Ever fantasized about being your own Don Vito Corleone, starting as a young thug and killing and cheating your way to Godfatherhood? If so, before you’re carted off to jail, you might want to check out Whiptail Interactive’s Gangland, a game created precisely for you. It’s not a great game by any means, but the concept will at least let you get some of the violence out of your system so you get five to 20 years in prison rather than 20 to life.
Gangland combines elements from the real-time-strategy, role-playing and sim genres and blends them in a mafia setting. Wannabe mobsters start off with one henchman doing simple tasks such as extorting small businesses, and if you’re successful, you’ll expand your family from there. Being successful, of course, is directly related to the experiences you have as a “family” man, and this is where the RPG elements really play into the game.
As you extort small businesses and complete missions for your uncle, you’ll be continually competing with other mafia factions from around the world to rule Paradise City. During this trek to infamy, your character will gain experience points, not unlike the spoils you get from your adventures in more-traditional RPGs like Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance or any other game created since D&D. These points allow you to gain access to more henchmen, which in turn make extorting small businesses easier. Power in numbers, I guess. Each of these henchmen has his own abilities, which are for the most part traditional abilities such as wielding different weapon classes or simply augmenting their pure brute strength. There are also specialized goons who can snipe or perform ninja moves.
With such specialized goons at your disposal, the game’s real-time-strategy elements are important to understand, because they unfold in the real-time combat system. I often found myself in heated battles before I had time to develop much of a strategy, which gave the game a more frantic rather than paced feel. The spontaneity with which these battles took place, though, made it at times very difficult to get out of dangerous situations. I can appreciate the fast-paced action, don’t get me wrong, but the variety of different henchmen requires a bit more strategy than the game seems to allow. I would have preferred a turn-based system rather than real-time, for example, because with so much going on it can be completely frustrating to not have a handle on the action.
The overall difficulty seems a bit skewed as well, because a simple hit takes more gun power than necessary. As a result, it can be extremely difficult to advance in the game. Presuming you manage to get past the first few levels, the difficulty increases slightly, but the sim elements start to surface, making the experience a bit more palatable. As you marry and have kids, for example, you can use your family as underlings that allow you to build an even bigger army of henchmen. The problem here is that it becomes difficult to manage yourself, let alone a whole family. In the end, that means the gameplay might end up turning off novice gamers.
Yet where the gameplay seems at time imbalanced, Gangland’s performance is great on Windows XP Pro. I installed the game on my 1.5GHz Pentium 4 with 512MB of RAM, but I only used the minimum video-card recommendation, an Nvidia Geforce 2. Granted, the card can hold its own, but the game still loaded and ran without a hitch.
The first thing I noticed was the impressive graphics engine. You can fully rotate your plane of view, as well as zoom into the action using your mouse wheel. The buildings and streets you can explore are rich with detail, and the number of pedestrians roaming about really makes the city come to life. The game’s environments even have full day-to-night cycles, which are a nice touch, considering you’re playing as a member of the night-loving underworld. The only thing that seemed odd to me was the absence of vehicles. You’d think there’d be a traffic jam complete with a cabbie yelling at you from the streets for jay-walking in front of him, but no such luck.
One thing is for certain, you WILL die in this game. So much, in fact, that it becomes difficult to enjoy the sim elements. I grew so frustrated with the battle system that I actually started to care less and less about my character. This may not speak for everyone, but I like to feel like I’m in total control of my game. Less control translates to less enjoyment, in my book.
It’s also a bit odd to not have a save system. Each mission consists of goals that must be accomplished, and if for some reason you don’t complete one goal, you have to start from the beginning. This becomes redundant and eats away at any desire you’ll have to replay the game.
Turning it on repeatedly to just listen to the game is a different story, though. You can tell that a lot of care went into the sound design. Guns are loud, tires screech, and the city comes to life with great ambience. The voice acting falls into stereotypical mobster speak, but it varies a bit to shed light on specific ethnicities. The score combines classical ’30s film noir with modern techno, a unique combination that I found incredibly well written. It’s just a shame everything else in the game couldn’t hold up.
Gangland sounds so good on paper: part strategy, part sim and part RPG in a mafia setting. I was really excited about the possibilities, because I’m a huge fan of all three genres. Unfortunately, the steep difficulty of managing characters can become overwhelming, and the combat at times seems a bit too fast-paced for the game’s own good. The result is a good concept that finds itself in a messy situation, the video-game equivalent of cement shoes.
- Gameplay: 4
- Graphics: 8
- Sound: 7
- Replay: 4
- Overall: 6
- Blending genres sounds good, but it ends up overcomplicating things.
— Jason Thomas