Gameloft's Gangstar: West Coast Hustle generated a lot of buzz well before its title was even announced thanks to its what's-on-iPhone viral campaign. But now that the game has finally released, does it live up to it's own hype? Lets get this out of the way shall we, Gangstar is a shameless GTA clone, featuring Latinos, set in sunny LA. Compared to other Sandbox games on the App Store, Gangster is an incredible feat. It has a large open world, voice acting, GTA-esque radio stations, a range of vehicles and impressive graphics. It simply blows the competition out of the water.
The game places you in to the sneakers of Pedro, a prison escapee who is hiding out in LA. Instead of trying to make a new life for himself Pedro decides to spend his time outside of the big house doing things that's bound to land him right back in it, smart. Alongside Pedro for the ride is fellow fugitive (and friend) Juanito who annoyingly is present during cut-scenes but disappears as soon gameplay kicks. Lets get down to business though, from start to finish everything in Gangstar (including it's awful title) is completely generic. For a game trying to portray the LA crime life and drug culture Gangstar seriously lacks authenticity. The dialog in particular is cringe worthy and it's evident that middle aged white men rather than true gangbangers wrote the script. The mission structure is equally as poor, most missions involve driving to a spot on your map, hammering the fire button to kill a few brain-dead, identical looking enemies then driving to another spot on your map, rinse and repeat. There are optional racing missions for you to partake in and you just might want to because driving in Gangstar can be very fun. Gameloft has included 3 control methods to insure that players have a great time behind the wheel. “Motion” as the name suggests has you tilting your iPhone side to side, “Wheel” places a virtual steering wheel on the screen which you control with your thumb and my favorite method “Stick” has you sliding your thumb across a horizontal bar to move your vehicle left or right. You also have the option to use a vertical stick instead of on-screen gas and break pedals, which feels really responsive. Similar to GTA entering specific vehicles such as Ambulances and Taxis open up appropriate side missions, which add to the games longevity and earn you some extra cash.
As good as Gangstar's graphics are, I can't help but think of them as glossy paint, over a weak foundation. Environments look good but they feel baron with only 2 or 3 moving pedestrians/vehicles on-screen at the same time. Also objects like trees and street lights may as well not exist as your character can plough straight through them as if they're made of air. Police chases are also a missed opportunity as they are often resolved by collecting badges scattered across the game world rather than out-running the law. However for all its faults and shortcomings, there's no denying that Gangstar: West Coast Hustle is a formidable effort and Gameloft should be commended for squeezing such an advanced title on to the iPhone at such a low price point (under $7). Hopefully this is just the start of sandbox games appearing on the app store and provided that Gameloft can iron out some of the kinks I hope to see a sequel sometime in the near future. They better be on their A-Game though because GTA: Chinatown Wars is just around the corner selling drugs by the liquor store.