Even the finest games can be underwhelming for the first few levels - having to tread the opening levels of a first-person shooter armed with only a pistol for example, or attempting to dominate an RTS battlefield with only standard issue GIs on hand.
Gangland is no exception, in that it's remarkably dull at the outset. The difference is, it doesn't ramp things up gradually with new weapons and better gameplay options. In fact, the game shows no real sign of improvement until the gameplay undergoes a complete shift, when you stop following orders and start giving them.
Until this happens, Gangland is little more than a mundane tribute to Syndicate Wars. You recruit a couple of heavies, buy a Tommy gun and then it's off to rub out a bent copper or some two-bit crime lord - a deed that will earn your mobster respect, cash and experience points. Yet whatever the target, the mechanics of each mission are the same: group select your hoods, click on the enemy and wait until one or other group ends up as slivers of Parma ham. To break the monotony you do get the chance to forcibly bring local businesses under the protection of your Don (which is mildly rewarding), but this is offset by some atrocious driving missions that deserve a gangland-style execution.
Thankfully, a few hours in, you find yourself with an office, a couple of hoods and an empire to build. The combat remains unsophisticated and seemingly random, but instead of having to focus on one target, you have an expanding network of bars, shops and restaurants that rely on you for protection - and you on them for income. Placement of baseball bat-wielding brutes and pistol-packing assassins suddenly becomes important, as losing ownership of a gun shop means you not only lose money, but the enemy can fortify it and re-arm there. The fact that only your central character can 'negotiate' with local businesses also adds a tactical layer.
In the end however, despite the pretensions of being a glorious RTS/RPG hybrid, Gangland has more the feel of an overburdened arcade shooter. Predictable Al patterns and basic combat let down the action, and the role-playing is buried so deep it hardly seems to matter. It's only when the business side of the game opens up that the game hints at what could have been, but even then the linear storyline (despite being quite good) holds back what sense of freedom there is.
Worse still, the city in the game just doesn't feel alive. There are plenty of pedestrians milling about, but it's only the enemy and the police that you can meaningfully interact with. There are no cars to speak of on the roads - hardly indicative of a thriving underworld. Clearly the developers have gone to considerable effort to make Gangland stand out. but sadly the concept works better than the reality.
- PC compatible
- Operating systems: Windows 10/Windows 8/Windows 7/2000/Vista/WinXP