Gangland Review

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Publisher: Whiptail Interactive
Developer: MediaMobsters

Platform: PC
Reviewed on PC
Windows System Requirements: Pentium III 600 MHz, 128 MB RAM, 32 MB video card, DirectX 9, 12x CD ROM drive, 1 GB HD space

Mario Mangano's brother Chico was killed – gunned down in the street, presumably by his three other brothers who fled to America after murdering him. Mario's uncle, Vincenzo, has finally sighted the brothers while taking care of the Family's business in Paradise City. Eager to repay his brothers for their crime, Mario departs for Paradise City to work for Vincenzo and track down his fugitive siblings. The new world opens new possibilities for Mario – while searching for Romano, Angelo and Sonny, Mario can start a new dynasty in Paradise City – a vice-ridden town ripe with cash.

Kyle Ackerman

Gangland tries to cross major genre boundaries by working in a little bit of role-playing game, some real-time strategy and a little bit of life-simulation, all supported by the framework for a living world. In truth, all of these facets are only partly realized, making Gangland seem more like an overly complicated arcade-like title, with discrete levels that have to be completed before saving; strange icons that flash above characters' heads; and constant messages that your "henchman achieved a new record."

In Gangland, you'll start out taking orders from Vincenzo, eliminating other family bosses in their safe houses, running errands, extorting businesses and hiring henchman to help do your dirty work. The glory of Gangland is that you can do a hell of a lot. The problem is that much of it isn't well executed, and almost everything results in a simplistic gun battle that is difficult to manage. Most missions break down into: go somewhere, kill a group of hostiles, and don't get killed on the way. The destination may hold a rival's safehouse, a shop to extort, or a package to deliver, but it will almost always hold armed and hostile foes.

More Challenge Than You May Want

When it comes to gunplay, Gangland is just too damn hard. Even on the easiest difficulty level, the battles require precisely positioning your gunslingers to take advantage of the terrain, if you want to survive the exchange of lead. Assailants ranging from street girls with acid spray to ninjas should let you build more complex and successful strategies. The problem is that the controls don't allow the kind of precision you need, and by the time the battle has begun, and you've started struggling with the camera and trying to select and maneuver your troops, they are either already dead or victorious. Special troops can be unlocked by completing very difficult challenge missions. Yet, while having a sniper or bazooka on your side should be powerful, the lack of precision control makes it hard to wield such forces effectively. You should be able to take into consideration units' optimal range, capabilities and cover, but combat usually devolves into a muddled mess.

Where Gangland should excel is in the attempt at a living world that has been built into Paradise City. The city has a network of thriving businesses, a semblance of an economy, and other gangs happily molesting that economy to achieve their own nefarious ends. You can take over businesses to ensure a steady flow of product and cash, and will probably want to get in on the action of related business, to ensure a smooth supply of goods and services. You can hire thugs and specialists to steal enemies' deliveries or infiltrate another organization. You can even get married and have children who can grow up to become family underbosses. Sadly, the economy and relationships take such a distant second seat to the constant gunplay that they seem irrelevant.

This is largely because the promised depth is incompletely executed, as is illustrated by vehicles in the game. You can take certain cars (once purchased or stolen), and even fill them with thugs to perpetrate a drive-by shooting. But when driving a car, running into a curb is just as jarring as colliding into a concrete wall. In fact, you can only run over a victim that strays onto the asphalt. Once both feet are on the curb, they are completely protected from your fenders. The game has vehicles, but they don't even work as smoothly or realistically as they would if they were streetcars on rails.

Drop Your Violin Case and Play With A Friend

Clever touches are evenly balanced by a jarring lack of polish in some places. Snipers drop open violin cases on the ground when they take up firing positions. At the same time, thugs don't just stand shoulder to shoulder – they overlap, making it difficult to select or target individuals in a fracas. Plot and missions are conveyed with simple pictures and text, and while the world is attractively (if darkly) rendered, the minimal voice acting (such as the bird-like voice of the elderly store manager) can be grating. You also can't save in the middle of missions which can last an hour or more at a stretch, or as little as ten minutes.

The multiplayer mode could be the saving grace of Gangland, but you are unlikely to experience it unless you arrange to meet up with a friend. There aren't many active games popping up in the in-game browser, and connection problems can be challenging. On the brighter side, if you can set up a game with a friend (particularly on a LAN) then you can have a bit more fun. You can play against people to build an empire, or just shoot it out. Either way, you are both hampered by the same control system, making the entire process a bit more fun – the handicap is equal.

For gamers who enjoy making their own plotlines in a violent but somewhat free-form world, Gangland has something to offer. The game is pretty, but despite being designed to support a wide variety of play styles, it's best suited to those who want to violently acquire an empire of illicit businesses.

Ultimately, the game feels like a solid scaffolding around which a really amazing game could have been built. On its own merits, Gangland isn't a failure. In fact, it's a flawed, but solid, game. Gangland simply falls short of its potential and its promises. That's the pity.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on April 7, 2004 6:24 PM.

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