Maybe it’s something about old age, but I find myself less patient with games now than I used to be. I used to always grind my way through games no matter how good or bad they were, but now more often than not I wonder what the heck developers were thinking, and part way through the game I decide my quality of life would be better if I was doing something else. The latest example of this is Gangland from developer Media Mobsters and publisher Whiptail Interactive. Although Gangland’s manual claims it’s a hybrid of real-time strategy, role-playing and simulation, it’s really just a real-time strategy game set in a gangster universe. That premise could work, and at times I had fun with Gangland, but Media Mobsters made a couple key mistakes that really kill the game.
The background story for the single-player part of the game goes something like this. Three brothers decide to kill a fourth brother, and you, as the fifth brother, and at the urging of your grandfather, decide to take revenge. That isn’t much of a story, but it means there are a lot of people you want to kill, and a lot of people who want to kill you, and so it works. But really, I don’t think Gangland was ever really intended to be a single-player game.
Consider this. When Gangland was shipped, you weren’t allowed to save your game during missions, and you weren’t allowed to pause the game, either. Thanks to a couple patches, you can now do both, but the saving only takes place at key moments in the game (like when you meet an objective), and so there’s still a lot of frustration to it. I don’t know if I’ve ever mentioned this before, but I hate doing stuff over (and over and over), and I seriously doubt I’d like a game that doesn’t let me save when I want, especially when the game forces you to play nearly perfectly (every time you lose ten guys in the game, cumulative through the campaign, you lose a roster spot in the succeeding missions).
And then there’s the other problem, which is mission balance. Some of the missions are downright easy because enemy gangs will just sit in their territory and wait for you to kill them, and then in other missions the enemies appear to cheat (getting gang members for free, starting with their territory already taken over), and they’re next to impossible. I finally gave up in a mission where I was supposed to single-handedly take out five competing gangs all by myself. After getting mowed down in three straight tries, I looked around in some forums and found that people were only beating the mission by exploiting loopholes and quirks in the enemy AI. Is that the kind of game you want to play?
But still, there are some good ideas here. Gangland isn’t a real-time strategy game where you have peons mining resources for you. You have to round up your group of thugs and then take over businesses. If you take over a lounge, then you can recruit new gang members there. If you take over a gun shop, then the shop will supply you with ammunition. If you take over a garage, then the garage will supply you with parts so you can repair your cars (which include trucks, sports cars, and hummers). Some businesses, like the pawn shop, are just there so you can get equipment to trade for other things you might need (like the ever popular sniper unit).
Here’s another neat idea. The boss you play can get married and have kids, and the kids can grow up to be “underbosses” for you (and perform as extra-powerful units). It’s just weird to get married, have kids, and have the kids grow up in a mission that otherwise doesn’t look like it’s taking more than a week to complete. If Gangland had been designed with the single-player mode in mind, then I could picture sort of an X-COM design to it, where you might do some things during missions (like kill enemy bosses) and other things between missions (like get married and have kids), and I think the game would have worked better that way.
So, overall, Gangland seems to me to be a game with good ideas but bad implementation. The first two patches have helped it significantly (I can’t even imagine playing it before saving and pausing were allowed), and developer Media Mobsters seems intent on improving the game. So while I didn’t really enjoy Gangland, I can picture it getting better in the upcoming months, and so it’s a game you might want to pick up eventually, but not right now.