Gangs of London ReviewCain Dornan
We never really were much of a fan of Sony London Studios' The Getaway series on the PS2. While it certainly possesed the story potential for a great series, the gameplay execution and unimpressive visuals left plenty to be desired. In some cases, it was painful to endure numerous parts of these games, with the problematic camera stuttering and refusing to give a good view of the action that was happening. Top this off with some ordinary controls and aged gameplay, and the entire package was better left on the shelf.
The same studio behind The Getaway series has now pumped out a free-roaming, gang-orientated franchise on the PSP. In many ways, it's simply a portable version of The Getaway series with a new name slapped on the front, some added gangs and a different story, and it includes all the problems and annoyances that made The Getaway series dissapointing. It seems London Studio has been completely oblivious to the cries of gamers and journalists alike, opting to simply throw the countless problems into the PSP version without bothering to fix them.
What you end up with is a game that is much like The Getaway series: it has potential, but this is completely flawed with the countless problems that it suffers from. It has a somewhat interesting story, which is presented through a series of static cartoon strips prior to each mission. The art style used in these is both artistic and gritty, portraying the gang members surprisingly well. As time passes, you begin to notice personality differences between each of the four gang members that you control. This makes the game even more interesting to play, as you look forward to seeing what becomes of each of the members as time passes. There's the occasional humour thrown in, as well as some more mature content - but there isn't too much of either, which could be either a positive or negetive aspect depending on your stance.
Before continuing further, let's cover the basics of the game. Upon booting it up, your greeted with the option of choosing which gang you wish to play as. There's the cockney Morris Kane Firm, the yardie EC2 Crew, the Russian Zakarov Organisation, the Water Dragon Triads and the Talwar Brothers. Each gang offers their own history and reasoning for their existance, as well as a gang colour, vehicle and gun preference. While the missions vary little between gangs, you'll follow slightly different storylines depending upon which gang you choose to play as, offering the potential to play through the game multiple times with a different point-of-view on happenings.
There's little variation between the missions that you'll partake in. The majority of these usually involve driving a vehicle from Point A to Point B, killing all enemies within a certain area or using stealth to overcome the enemy. When the game attempts stealth, however, it's little more than an uphill battle when trying to wrestling the innacurate and frusrating controls, backed by a camera that refuses to give you a good view of your surroundings. You'll often need to attempt the stealth missions multiple times simply due to the poor control excution that prevents you from guiding your character through your surroundings without being caught - even though the enemies will often walk right past you without even realising your presence. If they do notice you, you'll usually find yourself flailing yourself about trying to attack them unsuccessfully while they pump you full of lead. Good times.
The on-foot shooting missions aren't much chop either, with virtually no aiming abilities available to the player. With the restriction of the single analogue stick preventing any form of accurate sight movement, you're forced to make do with moving your character's body to gain a rough aim. An ordinary targetting system does help at times, although, it does have a tendancy to not lock-onto enemies when needed. The driving missions are somewhat less problematic, apart from most scenery making you stop dead in your tracks if you're unlucky to collide with it. Sure, some level of realism is appreciated, but when it's implemented like this, it's much better off to leave it out.
Thankfully, Gangs of London offers more than just the single player missions. The variety of additional gameplay extras is where Gangs of London shines at its brightest, offering a pleasing array of extra activities to partake in when you tire of the game's storyline missions. First off, there's the Free Roaming collection of game modes, which includes the ability to go for a restriction-free cruise around the city of London, of which the developers have managed to recreate fairly accurately, or take up the opportunity to dress in a flower shirt and run around with a camera taking snapshots of famous landmarks as a tourist. There's also Cause Havoc, where you're thrown into the city equipped with a gun to begin racking up damage points by shooting people, objects and vehicles around you. Speed Trap puts you in control of a vehicle that will explode if you go under a certain speed limit, requiring you to speed through the streets of London for a set period of time. Riot Control pits you in control of a police officer who must apprehend all trouble makers, while Four Weeks Later sees you going around and killing off the undead that have began invading London. Don't get too excited, though, as this zombie-belting party is hardly exciting. You can also take on the role of a taxi driver and take your customers around London, or try to evade the police in the Getaway mode.
There's also The Pub, which is a collection of classic passtime games that you can partake in. There's darts, skittles, UK or US 8-Ball and arcade, which is a collection of Snake-like arcade classics. There isn't too much gameplay life here, but these mini games do offer a refreshing break from the more serious elements of the game.
Of more particular interest is the Gang Battle mode, which is a turn-based strategy that sees you guiding your gang across a map as you battle competing gangs and take over new land. This mode obviously will be of more interest for those who are strategy minded, requiring you to both defend and attack whilst building up your gang member numbers. It isn't a sophisitcated mode by any means, but like the mini games, is a refreshing and varied addition to the game.
Multiplayer support is offered, allowing you to take on the mini games in a two player atmosphere or use game sharing to upload a new level to your opponents PSP and battle each other for dominance.
In typical fashion within this genre, Gangs of London's visuals are hardly stunning. Character textures whilst in-game are basic and blocky, with many of the game's environments also offering bland and limited detail. For a portable game, it doesn't look too bad, but it's clear that the PSP can push some more graphical prowess than what is offered. Voice overs are presented fairly well during the cartoon strip custscenes, offering some reasonably authentic voice work that is appropriate to the gang's origin.
Gangs of London had potential. The idea of multiple different gangs that you can choose to play as is a nice feature, as are the static cartoon strips as cutscenes and the perveyor of the game's story. Unfortunately, the game falls victim to countless gameplay, controls and camera issues that just makes it a pain to play. If you've played either of The Getaway games on console, you'll be all too familiar with the gameplay problems that Gangs of London suffers from. Pay attention, London Studio: if you're going to embark on another similiar adventure in the future, please ensure that you iron out all the key problems before creating new franchises. That way, you'll have a higher quality game, sell more copies and have a larger database of pleased fans.
Disclosure: We are provided copies of games from the game companies for some games that we review.