The sinister senior star of Black Bullet Games’ third-person shooter Gangster Granny is back in this sequel, subtitled Madness. From its elderly antihero to its anarchic action, the thoroughly preposterous Gangster Granny 2 functions as a parody of the genre in which it participates, throwing sly aspersions on both the Grand Theft Auto tradition and those who would hold such games responsible for inciting real life violence. Unfortunately – although it may seem bizarre to say about such an over the top game – Black Bullet Games doesn’t push the envelope far enough, as the comedic potential of GG2‘s irreverently-cast heroine and her ludicrous destructiveness is undermined by a lack of complexity and structure. A good gag needs a strong plot.
In this installment, the eponymous octogenarian seems to have been deposited in Chinatown – or perhaps China. We can only guess her location in the absence of any sort of cut scene or exposition. The original Gangster Granny offered a multiphasic backstory regarding the old biddy’s overambitious bank heist that got her thrown in the clink, which gave the player a sense of narrative continuity when you busted Granny out of jail to finish the job. Black Bullet Games has provided GG2 with no such explanation for what she’s doing in this Eastern-accented setting, nor any final goal other than gathering gold for bigger guns and thicker armor, with the aim of killing as many cops as possible.
Granny gives you five levels of play, none of which, in line with the game’s lawless spirit, are linked by a narrative, a chronological order, or anything other than the fact that all are arenas for relentless violence. This sequel’s satire runs deep and displays itself immediately in the first level, in which Granny has to gun down swarms of armed and hungry police to defend “the sweet donut,” a massive pastry standing upright in the middle of a paper lantern-lit town square. The donut has its own health bar, which drops if you let the cops get too close for too long. If they manage to topple the giant treat, you’ve failed in your mission.
This cops-love-donuts gag makes more sense than anything else in this generally arbitrary game. In the second level, Granny has to protect three statues of herself, in which she is posed on pedestals in disparate corners of a labyrinthine cul-de-sac. (Whether these statues were erected after Granny’s rise to political power or for some other reason, we never find out ). Like the donut, the statues have their own health bars, and in the game’s strongest challenge, you scurry through the streets between the three statues, always favoring the one that has the most failing health due to police brutality. If even one falls, you fail.
The other available levels – a wintery city square furnished with giant snowmen, a shipping yard with hidden snipers, and a survival level that drops you into a network of alleys – are simply endless rampages. The boss fights punctuate the two non-survival levels but only end with your own death. You are given a rank that represents how many bosses you beat (the bosses generally being tougher versions of the standard enemies), and the higher your rank gets, the tougher all of your opponents grow.
This latter point is one of Gangster Granny 2‘s most grievous flaws: The bad (or rather, good) guys arrive in a variety of uniforms from traffic cop duds to full riot gear but they all have the exact same weaknesses – varying degrees of vulnerability to body shots, head shots and being whacked with Granny’s handbag. Since the officers get stronger with each boss you beat, and none of them have special weak points you can exploit or special behaviors you can outsmart, the reward for your achievements is just having stronger enemies who take longer to beat. If you find yourself in a boss fight in the upper levels, you will need a lot of patience to unload round after round into him for as long as it takes to defeat him. If you find yourself with an empty magazine and have to resort to the weaker handbag attacks, you’d better have a lot of time on your hands. It is unhelpful that this dragged out combat is accompanied by repetitive, indistinct dub step music and a narrow set of uninspired sound effects, the best of which – soundbites of the vaguely foreign-sounding Granny’s vitriolic outbursts – may also be the most annoying.
In spite of this unfortunately inevitable sluggishness, GG2 is unlikely to bore players too quickly. The developers at Black Bullet Games have balanced their lack of strategic imagination by building a highly playable game. The controls are excitingly responsive – swiping on the left side for directional motion and on the right side to look and aim, and tapping the right-hand weapon icon to fire or launch a handbag melee on an in-your-face officer all facilitate a fast-paced attack on your enemies, who dissolve into a blood-red grid as they die.
The richly detailed and colorful graphics are gorgeous, with sets that have a noirish atmosphere, which is hilariously contradicted by clownish characters who look fresh from the set of Wallace and Gromit. Coins autogenerate, and are also earned through kills and the achievement of daily challenges, like blowing up a certain number of oil barrels scattered around the environment or defeating a certain number of enemies with just your handbag. This creates an acceptable pace at which you can buy and upgrade more resilient body armor, and firearms, from assault rifles to bazookas. With the aforementioned lack of combat creativity, the game’s charm is bound to wear off sooner or later but there is plenty of stimulation up front.
Gangster Granny 2‘s inevitably short shelf life is unfortunate because its comedic antiestablishment insanity could provide an antidote to the PTA-baiting Grand Theft Auto style of humorless destruction that invites the player to identify unironically with seductively-rendered criminals. Granny‘s willful ridiculousness gives it the ability to rise above the mire of violent video game controversy and lampoon both the vilified violent games and the reactionary critics who fear and loath what are essentially interactive cartoons. Unfortunately, Black Bullet Games chose not to exploit this opportunity, instead shirking plot development and more challenging gameplay in favor of attractive graphics and easy to use controls. This makes for a flat final product that is entertaining but too easily forgotten. However, GG2‘s good points give me hope that Black Bullet will fulfill their potential to produce a truly subversive parody in the future.