Check your ride and strap on your colors, because Konami and Hothouse Creations are offering up a $19.99 slice of hip-hop-imbued gang life with the release of Crime Life: Gang Wars. First and foremost, since the contentious arrival of Grand Theft Auto III and its massive sandbox, free-roaming approach to â€˜life on the street,â€™ many imitators have attempted to sponge some profit from the deep well of creativity lovingly hollowed by Rockstar Gamesâ€™ series. The abrasive gangland mentality has been prevalent in a whole host of videogame releases over the past few years, and itâ€™s certainly on show in Crime Life: Gang Wars. However, seeing as comparisons to GTA are always likely to be made, how well does Crime Life: Gang Wars perform beside such adored competition?
The core narrative (for want of a better term) in Crime Life revolves around a heated street war between the Outlawz gang, and the Headhunterz crew for ultimate control of Grand Central City. The player duly adopts the role of Tre, a fresh-faced member of the Outlawz, and then duly bears direct witness to his ensuing actions and gradual rise through the ranks of his gangâ€”in a street war that is perhaps riddled with more clichÃ©s than it is bullets. An initial price point perusal may reveal a restricted level of consumer expectation, and, indeed, a mere $19.99 is a steal in todayâ€™s inflated market. But how low should your (our) expectations sink for the sake of a budget retail price? Letâ€™s find out.
In gameplay terms, Crime Life: Gang Wars exists as a free-roaming endeavor to some degree, and the player will certainly have plenty of opportunities to navigate the environment alongside fellow Outlawz members. However, Grand Central City is somewhat limiting in terms of scope and interaction, as well as player inaccessibility when it comes to commandeering street vehiclesâ€”all of which heavily damage the explorative sandbox gameplay mechanic. Defining plot-based gameplay is executed through various poorly realized gang-related missions (obviously), like hooking up with other gang members, committing robberies, applying graffiti to city walls, and â€˜taking downâ€™ rival characters.
Yet, weakly implemented and clichÃ©d plot points aside, the gameâ€™s main emphasis is placed heavily upon combat. Hand-to-hand and weapon-based battles occupy the majority of Crime Life: Gang Warsâ€™ attractionâ€”especially as it lacks in environmental ambition and narrative originality. On the plus side, the actual fighting controls are fairly simple and easy to grasp, but the in-game combat fails to land a single effective blow by way of performance and execution. Players are free to brawl out in the street with simple law-abiding citizens, or within more â€˜organizedâ€™ arenas of gangland pain; and pain is certainly the dish of the day with Crime Life: Gang Wars, as the simple control assignments for attacking blows and combos are swiftly abandoned in favor of frantic button mashing. This isnâ€™t caused by a tidal wave of beefy opponents or unrelenting A.I., but more that itâ€™s disgracefully awkward to fight in any other manner, and landing successful strikes with any semblance of skill is nigh on impossible. Youâ€™d think some form of brawling solace could be found when the game offers up the chance to fight with weaponry, yet an absolutely terrible aiming system only compounds the already sporadic controlsâ€”and leads you further down the path of frustration.
To make an already bad situation worse, the gameâ€™s A.I., particularly that of your Outlawz gang members, is often woefully flawed. Itâ€™s not uncommon to watch helplessly as your accompanyingâ€”and supposedly streetwiseâ€”gangers fluster spasmodically across environments without a defined sense of direction or purpose. And, when engaged in battle they often resort to taking out their collective aggression on everything but the targeted opponent(s)â€”which is hysterical to watch from a neutral standpoint, but nothing short of absolute gameplay annihilation for the poor hapless soul behind the controller. Crime Life: Gang Wars falls yet further thanks to an ill-defined portrayal of self. In some areas it attempts to instill a serious sense of gangland history through genuine snippets of fact, only to swing violently into the realms of unintentional bad-taste comedy. Thatâ€™s not to say that a wealth of bad jokes or crudities are thrust onto the playerâ€”though there are a few tasteless examplesâ€”but more that the character dialogue is so abhorrently poor and clichÃ©-riddled that any angle of authenticity is swiftly destroyed.
Visually speaking, it really wouldnâ€™t be unfair to say that Crime Life: Gang Wars may be one of the worst Xbox titles to ever clang gracelessly onto the system. Character models suffer from poor production value throughout, and facial mapping is seriously generic in nature; there are perhaps a dozen original designs spread throughout the entire gameâ€™s cast. Character animation is unforgivably staccato in terms of composition, especially during moments of intense combat when the screenâ€™s fighting contingent jerks around with anything but a feel of true human movement. Furthermore, the surrounding environments offer no respite either, and Grand Central City is mainly constructed from rinse-and-repeat building designs that soon grow from tiresome to just plain awful.
Aurally, Crime Life: Gang Wars proudly states that rap collective D12 lent their â€˜voicesâ€™ and â€˜likenessesâ€™ to the gaming experienceâ€”though if that is the case, they all must be glaringly generic in real life. But, while perhaps risking the wrath of D12, it must be said that the spoken dialogue throughout Crime Life is so skin-crawlingly bad, that the relatively serious subject matter the game intermittently tries to convey appears almost comical in its realization. The soundtrack does offer â€˜25+ bass thumpinâ€™â€™ hip-hop tracks that emanate from all over the globe, which, amongst others, include D12 (naturally, got to exploit that marketing dollar all the way), Doom Man, and Jason Flemyng. Of course, the hip-hop soundtrack is also fairly run-of-the-mill for this kind of game, though the GTA series cleverly utilizes the car radio system in order to keep the game more accessible to a much wider audience of taste. No such luck here. If you like international rap, youâ€™re in for a treat. If not, wellâ€¦
So, whatâ€™s left to say? With a simple yet wholly deficient control mechanic that renders fighting anything but entertaining, a supposed free-roaming environment thatâ€™s somewhat limiting, poorly executed graphics and characters, and laughably bad sound, Crime Life: Gang Wars is barely worthy of the bargain bucketâ€”and with its reduced price tag, itâ€™s almost there already. A more attuned and original storyline, defined and accessible controls, subtle attention to the rudiments of animation, and a genuinely talented voice cast could have seen the emergence of a far better game. As it is, Crime Life: Gang Wars is probably best avoided.