The Grand Theft Auto formula works for a reason. Take a generic thug, get him in some trouble, drop him in an open world and let him run amok as he tries to solve his problems. Playing to our baser instincts, this generally involves seedier activities that would put us in jail in real life.
Tag Games brings debauchery and mischief to the iPhone with Car Jack Streets, putting iGamers in the shoes of Randal, a degenerate with a gambling problem who has to dig himself out of debt by doing… well, you get the idea.
Initial impressions will no doubt stir up memories of the original GTA. In fact, two of Tag Games’s principals worked on the DMA Design team responsible for GTA back in the mid 1990s. It’s hard not to make the comparison, because these games are quite similar in everything from concept down to gameplay.
The intro starts with a comic-book style slideshow that looks a lot like an Esurance commercial, but it’s flashy and gets the point across. Placed in a fairly large city, Jack City (not to be confused with New Jack City), Randal must pay back $50,000 a week to mob boss Frankie or else he’s sleeping with the fishes. Fuggedaboutit.
Missions range from the mundane pizza delivery to gangland hits, and they start popping up fairly rapidly, so there’s very little down time. The sheer frequency of missions does tend to take away from the sandbox element, but given mobile gaming’s shorter attention spans, it’s probably appropriate. Money comes Randal’s way in large sums, as well.
A game titled “Car Jack Streets” should excel behind the wheel, but driving is clearly the worst part of the experience here. Compared to the fluid, omnidirectional d-pad of foot travel, the lateral left-right buttons for steering and small accelerator and reverse buttons make driving a chore. Woe to the player who gets to the pizza delivery mission, and has to spend all his time trying to drive through this enormous city. It doesn’t help that navigation is handled through a GPS arrow rather than a mini-map–there’s nothing like flying down a road, following that arrow, only to find a dead end waiting.
But overall, Car Jack Streets does a fairly decent job, despite the faulty driving controls. On the more creative side, the game operates in real time, so the game’s time is the same as your time. Daytime playing means it’s daytime in the game, and vice versa, which corresponds nicely to Frankie’s weekly payment deadline. Outside of a few lazy delivery jobs, missions never really get stale and usually provide a decent challenge. The soundtrack provides a fairly decent variety of song choices, as well.
When compared to the similarly themed Payback, Payback wins out by a hair, based purely on the controls alone. With a few minor tweaks to the control scheme, Car Jack Streets would be the clear winner.