"Mediocre free roam game with control issues"

"Gangs of London" is yet another game to capitalize on the free roam sandbox genre that put the "Grand Theft Auto" series on the map. Made by the same people who were behind the "Getaway" games on the PS2, "Gangs of London" suffers from some terrible controls and mediocre game play.

Unlike the "Getaway" games, where the story was an integral part of the game, "Gangs of London" has a paper thin narrative. The plot is essentially your gang conquering all of London, wiping out your rivals. There are a handful of gangs to choose from, so that ensures a different story experience based on whichever gang you picked. However, the story parts are just short 30 second bookends between missions, some of which prove to be quite humorous vignettes. The available gangs in the story mode include the classic Guy Ritchie styled English mobsters, the Russian mafia, Jamaican Yardies and the Triads. All of these gangs fully embrace their ethnic and cultural stereotypes. Thankfully, the presentation - a series of fully voiced and animated comic panels not unlike Max Payne - makes the story more interesting than it should be.

The actual game play, however, leaves very much to be desired. "Gangs of London" fully embraces the idea of portable game play, and just about everything that the game offers can be completed in 5 to 10 minutes. The bulk of the game is its campaign mode, where your gang of choice conquers all of London while wiping out everybody else.

The campaign mode offers a wide variety of missions. The driving missions usually involve driving from point A to point B, perhaps ramming somebody off of the road, trying to get away from someone trying to run you off the road or performing standard delivery missions that inevitably go wrong. Next there are the combat missions, where you're tasked with killing everybody. Generally speaking, the cars handle too much like they're driving on ice to be any fun to use, and the controls take a lot of adjusting to.

The game streamlines the combat for the portable experience. Guns will have infinite ammo and your health will regenerate a certain amount based on how much punishment you've taken. You'll usually fight alongside your gang and be able to order them around, but they're merely bullet shields and your inventory: you can't swap guns, but you can swap your guy, who has a puny pistol, for your fellow gang member with the AK-47. There's also an unhealthy amount of melee fighting. The artificial intelligence is much better at going hand-to-hand than you can ever be, and it's very common to find yourself surrounded by enemies while they pummel you to death from all sides before you can get a single hit in.

Aside from these basic mission types, the game also has some more interesting ones. One particularly cool one is kidnapping: ram the target car off the road, being sure to kill only the guards and not your mark. Grab your mark and get them to your car, and drive back to your gang's hideout before the cavalry arrives.

There are also some stealth missions. While these are a pretty good idea, the lack of a controllable camera ruins these almost completely. You have no real way of manipulating the camera to see your surroundings, and since most stealth missions take place in strings of confined rooms, it's really frustrating to run into somebody simply because you couldn't have any way to see them. During stealth missions, you only get to use melee weapons, and since it's very hard to sneak up on people you will find yourself trying to punch to death a thug who is carrying a shotgun. The only way to get through these missions is to abuse the hostage grab/execute function.

Once you get through about 10 missions attacking each gang, you can assault there headquarters and kill their leader, claiming the gang's territory as your own.

During these missions, your gang members can gain experience points which are usually derived from killing rival gang members. I didn't really notice any major changes in my gang, but after each mission it does indicate how much you've leveled up your characters.

Aside from the story mode, "Gangs of London" also offers a plethora of game play in the form of Free Roam activities and Pub activities. In free roam, you can merely drive around London with the car, character and weapon of your choice, or engage in the many extra activities available. You can be an American tourist (who is stereotypically portrayed as fat and obnoxious) and visit various London landmarks. This mode is incredibly boring as you are without a car, and have to hitch rides on incredibly slow taxis or buses. You can't select your destination, and you just have to hope you get to where you want to go. You also cannot revisit a place until you find it and take a picture of it. There's also a riot control game type, which is rather fun. Playing as a police officer, you and the rest of your squad have to neutralize rioters with machineguns and hand grenades. Similarly, there's a zombie mini game titled "Four Weeks Later" which is a total blast to play. Here you must kill X number of zombies, usually in Y amount of minutes. Sometimes you'll be aided by fellow gang members, or you'll have to rescue your gang boss from the zombie hordes. Another mode has you making a getaway from the police, driving cars rigged with bombs ala the movie "Speed", or shuffling people around in taxis. Pub activities include 8-ball (US and UK variants), Darts and the arcade game Snake, all of which have multiplayer options. You also get a turn based strategy version of the story mode called Gang War, which isn't all too fun. Of course, if all of this stuff isn't your bag, you can simply go back and replay the various story missions or start a new campaign (although the story never diverges very much depending on the gang of your choice).

There is a whole ton of content here that should be worth your money, but most of it isn't too much fun simply because it's boring, or because the controls get in the way. The game's presentation, with the comic book story aside, is mediocre at best. Guns and cars sound like toys, and car explosions sound like the pop of a Jack-in-the-Box. The voice work is great, but the music sucks and the rest of the sound effects could use a lot of work. The developers put in a great amount of effort to make a realistic model of London, but everything else just looks muddled and effortless. Everything is strangely animated and very lacking in detail. I normally wouldn't bash a portable game for its graphics, but knowing what the PSP is capable of, this game just doesn't cut it.

Summary:
Pros:
+ Cool story presentation
+ Mildly fun story mode and tons of extras
Cons:
- Terrible controls
- Horribly implemented melee combat and stealth
- All of the available game types aren't very compelling
Final Score: 5/10


Reviewer's Score: 5/10 | Originally Posted: 04/21/08

Game Release: Gangs of London (US, 10/03/06)


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