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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Gangs of London (PSP)

By Michael Palisano

Gangs of London is a somewhat disappointing spin-off from the Getaway series that brings the underworld to the palm of your hand. Set in the dark alleys and dangerous streets of London, the game is steeped in darkness and violence, with the expected shooting and driving episodes along with some other extras. The production values and storyline are decent, with decent voice acting and a surprisingly adult storyline, but the awkward controls and tedious missions bring the experience down a few notches. It's almost inevitable that this will face comparisons with Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto series, so read on and see if it lives up to its rival's standards of excellent or falls short of the mark.

Set inside London's criminal underworld, Gangs of London does a good job of bringing its characters and atmosphere to life in vivid fashion. As you probably might expect, this is a violent, intense title that attempts to capture the outlaw excitement of these pursuits. The game isn't exactly aimed at kids and is quite bloody with dialogue and situations to match. At the start of each game, you are given a choice of which gang you wish to join, with 8 in all vying to control the underworld's business operations. Taking over the city's dark industries isn't an easy task, and you'll have to battle your foes in a variety of missions. As you complete these missions, your gang will earn its reputation and add to the areas of the city which it controls. When you eliminate the opposition and rise in the ranks, you'll find your gang in the cross-hairs of its rivals, leading to more difficult missions. The missions themselves can be divided into two main types, with several sub-quests and mini-games available. The two basic types available in Gangs of London are the on-foot missions and driving missions. Both of these offer distinct gameplay styles and controls, so you need to be good at both in order to succeed in the overall game.

Gangs of London's on-foot missions put you in control of your gang members and can lead them into battles and ambushes. Each of these missions gives you control of a single gang member, and you can make them go right in and fight enemies, or use them strategically. If an area of the game has too many enemies, you can call in other gang member as backup or switch to another one entirely and take control of them. Likewise, if one of the gang is felled by the opposing gangs, you're instantly switched to another member until your gang is depleted. Firing the weapons is fairly simple and requires you to press down on the shift key and you can pick up a variety of weapons ranging from machine guns to sniper rifles. You can also use blunt objects such as knifes or your fists at close range. Each mission has a unique objective, and you must complete this to move on. There are loads of enemies on each level, and you can hide behind walls or doors to take some cover at least. Strangely, you don't seem to be able to inflict that much collateral damage on civilians, who seem impervious to your fire. The objectives in these missions are fairly straightforward, requiring you usually to take down a specific target or clear out an enemy gang from an area.

In addition to these areas, there are also many sections of Gangs of London where you need to drive a car. When you get into the vehicles, you are presented with another type of controls which are relatively easy to understand. The game's traffic patterns can be congested and the tricky street layouts make things more challenging than they should be - bordering on frustrating. There are several mission types here, you either have to take out a rival vehicle by bumping into it, or protect another by making sure rivals don't destroy it. There are also timed missions where you have to reach your destination before the clock runs out. Both of these basic missions types can be combined in a single larger mission, but they constitute the majority of Gangs' gameplay. In addition to these basic missions, players can also unlock several mini-games, such as darts or pool in order to win additional time. These mini-games are decent enough, but don't really offer enough on their own to merit the entire package.

The storyline unfolds at a good pace, and playing as different gangs shows you different pieces of the puzzle, revealing the larger storyline. The excellent production values and voice acting makes the plot somewhat interesting, with most of the story unfolding in comic-style cut-scenes between rounds. While the adult content and situations are very much evident in the topics discussed by gang-members, the game feels strangely sanitized thanks to the bleeping out of cuss words. There's a lot of British slang here, used to make the dialogue feel authentic, but is mostly just confusing which becomes annoying after awhile. From a visual standpoint, the game does a good job of squeezing a somewhat realistic portrayal of London onto the PSP. The streets are detailed with lots of pedestrians and traffic and the inside areas are also decent looking, though a bit underpopulated in certain areas. However, the trade-off with this lack of detail is that the levels tend to load very quickly which makes the game flow much easier. The textures and bit maps are good enough to create a somewhat convincing sense of realism, but the awkward in-game camera angles and somewhat stilted animation undermines this approach. Ganges of London's voice acting is decent and the game's soundtrack fits in the hip/outlaw vibe nicely as well.

Despite all the attention that's been lavished on the production values, there are some serious flaws which undermine the experience. The game's controls aren't the greatest, however, and make playing Gangs of London far less enjoyable than you'd think it would be. Aiming your shots at opponents is an exercise in seeming randomness, while dodging their attacks and taking cover is also frustratingly awkward to perform. The camera angles aren't the greatest either, especially in the claustrophobic indoor areas, which means enemies can jump out at you with little to no warning. When you jump out of these areas and into the vehicles, things get a bit better, with an easier more open area. The cars' controls aren't the greatest and the limited field of vision makes it too easy to slam into walls or other vehicles. As in The Getaway, you can use the vehicles turn signals to indicate where you're going. Unfortunately, this isn't as helpful as one would like since the margin for error that's provided doesn't leave you room for very many mistakes.

You have to admire Sony for trying to port the Getaway series onto PSP, and while many of the games' strong points have been successfully translated, many of the problems with the series basic design and approach have come over to. Some of the areas have also been made worse, meaning that there are additional problems created as well. While there are definitely some interesting aspects of Gangs of London's design, such as its adult themes and a richly detailed environment and game world, the overall execution fails to live up to its ambitions. The presentation is decent, and it does impress from a technical standpoint, but the game's shooting sequences are marred by poor controls that make it difficult to aim and shoot. The driving missions aren't much better, with vehicles that are hard to steer and street layouts that make it hard to play. While there are some good points in Gangs of London, its awkward controls and stilted mission structure bring the experience down a few notches. The annoying British slang, poorly designed controls and predictable missions structure makes this feel less polished than it should. In the end, most gamers are going to compare this to the GTA series, and honestly, there's very little here that hasn't been done much better with Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories. Gangs of London makes a decent attempt at the genre, but its poor design falls short of the standards set by Rockstar last year.

Grade: C

> Related Reviews
Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories (PSP)
Pursuit Force (PSP)

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