What if you take Grand Theft Auto and turn it into a real-time strategy game? You get Gangland, and you get disappointed. Media Mobsters, who will probably be sending some thugs to break my thumbs, provides a mediocre RTS game that takes bit of a different approach to the genre, but the repetitive nature of the gameplay and the unimaginative missions will just leave you feeling unsatisfied.
Underlying all of the text vignettes that are provided during load times is a story of sorts. You're cast as one of four Sicilian brothers who have come to modern day America, and for some reason, you are determined to find and kill your other three brothers. The road to revenge will lead you from the lowly position of errand boy for your uncle Vincenzo to running your own organized crime empire.
Gangland contains 16 single player missions and 12 challenges in addition to IP multiplayer games. The challenges are shorter missions, usually with time limits, that unlock elite units within the campaign. Though the campaign missions appear different than standard RTS base-building games on the surface, there are many similarities.
Your home base is your safe house. This is where, as the head of a family, you take calls from all variety of people looking for goods, selling goods or looking for 'favors'. If you decide to marry, this is where your wife and children will hang out as well. Resources take various forms and are accrued from different establishments throughout town. Money is generated through the extortion of shopkeepers, selling of goods or even through the murder of enemy couriers. However, the biggest source of cash and goods comes from businesses with whom you have partnered.
Gun shops provide you with the most valuable consumable item: bullets. These take the form of regular, dumdum and explosive. In addition to providing weapons for purchase, the gun shop provides dynamite, chemicals and medkits. Bistros provide cash and the strip clubs in the back provide a lure for potential hired guns. There are also pawnshops, distilleries and machine shops scattered around town.
Blocky and sometimes dark, the world of Gangland is not the most visually stunning game out there, but for an RTS, the graphics are sufficient. The environments provide a good number of objects for use as cover, and believe me, you'll be using cover a lot. In fact, finding cover and setting up cross fires is about the extent of the strategic thought required in Gangland.
Most missions, sub-missions and tasks involve the simple goal of wasting another person or persons. While this is all fine and good, and it's in keeping with the media mythology of the gangster lifestyle, it makes for repetitive gameplay. After a short time, you won't care anymore. In the end, Gangland, though it tries to be different, boils down to simple, very old-fashioned RTS standards: build up and then destroy the enemy.
There is a multiplicity of vehicles available in Gangland, but they’re all horrible to try to control, and the curbs of Paradise City are apparently proof against even a Hummer-like military vehicle going at full speed. Vehicle control is so dreadful, that it’s better to just walk to your target destination.
Some aspects of Gangland are impressive. When you start filling the air with lead, bullets will continue to travel until they hit a phone booth, building or civilian, and considering the temperament of the average Paradise City resident, you do not want to be too free and loose with your gunplay. If hit, most civilians will turn on you and start firing back or attack you with their fists thus making themselves a very big nuisance in the middle of a firefight with rival gang members.
Gangland also emphasizes the building of your biological family. As the head of a crime family, you’ll want to get hitched and make babies who will grow up to help you run your empire. These children grow up to become sub-bosses if they’re male or seductresses if female, adding high-powered specialty units to your contingent.
Elite units range from Russian snipers to a healer unit called Big Mama. Also available are infiltrators, thieves and even ninjas to name a few. While these units are more powerful, they still end up being employed in the repeated objective of having to whack someone. A perfect example of the under utilization of an elite unit would be the sniper. Gangland is a fully 3D game, but it’s a one-storey world. Snipers are unable to take a higher vantage point, so they are easy pickings for faster, more heavily armed units.
There are way too many missions where you end up in an opponent’s safe house playing out the same battle: trading fire with an enemy boss. Ironically, the challenges offer more variety in mission structure than the campaign. Considering the fertile material from which Gangland is constructed, this game is a disappointment.
Gangland has a certain appeal. If you’re feeling in need of a strategy fix, and you loved Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, you’ll most likely derive some enjoyment from this game, but the shallow gameplay and mission construction coupled with elementary strategic play will turn off hardcore RTS fans, strategy-lite for the 'whacking’ minded.