Gangstar: West Coast Hustle Review

You wanna get in on the hustle? OK ese, here’s what you wanna do. Head to this place called the App Store; Gameloft is only asking $6.99 for their latest crime epic, Gangstar. It’s a steal, homie! After that? You’ll get the rest when you boot up the game. Comprende?

We hope you do, or else you’ll be missing out on one of the most technically impressive games on the platform. It doesn’t matter which device you have, from the 1st gen iPod touch to the iPhone 3GS, Gangstar runs smooth and never loads aside from a lengthy initial bootup, just like the Grand Theft Auto games on other platforms.

This is MY burgermobile.

In fact, if you’ve ever played those games, you’ll know exactly what to expect from Gangstar. If we were judging based on innovation, it would score a big fat zero. It’s a shameless imitation of the GTA games, from the mission structure to the sense of humor (although it’s not quite as funny as those titles).

Luckily, GTA isn’t on the iPhone, and Gangstar is a damn good imitation. The story missions are the main draw here, and there are a lot of them. The missions are pretty standard fare for the genre. You’ll be instructed to follow targets without getting too close, kill thugs who messed with the wrong people and drop off “working girls” with their clients.

Over the course of the story you’ll meet lots of different characters, starting with Mexican gangbangers and gradually expanding to include mafiosos, yakuza and politicians. The story is nicely done, although it doesn’t offer anything groundbreaking. Most of the time you’ll only have one option for the next mission, but at one point you’ll be able to work concurrently for warring gangs, making progression a bit less linear.

Most of the missions can be completed in five to ten minutes, making them well suited to short bursts of play. The menu screen is especially convenient, because it allows you to launch any mission without having to drive all the way to the marker, saving you lots of tedious driving time. You can also buy health, guns and police bribes all from the menu. This makes an already easy game even easier, but keeps it from being frustrating.

The story will give you at least a solid five or six hours of play, and after that it’s fun to just drive off of jumps and over pedestrians around town. Aside from that, there are a few race missions to complete and you can drop off food and passengers in the taxi, ambulance and delivery vehicle missions. There are also achievements to unlock as well, but no way to show them off to friends yet.

Just don’t tell anybody I’m afraid of Ferris wheels, okay?

Unfortunately, messing with the police isn’t as fun here as in the GTA games. You still have five wanted levels, but the police don’t change their tactics at all. You won’t be running into SWAT teams, FBI or the Army. A higher wanted level just takes longer to go down, and the cops are pretty easily defeated with any decent weaponry.

The game takes place in Los Angeles, and while we couldn’t identify any landmarks, the city itself is big enough and the layout is conducive to driving at high speeds. It helps that small obstacles like trees and lightposts can be passed through freely without slowing or stopping you. Driving controls default to the accelerometer, but virtual steering wheel and joystick options are present. We strongly preferred the virtual joystick to the other options.

You’ll use a virtual joystick for moving on foot as well, and swiping a finger across the screen will pan the camera. To target an enemy or vehicle, you just need to tap it to lock-on. Overall, gunplay felt remarkably easy, and most enemies go down before they can do much damage to you. There’s no sprint or jump buttons, but the game controls well and stealing cars is easy.

The presentation here is a definite strong point. Gangstar has very little voice acting, but the character illustrations are well done, as are the menus. There are also about six radio stations for your listening pleasure, complete with radio banter and ridiculous commercials. The humor is a bit hit-or-miss, but if you don’t find a station you like you can make your own with a custom playlist, which is an especially nice touch.

Graphically, the character models are standard iPhone fare, but the cityscape textures are surprisingly detailed up close. Unfortunately, anything more than 75 feet away devolves into a blurry mess, but at least you can see where you’re going and the framerate is rock solid.

Overall, Gangstar is an amazing accomplishment on the iPhone. It’s a blast to play, taking all the best parts of the GTA games and condensing them into a completely workable portable experience. For $6.99, this is a complete steal. We say buy it now.

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