|a game by||Hothouse|
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Gangsters 2 is in the shops as this is being written and that's instantly suspicious. Publishers are renowned for not releasing review code of poor games to magazines in order to get a few sales under their belt before the full gory truth is revealed. So, the fact that this particular game has already gone straight to number one in Electronic Boutique's chart is hugely misleading and totally unmerited.
The reality is that Gangsters 2 is a massive disappointment and even more so when you realise that developer Hothouse Creations seems to have learnt nothing in the two and a half years since it released the awful Gangsters: Organised Crime.
In fact, we could stop the review right here and you'd be better off for it, as would Hothouse Creations, but alas, we're duty-bound to warn you, so here goes...
Unsurprisingly and unimaginatively, the onus in Gangsters 2 is again on creating and maintaining a massive crime empire, except this time there's much more of a real-time feel to the game. All the action is viewed either in isometric 3D or using an overhead map; assassinations, bribes, bank jobs, setting up counterfeit operations, machine-gun battles in the street and more are all performed with a click of the mouse. On the surface it sounds great and as an RTS concept it's brilliant. Gangsters 2 could've been a classic - trouble is it just doesn't work.
The background story is predictable stuff. Assuming the role of ex-soldier Joey Bane, you must avenge your father's death by killing those responsible for his murder while nurturing a large-scale 'business' operation in which you move from city to city creating an untouchable web of corruption and illegal dealings.
Ultimately your empire should span the entire fictional state of New Temperance, however don't expect any complex interaction or trading between cities. Each city is basically a stand-alone level and once you've conquered it, it's on to the next. Gameplay resembles an over-complicated hybrid of Risk and Monopoly where you gain territory by taking over businesses, until you rule the town entirely or you assassinate one or more rival mob bosses. Occasionally there's the odd subplot thrown in to spice things up, but overall you're looking at the same formula level after level.
Of course there's light relief to be had by gunning down innocent civilians with Tommy guns, but in Gangsters 2 nearly everyone's corrupt so they probably deserve it anyway.
It's a shame really because you can't help thinking the whole gangster concept deserves something much more enterprising. What's the point of setting up gambling dens, bars, breweries and other interesting sidelines when you can't actually do anything useful with them? OK, so the cash goes towards new weapons, vehicles, 'muscle' and of course new businesses -but there should be more to it than that. A bit of gun running from one town to another, or selling alcohol to neighbouring cities, or any kind of trading for that matter would have added much-needed depth and scope to the game. As it is, the shallow level-by-level structure quickly leaves you feeling bored and cheated, and feeling that this was a wasted opportunity.
Another Fine Mess
Graphically, Gangsters 2 resembles a kind of melted Legoland. The dull, grey badlands of Milton Keynes or Basingstoke look positively exotic compared to these grizzly cityscapes. Luckily we don't get to see too much of it, because like the original, Gangsters 2 features a bizarre clipping system that chops off the roofs and walls of buildings to let you see your characters more clearly. This wouldn't be so bad if it worked, but as it stands, most of your time in the 3D isometric view is spent trying to locate your wayward wise guys. Things get even worse at night, and when you add a bit of rain... Well, you can imagine. Animation too is dire. Let's take your average bouncer on duty outside a brothel or 'speakeasy'; there is no movement whatsoever from them - they're just frozen in time. It's as if someone has simply forgotten to animate them, or worse still -it's as if someone couldn't be bothered to animate them.
You only need to look at the splendid incidental animation in Desperados or Commandos to know that the odd turning head or arse-scratching moment is not too much to ask. One possible explanation for this sterile graphical showing is the fact that you don't actually need the isometric view at all and so therefore no effort has been put into it. The real action, such as hiring new gangsters, bribing officials and ordering hits can be done on the overhead map view of the city. What's more, it's actually easier to play the game this way because at least you can see every part of the city at once. In fact, we'll let you into a little secret: the only reason the isometric view was even used for this review was to take screenshots.
Yet these gripes are nothing compared to the game's most criminal problem - Al. Top of our list in the AI gross negligence department is the way your vehicles can't even change direction until they reach a junction. While this is irritating at the best of times, it becomes unbearable when you need to perform a drive-by assassination. If you don't kill your target straight away you have to drive to the nearest junction (which can sometimes be miles away), turn around and then head back to where your target was last seen and hope they're still there - which obviously they never are. The irony is amazing: here we have some of the world's most notorious gangsters who kill without remorse, run illegal gambling operations, bribe everyone they see (including police and judges) and yet they won't do a U-turn for fear of incurring the wrath of the local traffic cop.
On top of this, Gangsters 2 boasts some of the worst pathfinding you are ever likely to experience. For some reason your motley crew of half-arsed hooligans choose the most ridiculous routes across the city regardless of whether they're travelling by car or foot. This kind of behaviour is understandable if they're trying to avoid rival gangs or the FBI, but these guys aren't that smart. It's perfectly normal for your 'most wanted' gang members to stroll straight past the cop shop and subsequently straight into jail.
The above examples are just a couple of the AI problems your characters are lumbered with. There are plenty of other failings that could be listed here including blind bouncers, Forrest Gump henchmen (they just can't stop running away) and getaway drivers who can't drive. We could go on, but there's no point; the sad truth is the AI is so frustrating it reduces you to tears.
Amid the mire of mistakes and poor programming there is one good point: once you've taken over a city you are given skill points to improve your gangsters' abilities. This means it is worth protecting your best guys. You are also given the option to select which gangsters and business specialists you want to use on the next level. It's worth thinking carefully about too, because once you start a level you're generally stuck with those gangsters until the stage is complete, or until they die horribly in a wall of gunfire. If the latter happens you can hire another mobster by checking out the job vacancy section in the local newspaper...
Yes, it goes from the sublime to the ridiculous. Hitmen, arsonists, explosive experts, pimps and more can all be found in the local rag. Oh, and if you're interested you can also check out the obituaries just to see who's snuffed it recently. Sadly, meaningful or relevant news stories will not be found; despite being printed twice daily, headlines remain the same for days.
Get The Pliers Ron
And that's pretty much the size of it. Art Deco fans might possibly relate to the excellent period poster art in the newspaper advertisements section as well as some great sounding oboe in the musical score. And to be fair, a reasonable amount of effort has been put into creating an authentic atmosphere. Although it has to be said that a Scariace-inspired cocaine-fuelled paranoia would have gone down quite nicely too, as would a few pliers-or electrode-related cut-scenes.
Unfortunately, no amount of atmosphere can hide the fact that Gangsters 2 has more holes than an Israeli tower block. The gameplay is repetitive, the AI is almost non-existent and the 3D isometric view is a waste ot time both visually and logistically. Gangsters ms bad, Gangsters 2 is worse. Let's just hope we never have to go through this again because the logical, frightening outcome doesn't bear thinking about.