A year ago, Gangstar: West Coast Hustle blew us away as the first serious open-world GTA-style game on the iPhone. A few months later, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars gave us an official GTA game, but it was top-down only instead of a more cinematic, over-the-shoulder view. Now Gangstar’s got a sequel, and it’s an experience that is wholly distinct from Chinatown Wars.
As much as we love Chinatown Wars, its car chases and crime sprees feel very different than a console GTA. Gangstar feels more like what we’ve played on our PlayStation 2s– peeling rubber around a tight corner with the cops or gangsters in hot pursuit just feels more authentic. Although Chinatown Wars has a better story and more interesting side missions, Gangstar: Miami Vindication puts you in the shoes of your antihero and gives you a passenger-seat view of the violence.
In Miami Vindication, you play as Johnny Gainesville, a good ol’ boy searching for his kidnapped 15-year old brother. Along the way you’ll meet colorful gangsters like Roscoe, a swamp-dwelling hick who feeds his enemies to crocodiles, and a pimp named Reginald who recruits you as the muscle in his escort service.
It was a pleasure to burn.
Gangstar: Miami Vindication seems more comfortable with its adult subject matter than West Coast Hustle. Your characters curse fairly often, and they’re voice-acted with a professional level of quality. This may be surprising to some Gameloft customers who have suffered through poor voice acting in the past.
In addition to the coarse language, Miami Vindication is suitably violent. You’ll be given explicit orders to gun down cops, and some of your later weapons include rocket launchers and sniper rifles. Arming yourself to the teeth is as simple as calling up a menu on the pause screen, so firefights are generally a cinch.
Across the game’s seemingly endless barrage of missions, which will last you about 5-6 hours if you attempt them all, you’ll control a variety of vehicles, including cars, boats, motorcycles, and helicopters. The cars all control beautifully, and they make up the bulk of the missions. The boats tend to work well, though they’re a bit choppy in the water, and in an improvement over the last game, your character can actually swim.
In every vehicle, an opportunity.
Motorcycles and helicopters can be a little tricky to control, since they both require the accelerometer. Tilting on bikes will cause you to perform wheelies and stoppies, while tilting in a copter will move you forward and backward. If you’re playing Gangstar in a reclining position, you’ll have to sit up when you get into these vehicles, but we’re still glad they made it into this game.
While the action in Miami Vindication is fantastic, with a variety of interesting missions, vehicles, and weapons at your disposal, we have to express our disappointment in the graphics. There’s an awful lot of pop-in, and the environment glitches continually throughout the game. Since the virtual city of Miami is built on water, you’ll often see light blue lines peeking out between the ‘cracks’ of the environment. We really wish Gangstar: Miami Vindication looked more polished, but perhaps it’s asking too much for an expansive, open-world game on the iPhone to also be consistently beautiful.
For some players, the glitchy graphics may be too much to handle. They certainly are an eyesore, and we’re not excusing them, especially since current and upcoming Gameloft games look so much better than Miami Vindication. But this is an incredibly ambitious game, and a few glitches won’t change the fact that you can go anywhere, steal anything, and run over someone with their own car. You’ll definitely get your money’s worth if you take a ride with Miami Vindication, and this series is still among the best crime games on the iPhone.