Gangsters 2 was developed by Hothouse Creations and published by Eidos and is now available for PC as part of the Sold Out range for just five pounds. Taking on the role of a hood you must build a criminal empire and wage war on your enemies to become the godfather of a notorious mafia family in this enjoyable real time strategy title.
The original Gangsters was a game I played and enjoyed up to a point but ultimately it was fatally flawed. I was interested to see whether they could fix the problems with this sequel and it turns out that they have changed the game quite significantly. The focus is now on the street level, with the planning and hiring stage merged in. They have also developed a more engaging storyline with multiple gangster style voiceovers giving you the low-down on your progress and targets between missions.
The installation is easy, Sold Out have provided their own front end for installation and it includes the game manual and a quick update option to search for patches. It is slightly irritating that you can´t really play the game and consult the manual at the same time but when you remember that the title costs just a fiver I think this can be forgiven.
The game interface is not very intuitive and so I would recommend starting with the tutorial which will equip you with the basic knowledge you need to embark on your chosen career of crime. As the game progresses the complexity grows and you´ll need to learn how to deal with all aspects of your criminal family if you want to succeed.
The multiplayer choices are death-match, territory and defend and destroy and are all basically about competing with 2 to 4 opponents for control of a city map. The first game lacked this multiplayer option but I think the lack of a focus or back-story makes this a random and potentially annoying experience which just turns into a race for territory.
The single player campaign is a more satisfying experience - it sees you take on the role of Joey Bane and you must gradually build up your territory and dispose of the opposition. You begin in the lower west district of a state map which expands as you complete missions, increasing the play area while allowing you to retain the empire you have built up already. This concept also applies to your crime family and between missions you can view your family tree as it grows from one member to become a formidable army of talented troublemakers.
The game is certainly more stylish than the original, there are some pretty basic cut scenes but the art style is wholly appropriate and really nice. The story ties together familiar elements from everyone´s favourite gangster films as you start the action by exacting revenge on the man who killed your father. The voice-overs are nice and the mission briefing is also provided in text, with important buildings highlighted on the map for you. You can also access your objectives during game-play via your advisor.
For this sequel the developers have added a weather system and a distinct day and night cycle. This adds atmosphere and depth to the game though the engine is not the greatest.
Many of the missions have specific time limits and these are not always very sympathetic, which can leave you feeling rushed. The game has quite a steep learning curve and it is not easy to master. At the end of each day there is a newspaper report featuring stories about your actions and usually a big list of obituaries. You can purchase legitimate businesses and then set up illegal operations behind them but the free choice you had in the original is now gone with the type of illegal business you can have decided for you. As before you appoint a business manager, assign some muscle to protect and then sit back and rake in the profits.
The recruitment system has changed and I think this is one of the few aspects of the game where I prefer the original. The nice little top-trump style cards for the hoods which you could cycle through are gone in favour of a more automated system whereby any available hoods within your territory can be recruited directly from the business screen. This gives the foot soldiers in your empire less character but it is compensated for slightly by the distinction between hoods and gangsters. Gangsters are recruited via the newspaper or they just turn up at certain points to help you with various missions and they are afforded a bit more attention with a bit of character and a range of skills.
The main criticism I have of this game is the AI. As with the original, the downfall of this otherwise enjoyable title is poor path-finding and idiot behaviour from both the hoods under your control and your opponents. Gun battles are rather messy affairs and this is exacerbated by the window to kill certain people being rather small. A drive-by can turn into disaster as you watch your assassination squad drive up and down the street several times before getting their man, paying no attention to the dangers of the police while doing it. The fact you can only park cars on certain wide streets is annoying and I often found my men choosing the worst possible routes to their destinations happily wandering into big groups of the enemy and getting mown down.
Having said all that the frustration has been reduced with a couple of simple changes, hoods guarding a business or patrolling an area have a radius which they will not chase people out of, this prevents them getting spread across the map in pointless chases.
Another design flaw in the original game was the lack of success you got from firebombing or smashing businesses as a way of threatening them and ensuring their allegiance to you. You now have the option to turn up with your men and claim businesses; sometimes you have to smash them up first. Provided you are prepared for the backlash from the previous owner this works very well.
Despite the problems this is still an enjoyable game which offers fantastic value for money; you will get several hours of entertainment for a paltry fiver. The style of the game is great; it has character and is set in a believable world. The music and voiceovers fit nicely and the game unfolds like an epic interactive gangster saga. I would recommend this to fans of the genre provided they have the patience to overcome the poorer aspects of the game-play.