Vice As Nice
Beating Rockstar to the punch, Gameloft’s fully 3D Grand Theft Auto-esque Gangstar: West Coast Hustle was undoubtedly one of the most ambitious titles yet attempted on iPhone when it dropped back in 2009. This eagerly anticipated sequel transplants the illicit action to the sun-kissed streets and swamps of Miami, throws plenty of shiny new toys into the sandbox, and drafts in one the key writers of HBO’s The Wire to up the script’s grittiness, but has it lost its edge?
Well, while Gangstar: Miami Vindication (out now, $6.99) still suffers from a number of the same shortcomings as its predecessor did – quite a bit of texture pop-in, glitchy character animations, eerily empty streets, laughably clumsy attempts at aping GTA‘s black humor, etc – the game does also benefit from a plethora of tweaks and improvements, not to mention a considerably broadened scope this time around.
Playing as tough guy Johnny Gainesville, you must delve into Miami’s seedy underworld to rescue your little brother from the clutches of a notorious crime ring. It’s a sprawling quest, broken up into 75 diverse missions perfectly palatable for on-the-go iPhone gaming.
Predictably clichéd storyline aside, in terms of gameplay, Vindication is a big step forward for the series – driving mechanics and enemy AI have been honed, your protagonist can now swim, a sophisticated duck and cover system comes into play during gun-fights, while new weapons and vehicles (notably, motorbikes, jet skis and a helicopter) are welcome additions and allow for some seriously over-the-top action.
For the best part, missions are all killer and low on filler, seeing you jacking cars, boats and bikes, gunning down countless gang-bangers, taking to the skies in a tooled-up chopper, and, er, beating alligators to death with a baseball bat. Sure, a handful of lackluster side-quests – courier jobs, ferrying streetwalkers from A to B, tiresome street races – are used to bulk out the game’s running time, but, overall, the good far outweighs the bad.
Throughout, it’s evident Gameloft were aiming for a more adult tone with this game, yet despite the dialogue being liberally peppered with expletives, it’s as clunky and, in parts, as unintentionally hilarious as ever. Again though, I doubt anyone will download this title expecting an engrossing plot or Hollywood quality voice acting, and if you focus more on the thrilling action at hand than the shoddy cut-scenes, you can’t help but have fun. And that’s what games are all about right?
On that note, one of my main gripes with West Coast Hustle was the lack of stuff to do outside of the scripted, main missions. Thankfully Vindication puts this to rights by offering up a bigger, more interactive environment. As a result it’s entirely to possibly to kill time in the game simply screwing around; laying into innocent bystanders, exploring Miami’s network of waterways by speed boat, taking a stolen chopper for a breathtaking spin, or starting a full scale war with the cops, who eventually call in the feds should things get out of hand.
As a whole, while it’s still a bit rough around the edges, Vindication is a marked improvement over the last Gangstar game and comes packing a humongous amount of content for its App Store friendly price-tag. Lower your expectations suitably (this is running on an iPhone not a PS3 after all), leave your brain at the door, and you’ll have an utter blast with this one.
iFanzine Verdict: Since the much lauded arrival of Chinatown Wars on the App Store, the Gangstar franchise’s rep as iPhone’s answer to GTA is redundant, nonetheless this sequel delivers a bigger, better slice of open-world action than its predecessor, and is arguably a more ambitious crime sim than Rockstar’s rigidly old-school approach.