Someone needs to watch more Sopranos.
When the original Gangsters hit the scene a while back, it caught everyone's attention with its interesting subject matter. Then we all tried to play it. If insanely complex micromanagement is your idea of a gangsta's paradise, then you probably liked it. The rest of us didn't.
So along comes Gangsters 2, which tries to streamline some of the rougher bits from the original to make the game more accesible. Too bad they didn't make it more fun.
The game starts out interestingly enough. It's the prohibition era, and you're a fellow named Joey Bane. You live in a state called New Temperance, which is ironically bursting with gangsters and all sorts of mob activity. Your pop, who's got a reputation as a family man (even though he looks like he'd kill his own momma), gets iced by some gangsters, and you wanna get some payback.
While there's room for ethical dilemmas with this type of plot (just look at Star Wars and Hamlet), there are no ethical choices or factors in this game. You're bad, the enemy is bad too, and soon somebody is gonna get dead. Real dead.
The game progresses through fifteen different counties, spread between twenty different episodes. Each episode involves a different set of objectives, which usually involves taking over another gangster's turf and then killing said gangster.
The gameplay is as direct and linear as the plot. It's divided into two areas: economics and fighting. The economic side is simple. You secure some operations that'll make you money, and you defend them until you've got the resources to expand.
Expansion is measured by the buildings you control; in gaining buildings you not only gain income, but also influence over most of the surrounding area. Unfortunately, all this "influence" really amounts to is having enemies turn into easily visible yellow dots on the map screen once they enter your zone.
In order to defend buildings you hire "muscle" from the local gyms. The process is easy enough - just tell a building to hire a given number of muscle, and it does. The muscle stands in front of the building and fights any baddie who comes too close. Sometimes they win, sometimes they lose, sometimes they just stand around and let your building get wrecked. You have no control over them whatsoever. This sucks.
Now, if the muscle were radically intelligent and useful, I wouldn't mind not being able to control them. But they're retarded. Everything in Gangsters 2 which falls under the dominion of AI suffers from chronic bouts of absurdity and general randomness.
Did I mention that everything in Gangsters 2 is controlled by AI? Even the stuff you think you control is really controlled by an insane computer brain, making all units prone to arbitrary madness. Say, for example, you're driving down the street in your car with your Gs, and you see a bunch of enemy muscle milling around outside a casino up ahead. You know if you drive past them they'll shoot you, so you decide you probably shouldn't go over there.
You tell the driver, "Hey, turn the car around, those bums'll try to scratch my ride." Now, one of three things could happen: 1) the driver could turn the car around; 2) the driver could drive past the thugs (who would promptly shoot at you), turn around way the hell down the street, and drive past the thugs again and 3) at any point during step two the driver could pull over in front of the thugs, and start firing back.
Only one of the options never occurs, and it's the first one. This is because there's no "Turn the $#%& car around!" command or option. All you can do is make suggestions. Did any mob boss ever just make suggestions?
Some may say that the strategy gameplay doesn't lend itself to such direct control. "You're not controlling the car, you can only make suggestions which the NPCs have to carry out." Fine. But when the NPCs are dumber than a bag full of hammers, it sort of breaks everything. and 2) what about when my character, Joey Bane, is driving the car? He's me, I'm him, so where's the breakdown in communication?
The combat in Gangsters 2 is very disappointing. The game includes a pause feature to allow the player to issue commands and keep up with the computer, but when your control is as limited as it is here, you don't need to pause the game, because the computer is doing everything for you anyway.
The units themselves are horribly shallow. They can either shoot each other or run away if they start to get messed up. There's no hiding behind cover, no climbing up on rooftops - just bang, bang, bang. There are some big shoot-outs and drive-bys, but each takes all the skill and mastery of tying your shoes.
Guess what you do if you're not fighting? You're waiting. You wait for your money to increase so you can buy more stuff, or you watch for enemies to come and try to sabotage your stuff. You get paid by the hour, and each hour takes a full minute. Need 900 bucks? Only make a hundred every hour? That's nine minutes of either raw, raunchy nothing, or frustrating, removed fighting.
If you're not doing anything, you're probably looking at the map screen, which is the most tactically advantageous screen (of three) in the game. From here you can see all the gangsters that are on the streets in the entire county, who they are, what they do, and who they're associated with. As if that weren't enough, anything that can be done from the regular street level screen can be done from the map screen as well.
While both screens have their advantages, the street level scene being far more interesting to look at. Switching between the two is very discombobulating.
Generally, a map screen gives you some sort of square or rectangle that tells you what you'll be looking at when you leave the map screen. This rectangle exists in Gangsters 2 as well, but those zany developers at Hot House have hidden it. In order to find it you've got to press F11. Not exactly what I'd call straightforward or intuitive.
Graphically, Gangsters 2 almost works. All the townspeople run smoothly and the colors are fine and there's very little choppiness. However, the camera is extremely fixed; there's no rotation and no zooming. If you want a bigger picture, you go to the map screen. And, since you almost always want the bigger picture, you spend most of your time on the map screen, which is about as graphically impressive as a game made in 1992.
The sounds are decent, except for the fact that you'll hear things and have no idea where they came from, what they meant, or how to find out. All sounds at all distances sound the same, making it difficult to judge the locations of firefights and robberies without consulting the map. However, the gun noises are decent, and even better is the fact that you can actually discern several different gun sounds at the same time. As a result, a little firefight sounds just like what it is, while a serious massacre has all the clatter and chaos that every serious massacre should.
Gangsters 2 seems like the result of the people at HotHouse Creations completely misinterpreting criticism for the original Gangsters. The real problem with Gangsters wasn't that it needed to be less of a game; it just needed better combat to balance out the socio-economic half. Gangsters 2 just guts the administration and throws in a huge quantity of low quality combat, making for a pretty lame game. Let's strap some cement boots on this one and let it sleep with the fishes.