Gamelofts Gangstar series is a well known title to iPhone and iPad users. It's Gamelofts answer to the GTA franchise and each iteration of the game has been better and better.
This is the third instalment dubbed as Gangstar Rio: City of Saints. Set across the border from the two games which came before it, this is set in Mexico in the city Rio. Characters and storyline are weak to put it lightly. The plot not to spoil it for you, is far fetched and clichéd. And I wonder whether Gameloft realised this or they thought it was a genuine good plot? If they realised this why didn't they amend it? Many said that Modern Combat 3 had a weak storyline but I actually thought it wasn't to shabby, this is on the far end of the scale to that. A sandbox game like this needs good characters and plot. GTA has always had these things and that's what puts it at the peak of the mountain of the sandbox genre.
But forgetting about the bad plot and characters the amount to see and do in Rio is well worth noting. Buy weapons and clothes from shops. Get your vehicles fixed at garages, visit and purchase buildings to grow your empire. All this is pulled of well. The variety of vehicles has been greatly improved with cars, bikes, mopeds sand buggies, boats, tanks, motorcycles, jet skis, helicopters and planes. The land vehicles handle much more realistically than in previous iterations of the games but planes and helicopters are still a little difficult to manoeuvre. Water vehicles could be better also.
And then we have all the different locations on the map to see but having said that the map isn't as big this time around. We only have one island to play around on but that isn't so bad as Gameloft have nailed the environments probably because they had a lot less to focus on. The beaches, skyscrapers, hills ect are all enjoyable. The city feels a lot more alive and fresh than previous Gangstar games and I think that has a lot to do with the improved AI and array of urban sounds.
Missions are quite varied with some sending you to protect someone, or scare someone, or kill someone, drive to a destination, compete in races ect. All are not that original but many have quite a lot of enjoyment to be found within. My real gripe is the combat system. This is an element which needed much improving and it doesn't feel as if anything has changed. It's so difficult to kill enemies with the auto aim and the camera just feels messy when in the action. Such a shame when combat is such a huge chunk of the gameplay and the sheer amount of weapons from pistols, SMG's, AK47's, sniper rifles, grenades, shotguns, rocket launchers, flame throwers ect is all just wasted because you can't properly use them.
The default controls I found to be easy to use and don't get in the way. The default controls consist of a virtual joystick and a sprint bottom when on foot. When driving you have two virtual pedals, one to brake and one to accelerate and to steer you tilt your device. But you have six different control configurations to choose from if the default don't take your fancy.
Graphically this is quite comparable to the GTA versions released for the PSP (more so with Vice City Stories). The lighting and shadows are much better and more realistic. The model detail on characters, vehicles, buildings, surfaces, water ect has had a lot of attention and hard work put upon. Also the depth of field seems to be improved. Little touches are seen throughout the game and we're not complaining.
The radio stations on offer are quite good. A nice choice of music is offered and some stations adverts ect can be very very funny. And you can play your iTunes music in game via the radio. Sound effects for gun shots, sea, vehicles, peoples voices, walking ect is all very life like.
But I enjoy just exploring, stealing many many vehicles and taking in all there is to see of the city and of course having the cops on my trail too. And I think this is a very important element of a sandbox game, it has to allow you to have fun in the extensive world the developer has created when not engaged in a mission and Gangstar Rio: City of Saints delivered here.
A couple of new editions worth noting this time around is that this game is universal so you can have it on your iPhone, iPod touch and iPad. Also you can play it on your TV via either a cable or via AirPlay. We've only tested with a cable and it works very well.
Overall this is definitely the best instalment in the series but that's not to say improvements aren't needed. In the next version we need to see an improved combat system and more realistic and easier to control sea vehicles, planes and helicopters.