Imagine trying to describe the Grand Theft Auto series to someone who has never played it before, isn’t much of a gamer, and has probably never seen a gangster movie. You talk about the massive “open-world” settings, the ridiculous amount of destruction you can wage with an arsenal of weapons, the crime stories, the vehicular mayhem, the colorful characters, and the sordid missions you can undertake. You don’t give this person any specifics, but you try to convey a general sense of what the games are all about.
Now imagine that this person thinks what you told him is all pretty dope and he tries to make that kind of game. The result might be something like Gangstar Vegas. It’s a game that walks and talks like Grand Theft Auto, but by no appreciable measure comes near the the series it’s trying to ape. Gangstar Vegas looks nice and has its moments of excitement, but is mostly a shallow, glitchy, badly scripted example of diminishing returns.
After a cliched intro cutscene, you’re introduced to the obnoxious protagonist of the game, Jason Malone, a disgraced MMA fighter from Vegas. Jason was supposed to throw a match in the fourth round for the local crime-boss Frank Valieno, but he haplessly ended up winning the match instead. This does not sit well with Frank, so Jason is forced to take sides with Vera, the matriarch of an opposing crime syndicate in Vegas, for protection and to try and set things right.
If you’ve played a previous Gangstar game, then you already know what to expect, as Vegas doesn’t mark any kind of significant evolution in the series. You run around doing missions for Vera and others as you attempt to take down Frank and figure out how everything went so bad so fast. As with the previous Gangstar games, most of these missions involve blowing away anyone and everyone you see with an insane array of weapons, driving and flying around as recklessly as you possibly can, evading the cops, stealing all kinds of vehicles (which is admittedly a lot of fun) and generally acting like a colossal sociopath for hours on end.
Guiding yourself around the city of sin to do these missions is painful, as Gangstar Vegas has truly awful controls. Jason runs around town as if he’s a lobotomized hamster trying desperately to get out of his hamster ball. He slides to awkward stops even when he’s just walking, and if he’s running and happens to come into contact with anything he’ll try to jump over it, climb it, or both. Early in the game there’s a mission where you’re trying to run down a kid who stole some drug-dealer’s money. While trying to do this I ended up inadvertently leaping over bannisters, climbing over fences I was trying to run around, and falling off of nearly every stairway I tried to run up. I eventually gave up, hijacked a car, and smashed my way to the kid.
Controlling vehicles is a similarly nightmarish experience. Cars roll around like they’re moving on roads made out of oil, and the camera zips around you like it’s being controlled by Michael Bay suffering from a bad tequila hangover. The only positive here is that causing all kinds of mayhem in a vehicle is generally encouraged and usually rewarded. Just try not to drive a car into the river, as you’ll lose it.
The game world is huge, and the campaign is long, but sense the story is so tedious and the characters are so annoying that getting through the hours of gameplay can be a real test of endurance. Yes, it’s great that there are numerous ways to complete missions, and you can customize everything you use, but that’s not enough to make a game worth playing. The side quests (which range from running errands to surviving waves of attackers) can be fun, but whatever momentum and enjoyment you get from them comes to a halt when you have to go about your business with the overall game.
The game’s chief saving grace is the graphics. Vegas is presented in all of its colorful, glitter glory, and the streets are teeming with pedestrians and traffic. There are lots of shops, restaurants, casinos, and other places to visit, and they are all wonderfully detailed. It can be fun just wandering around and taking in all of the sights. And the character models for the most part all look great. Special attention has obviously been given to Jason, who looks as shifty and scummy as you would expect a mook on the lam to look.
But the graphics aren’t without their problems either. Buildings, people and vehicles have a tendency to pop in out of nowhere and without warning, and there are occasionally amusing glitches like parts of buildings missing, or characters hands not being connected to their arms. Perhaps most noticeable are the cutscenes, as the character’s lips don’t move and the characters just kind of flop around the screen. It’s somewhat unnerving to watch, and looks like bad Italian pantomime as written by someone who only watches The Whole Nine Yards on a continuous loop.
If you like the Gangstar series, warts and all, then you’ll probably find things to like in Gangstar Vegas. It has everything that makes the series what it is. But Gangstar Vegas fails to elicit the thrills and excitement of the series that it is desperately trying to be. If you want to play Grand Theft Auto on iOS, then play Grand Theft Auto on iOS. This is a game that doesn’t bring anything new to the table and doesn’t advance the series in any meaningful way.