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Publisher: Virtual Programming    Genre: Arcade
Min OS X: Any Version

January 30, 2006 | Michael Scarpelli

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Many levels have loading screens that describe your goal. Read carefully.
Gangland is a solid gaming concept stuck inside a clumsy interface and wrapped in a cozy blanket of programming bugs. It's difficult to say exactly where Gangland goes astray, but no one ever said review writing was glamorous...

Touring Little Italy
The basic premise of Gangland has the gamer playing as Mario, come to America to seek revenge upon his siblings for a murder they committed back in the old country. Gameplay is styled after the fashion of a real time strategy title, but unlike most RTS games, the gamer will only be controlling a handful of units at a time rather than the hordes associated with games such as the Myth or Warcraft series of games. It's a fun departure to marry this brand of gameplay, so commonly associated with medieval outdoor environments and fantasy, with an urban-modern feel.

The environment, however, is where things immediately begin to go wrong with Gangland. The graphics themselves are fine. The environments are well modeled and textures are suitably gritty, but everything is far too dark. The game transitions from day to night during the course of play, and when the sun goes down, it gets to be unsuitably difficult to discern what's happening on-screen. Many areas are unlit by street lamps which, while atmospherically accurate, is a real hassle when coupled with the fog of war that envelops the entire city until the player has explored it fully. The action is crowded enough on the city streets without having to adjust the lighting in the room you play in so that you can try to make out what's going on in the game.

Also dissimilar to RTS titles like Warcraft, the camera is not fixed in Gangland. By Option/Alt clicking and dragging on the screen, the gamer can rotate the camera to get their desired view of the action on screen. Practice using this action because there is no auto-tracking camera feature in the game and the urban environment, with its tall buildings and many trees, will forever obscure the action taking place in the crowded streets. Revealing the insides of most buildings happens when the gamer guides his mafiosos into an establishment, at which time the game pulls off the ceiling of the building, granting a view inside. Buildings are not expansive, however, and the walls remain, creating yet another barrier to the camera's view. Stacking with this is the fact that frequently the gamer will become embroiled in gunfights while stuck in the doorway of a building, neither inside nor outside and difficult to see in either location.

Leave the Gun, Take the Cannoli
Which leads me into the topic of gunfights. Battling in Gangland is another near-miss. According to the game's manual and quick-tips system, the gamer is encouraged to use the city's many obstacles as cover in the course of a gunfight, and there is even a button in game to cause characters to kneel down. In theory, this should increase their cover and accuracy, but it translates to gameplay voodoo as it's virtually impossible to tell if either tactic is having the slightest effect. The city in the game is a "living" one, so there are many citizens and police officers cruising the streets in addition to fellow and rival mafia family members. Improbably, many of these citizens are packing heat. Once a gun battle starts, usually by simply entering into the aggression range of an enemy unit, gunfire erupts everywhere on the street. The idea of taking cover is banished as trying to maneuver units to fire at hostiles and manipulate the camera to give a good view of what is happening trumps any attempts to hide. Making matters worse, any stray bullets that find armed citizens draws them into the fray, not to mention any cops that wander into the area.

Having epic, street-clearing gun battles could be the over-the-top drama that makes Gangland a blast to play until you realize how long it takes to kill even the simplest low-level enemy thug. Micro-managing your thugs is no easy task, so in essence gamers will unload on enemies one at a time until they fall before moving on. It takes three or four mafia-men packing heat a good 100 bullets to bring down any one baddie. Even after units have leveled up (a nice RPG-style feature) and they've become much more deadly, enemy units don't drop easily. Combat becomes a little more nuanced with the different types of attack units available to the gamer, but they come with their own drawbacks as well. The choice of melee-oriented bouncers and call-girls are available in addition to standard gun-toting goons in the game. While these units can alter tactics slightly, the melee combatants attack by bum-rushing their opponents. What this accomplishes on screen, however, is making it so that units are difficult to see and select in the melee clump. Trying to pick out a single unit from a thronging combat of six flailing character models is not easy. It's especially frustrating when your main character is the one at the center of that throng and you need to try to get him out.


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