Also available on: iPhone / iPod Touch
Genre: Crime Sim
Apple's latest must-have gizmo has been available worldwide for barely a month but has already begun to establish itself as a gaming platform. Developer Gameloft has always worn its lofty ambitions for the iPad on its sleeve, so it comes as no surprise to see that many of its popular iPhone titles have made the jump to the new system. As one of the better Grand Theft Auto imitators of recent years, Gangstar: West Coast Hustle is among the studio's most anticipated iPad ports, but does it have enough ideas of its own to pose any threat to the Rockstar franchise?
First and foremost, Gangstar wasn't so much inspired by GTA as it was grown in a laboratory from Niko Bellic's DNA. If it wasn't for a dash of urban flavour, it would pretty much be a carbon copy. However, this does not mean that it's completely without merit. The iPhone iteration proved to be one of the best crime sims on the App Store, compensating for a lack of originality with smooth controls and sharp visuals. Given that the iPad edition has been optimised for the platform's superior hardware, there's no reason why lightning shouldn't strike twice.
For the benefit of anyone who hasn't played the iPhone version, the game casts players as an ex-con named Pedro, who becomes embroiled in LA's crime scene following a stint in a Mexican jail. It's a 3D sandbox affair and gameplay is mission-based. Typical jobs involve whacking members of rival gangs, vehicular theft and pick-ups, all of which result in the acquisition of monetary rewards from various unsavoury types.
Aside from the best GTA impression this side of Car Jack Streets, what Gangstar does well is offer a satisfactory gameplay experience. It may feel overly familiar, but stellar presentation and finely-tuned controls help immerse you in its world. The usual system of virtual stick and buttons really comes into its own on the iPad, offering greater accuracy due to the larger surface area. The option to hurdle obstacles and perform evasive rolls would have been welcome, although in terms of precision there can be no complaints. Vehicles are controlled using either the device's accelerometer or a touch screen steering wheel. Both systems are difficult to master, as the developers have attempted to emulate realistic handling. Perseverance will see you through, but not before you have manoeuvred in every direction but the one you wish to travel a dozen times over.
With a map packed with tasks, a good variety of vehicles to commandeer and an expansive arsenal to wield, there's no shortage of entertainment on offer. Most missions are short, presumably to cater for the needs of the mobile gaming crowd who may only play in short stints. The volume of side quests and mini-games provide some replay value, and the freedom to wander the streets and wreak havoc without linear restrain brings longevity.
The visuals have been beefed up for the iPad and the urban backdrops look very impressive in HD. While the graphics are some distance from current generation home console standard, you could be fooled into thinking that you're looking at a high-end PS2 title. Additional traffic and pedestrians gives the game more depth than its iPhone counterpart, and a broad range of tracks on the in-game radio conjures up some atmosphere. The game even attempts satire with mock radio advertisements between tracks.
While a degree of scenery pop-up doesn't detract from the experience, bizarre physics do. For instance, you can collide with a picnic table in a hefty four-by-four and come off the worst. At other times, you'll pass right though lampposts, trees and bushes. The level of computer AI is also disconcerting. Some enemies won't respond to your presence until you're right under their nose - leaving you wondering whether somebody already put a bullet in their head - while innocent bystanders appear to have a death wish. The game's law enforcement is perhaps the most inept of all. It takes the mother of all killing sprees to attract their attention, and when they do show up, you can gun them down for cash. In terms of consequences (or lack thereof), the game has some questionable morals.
Gangstar: West Coast Hustle HD is certainly a technical achievement, with its excellent controls and impressive presentation, but there's no escaping the fact that it's essentially a GTA knock-off and a contrived attempt to jump on its bandwagon. Unoriginality aside, Gangstar is the closest thing we have to a definitive crime sim on the iPad, though fans of the genre may wish to hold out until the end of the month when GTA: Chinatown Wars arrives on the device.
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