Hands On: GTA Lite...er, GangStar for iPhone

A hands on look at GangStar for the iPhone and iPod Touch.

There are certain things one expects from a Grand Theft Auto (GTA) game. Sure, there's the obvious: Violence, fast cars, and more violence, but what many GTA laymen don't know, is that GTA fans also expect (since Vice City at least) a rich, compelling story, with likable and (intentionally) unlikable characters. All told in a way only the best video games can.

After spending about two hours with Gameloft's GangStar I can safely say, they got the obvious right. Not so much the other stuff.

Gangstar is a GTA clone for the iPhone and iPod Touch where you play an ex-con named...honestly does it matter what his name is? Seriously, the main character and your sidekick are so similar in appearance I hardly ever know which is talking at any given time.

This is pretty much as sophisticated as it gets...at least in the first hour or two. Screenshot by Eric Franklin/CNET

The game plays very close to GTA. Specifically GTA3. You run around, steal cars, mistakenly--thanks to the default and difficult to control accelerometer controls--run over pedestrians, and shoot and beat innocents to death.

There are also missions you can take by going to certain waypoints designated on your minimap. So far the missions have ranged from chauffeuring your boss around to following and killing groups of gang members.

The main character controls with a virtual analog control stick and you can fight, shoot, and steal vehicles using contextual buttons that pop up when needed. For example, get close enough to a car and the "open door" icon pops. Tap the icon, out goes the driver and in you go in you new ride.

Thankfully the shooting and fighting model is extremely forgiving. When in a scuffle, the cross hair locks on to your target, you tap the icon, and your character will either shoot or punch depending on if you have a weapon equipped. So far, the ease of targeting has trivialized most of the missions, but so far I'm also not complaining.

The driving model thus far seems adequate as long as you're not using the accelerometer and there's a virtual wheel or stick option that is less aneurysm-inducing. There's also hints of depth in the driving model, as I was able to easily reverse into a 180 spin and continue driving forward without missing a beat.

The coolest feature though is the ability to use your own iPhone playlist as your in-car music that plays whenever you enter a vehicle.

I've noticed a couple of bugs here and there, where the car you drove up in sometimes disappears after a cut scene. Maybe crime is just that bad in the GangStar world, however. Where even the criminals are victims of crimes.

I have a hard time recommending GangStar for $7, but this is mostly due to my long-held belief that iPhone games shouldn't cost more than $1. Once you get the hang of the driving, the game is actually kind of fun. Fun, in an "I need a quick distraction for the next 15 minutes" kind of way; however, there are games on the iPhone that better fit that description.

If you're the type of gamer who would like GTA, even if there was no story, then i"d say try it. For everyone else, wait for a lite version. Or, wait for the real deal to arrive.

 

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