Gameloft has done a lot of growing in the last couple years, but some habits die hard. While games like N.O.V.A 3 have managed to shed some of their knock-off vestiges, Gangstar Vegas doubles down on its stolen mojo, aping almost every aspect of Grand Theft Auto. For now, this isn’t a bad bet, though. While there have been two ports of decade-old iterations of Rockstar’s franchise since we last saw Gangstar, they more than show their age, leaving plenty of room for Gameloft to offer a more modern take.
This time around, players take control of a new antihero, Jason, an MMA fighter from Boston who knocks out his opponent when the mob wants him to take a dive. If that synopsis has your eyes rolling, then strap in. Ganstar Vegas’ story is a celebration of clumsy B-movie dialog and horrible mob movie clichés, masked behind endlessly lame attempts at humor. Gameloft has capably replicated the tone of the GTA games, but the caliber of the writing is several steps down.
The joy of games like this, has never been their narrative depth, though. It’s their freedom, and this is where Gangstar manages to impress. While previous iterations in the series struggled to offer the kind of size and scope needed to foster the mayhem that drives these games, Gangstar’s Las Vegas is a sandbox worth playing in. While it’s small compared modern games in the genre, it absolutely dwarfs Gangstar Rio, and it’s bigger and more detailed than either of the Android’s GTA ports. Everything connects seamlessly, and there are never any loading pauses, even if there are occasional glitches and pop-in. There are even some interesting areas to explore on foot, thanks to the new ability to climb, as well as the inclusion of a lot of interior areas.
There’s a lengthy main quest, broken into five chapters, but there’s also a huge selection of side-quests of various types, as well as collectibles and other incentives to explore. These range from wreaking havoc to car races to general anarchic incentives like stealing cars. You’ll be seeing a lot of the same areas over and over, but there’s plenty to do.
None of the game mechanics on their own are terribly impressive, but they are at least varied. There are on-foot shooting missions, which now incorporate a bit of Assassin’s Creed-style running and climbing. The shooting mechanics control well, with intuitive touch-based targeting, but the enemy AI is straight out of Time Crisis, awkwardly walking in and out of cover like a robot. Driving is pretty basic, but allows for some nice flips, jumps, and collisions thanks to the Havok physics engine. There’s also a host of other vehicles, ranging from motorcycles, to boats, to helicopters and planes.
Compared to GTA, you’ll be spending a lot more time on foot, pummeling and shooting various brain-dead opponents, and the vehicular segments are largely reduced to homework, driving from one point to another without obstruction. Gangstar’s biggest failing is that it never really manages to challenge the player. Even on the occasion that your health runs low, there’s always the option to buy more with the tap of a finger. It’s good that the missions don’t overshoot the effectiveness of the controls – as is sometimes the case with the GTA ports – but they also forget to really engage or challenge.
Gangstar Vegas manages to be something more than a cheap knock-off. It’s a very expensive knock-off, lavishly realized with a ton of detail, lots of voice acting, and a huge (at least by mobile standards) world to play in. While the writing falls flat, and the missions themselves leave a lot to be desired, there’s not a lot of competition on the platform, and for all its charmless deliver, Gangstar’s ambitions make it a well worth taking for a spin.