Gangs of London Review

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Publisher: Sony
Developer: Sony London

Platform: PSP
Reviewed on PSP

"Rival gangs will wage war on the streets of London.

Only one will be left standing.

Choose your side wisely."

Kyle Ackerman

Gangs of London offers an engrossing plot full of underworld color and boasts impressive stylized cut-scene art, but all that is supported by a game that is repetitive and often more chore than fun. And that's the pity: The cut-scenes, voice work and music are interesting enough to draw you into the stylized world of Gangs of London, but the game itself makes it difficult to want to keep playing.

Stay On Your Side of the Road

Gangs of London offers a plethora of play options, most of which come down to driving through London or shooting enemy thugs in a mostly generic London landscape. The driving, itself, is adequate but uninspired. Players can steal any car, but (with the exception of London's double-decker buses) London's many cars rarely feel different enough to be interesting, and driving missions offer little challenge. Most simply involve ramming some poor sod's car until it stops or explodes. The hardest thing for American gamers is adapting to the London setting – cars drive on the left side of the street. The game allows players to get in (and carjack) from the left side of the car (instead of the right-hand driver's side), but does require an adjustment of driving reflexes so that you minimize the number of head-on collisions.

Missions on foot are worse. The best such missions involve shooting everything that moves, using an interface that leaves you as likely to blast your mates in the back as you are to gun down rival gangs. The game's controls are poorly suited to gunfights and unless you can position yourself in a defensive mission to only strafe back and forth, Space Invaders-style, you're bound to be frustrated. It only gets worse if you have to invade enemy territory, cruising through buildings and leaving no enemy standing. Foot missions with firearms are, at least, better than the others. Occasionally, players are forced to use melee weapons or try to sneak, undetected, through an enemy stronghold. The stealth missions are simply unplayable, rewarding players only with frustration and an absence of feedback.

Gangs Shouldn't Sneak

The core of the game is the story mode in which players choose one of London's fictitious gangs and conquer the city, zone by zone. There are several gangs to choose from. Personally, I'm fond of Kane, a group of more-British-than-thou thugs (in contrast to the Zakharov Russian Mafia or Water Dragon Triad, among others). The missions are generic, with graphic novel-style cut-scenes leading into driving or on-foot missions that gradually allow your gang to conquer London's underworld. By completing missions in different areas, you can seize them; or complete missions in your own territory to open up new options.

With several gangs to try, there are more missions than you could possibly want to play. Despite the many changing details, the play of the various missions is so similar that it's easy to lose interest, fast. Worse yet, you can postpone (but not avoid) the scattered stealth missions that bring the game to a tooth-grinding crawl. Of course, once you've played through the story mode once, some of the missions and art are shared by the different gangs, making replay even less interesting than the first time through.

You're part of a gang, so in most missions, you don't ride alone. You'll cruise with up to three of your mates (all of whom gain experience in a mechanic that is nearly irrelevant to play), all armed differently. Theoretically, the game offers squad-based tactical actions, but your control over other gang members is limited. They'll run to a location or watch your back (if they can find your back), but die quickly without personal supervision. Fortunately, you can switch between gang members, letting you take advantage of the gang's different weapons, or just keep members in reserve as "extra lives."

Better Pub Darts Than a Pub Brawl

Gangs of London offers many other play modes, many of which must be unlocked. Free-roaming missions have players cruising around taking pictures of London landmarks, or battling the living dead in a mode called Four Weeks Later. But all such modes come down to the same basic driving and on-foot action. A menu option called The Pub offers mini-games: Darts, Skittles, 8-ball and a simple arcade game. These are often more fun than the game's missions. Best of all is the incredibly simplistic turn-based strategy game labeled Gang Battle Mode. It only takes a few minutes to play, and could easily have been a text game on the Commodore 64, but is more engaging than many missions.

If anything, Gangs of London makes you want to separate the designers and artists responsible for the graphic novel-style cut-scenes, music and voice-overs, and assign them to a better game. There's no shortage of things to do in Gangs of London. The fundamental problem is that the game strives to overwhelm gamers with a glut of merely adequate play options, and never manages to make that play interesting.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on December 22, 2006 7:49 PM.

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