In Gangland, players build a criminal empire across a city alive with opposition and opportunity. Released by Whiptail Interactive, the company that published the original version of 2003's unapologetically controversial Postal 2, this strategy game features characters, settings, and objectives extorted straight from modern Mafioso mythology. Players vie for control of the criminal underworld in the fictional Paradise City. A mob boss' management responsibilities are tended through a city-building style of gameplay, involving the establishment of numerous different rackets. Specific missions await in 26 set locations.
The three-dimensional Paradise City itself serves as the game's main interface. Stick-ups, hits, battles, and similar character-driven events take place in real-time and are directed as in a conventional RTS. Many business arrangements, management tasks, and other deals can be initialed by clicking on the appropriate character, building, or object. The action unfolds in real-time (as in the Commandos games) and orders cannot be issued while the game is paused (as in Freedom Force or Baldur's Gate).
The single-player campaign places players in the Armani pinstripes of Mario, one of four Sicilian brothers who were born into the mafia and now seek their fortunes in the American metropolis of Paradise City. Mario is different from the others, however. He is the last to arrive from the old country, and was sent by his grandfather to hunt down his three brothers and avenge crimes they committed against the family back home. Up to eight players can gang up in the game's multiplayer mode, each taking the role of a different brother and all competing for control of the city's organized crime.
Gangland is Grand Theft Auto taken into the real-time strategy realm, but such a comparison is not only unfair, but too superficial to hint at the full depth of Gangland. You assume the role of a low-level thug fresh off the boat and motivated by revenge. From this position you climb your way up the crime ladder - extorting, killing and menacing other crime families along the way.
At the start your character participates directly in crime - getting into shoot-outs, threatening shopkeepers, etc. - but later on your role changes to managing the family and its interests, while directing lower-level thugs to do the dirty work. You can even get married and have kids to keep your crime dynasty going. It's with this that Gangland becomes a hard to classify game.
Having kids actually turns out to more complex than you might initially think. What kinds of kids you produce depends on what kind of wife you take. Marry a smart woman and you'll probably produce lawyers, which can come in very handy buying off politicians; marry an athlete and you can slowly churn out a small army of thugs. It forces you to weigh every decision - the hallmark of strategy games - but in the flavor of an RPG while in a strange way making you care for your digital crime family. But mostly, Gangland is a real-time strategy affair.
Your view is from an overhead, ¾ perspective. The camera, though versatile and full of zoom and rotate options, takes a lot of getting used to, mostly because Paradise City is full of buildings with the only open spaces being the roads and the occasional park. This makes handling the camera imperative when it comes to tracking targets since buildings so often get in the way of where you want to go and how much of the screen you can see. And since there's no tutorial, it's left up to you figure out what the camera is capable of. Controlling the camera does get easier with time and experience, but it may completely frustrate some.
Gangland is a good-looking game with all the bells and whistles turned on. (The system requirements are comparatively low, but to really make it cook you should have the recommended specs.) Paradise City is alive with people and cars making their way around and the attention to detail is excellent. So while you're grappling with the camera, you can at least appreciate the graphics.
Although there is quite an emphasis on establishing resources (i.e. forcibly taking over businesses, racketeering, prostitution, etc.) to expand your empire across the 26 single-player missions, there is an equal emphasis on brute force with plenty of drive-by shootings, explosions, and general gunplay. It's at these times you most often have to manage a small squad of specially skilled mobsters to attain success or at least avoid an untimely death. Before getting into an altercation, hiring a mix of thugs is recommended, as each situation is different. Battles can be absolutely frantic affairs (which take about as much getting used to as the camera controls). Having the right team together can help immensely - and fortunately getting the right mobsters for the job becomes easier as your reputation grows and more lowlifes want to work for you. You can also augment your forces by successfully completing challenges proposed by international syndicates, which gives you access to cooler characters like the ninja.
There are multiplayer options available, but I found the computer AI offered enough challenge to keep me playing offline instead of on (and an interesting storyline helped, too).
Gangland is a good game, with a great mix of real-time combat, strategy, and RPG, and the economics of crime. Its hybridization of genres works for the most part and if you have the patience to learn the camera, you should have fun.
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