Wait a minute! Even that is includedspecifically,
Big Mamma's Meatballs.
The implication you're likely drawing from the above is correct.
Gangland has a lot of interesting ideaseven promisebut
just doesn't come together well enough for anything other than a
very mixed recommendation. Let's look at the game in more detail.
Welcome to Paradise City
"Four Brothers Have Come to America;
Three are having the time of their lives in the new world.
The fourth is there to kill them!"
This premise for the single-player portion of the game is enticing.
From the game description on the box and elsewhere, you draw the
impression that you'll be participating in a wide-open, dynamic
world of organized crime. Running errands for bosses, taking out
rivals, moving in on businesses, even creating your personal family,
are all aspects you're expecting.
The first concern for me was raised by a manual that features light
black print on grey papervery hard to read in all but the
best light, and preferably with a magnifying glass. Secondly, we
have an installation procedure that requires a record-setting 50-digit
disk/serial key code, using the infamous Starforce system. Your
CD is laboriously checked every time you enter the game. These "protection
drivers" are implanted in your system whether you like it or
not, and require a reboot. Not a good start.
There is no opening cinematic, and you're thrust into a dark (see
the pictures), violent, sometimes overwhelming city. With counterintuitive
mouse controls (from a traditional RTS perspective) and a rather
cluttered interface, the opening missions bring you along through
a kind of "working tutorial." The top-down view of your
immediate surroundings features rotation and zoom, offering a moderate
level of graphic quality.
"Go Back to Mama, You Sissyass!" One of the
Nice Fellows You Meet
The first couple of hours of learning the idiosyncratic control
scheme passes fairly well, and you smile at the Sicilian Mafia caricatures
with over-the-top voice acting. It's now time for dinner (trying
out the meatballs), and you decide to save your game manually, since
you've not noticed any automatic save points along the way. Esc
fails to bring up a save option. Well, then, it must be F5 for a
quick save. No, that isn't available either. Plunging into the grey-on-grey
manual, and calling up the readme, you're appalled to discover that
the only save available, at least as of the time of this writing,
is automaticat the end of a mission!
Well, let me tell you, I had to "go back to Mama" a lot.
The first of 16 missions took me five hours, due, mostly, to the
lack of midmission save. There are sequential goals/objectives that
need to be completed within the mission. Given the nature of the
game, a lot of things can go wrong with your plans, and if they
do in a fatal fashion, you're back to square one! Further, the missions
get tougher and tougher, further complicating the save-game anomaly.
Goon Squad Goes Postal in Haiti
Regardless of all the fancy claims, Gangland is primarily
a real-time strategy game. You add new units, acquire and build
up new bases (stores), defend territory, carry on conquests. There
are some skill-building factors and NPC conversations that occur,
and, I suppose, one might think of simulation characteristics. But
it's really an RTS game, with a few fancy overlays.
Unfortunately, it's also not a very good RTS game. Most of what
we've come to associate with this genre, in terms of gameplay factors,
is either missing or done badly. Primary concern is with the AI
(artificial intelligence) of NPCs, both your bad guys and the other
thugs. In spite of commands given, you never know what your sociopathic
colleagues will do. They're inclined sometimes to passively sit
while shot, and at other times will wildly open fire in benign situations,
bringing all kinds of accompanying havoc upon you and them.
Indeed, the little heading above suggests the kind of atmosphere
in which you primarily reside. There's no time for calm reflection,
"troop" orders and disposition, thinking about building
up your "sim-like" family and adding to your "RPG
stats." Rather, it's a Wild West shoot-'em-up, right here in
Paradise City! You can hardly move half a block without either becoming
an unprovoked target and/or having your guys open fire on anyone
One Does Think of the F Word
The "F word" I like to apply to a game is, simply: "fun."
Unfortunately, another F word better fits Gangland"frustrating."
Other one-word descriptors come to mindincomplete, confusing,
difficult, dated (graphics, sound), redundant, unfinished, untested.
This is Media Mobsters' first game out the door; although one wonders
what other topics their company name might let them explore. Given
their relative lack of experience, I'm inclined to cut some slack.
And, hey, they might have "connections" where I live (Nome,
Alaska)! Yet I must warn our dear readers that this full-price ($50)
game is not in the same league as Mafia,
Grand Theft Auto 3, or even Grand Theft Auto 2. I suspect
the developers tried to do too much, and they ended up with an often-confounding
game. In terms of RTS/RPG blend, SpellForce,
another new developer entry, is far superior. One patch is already
out, and another (midmission save) promised, but as we said at the
outset, watch out for those promises!
What I Liked Most About Gangland
- For a while, at least, the crime ambiance is entertaining;
- Once learned, the interface allows reasonable management;
- The multi-player aspect shows some "promise."
What I Liked Least
- The game becomes terribly difficult;
- Lack of midmission save adds to that;
- Play reality falls way short of what's promised;
- Voice and music tracks repeat too much;
- RTS features range from unfinished to broken;
- RPG and sim components are minimal;
- Frantic and cluttered action spoils play.
Release Date: March 3, 2004
Four Fat Chicks Links
Pentium III 600 GHz (P4 1.1 GHz recommended)
128 MB RAM (512 MB recommended)
32 MB 3D GeForce 2 video card (64 MB recommended)
1 GB free hard disk space
Where to Find It
Links provided for informational purposes only.
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