Review Date: February 2, 2010
Price: Free (Publisher's Site)
With Gangster City, developer Playfish has jumped head first into the crowded world of Facebook mafia simulators. And while the game doesn't play all that different from other similarly themed games on the social network, in traditional Playfish style, it outdoes all of them in one important aspect: production values. Unlike the majority of Facebook games available, Gangster City looks good, which helps make up for its lack of originality in terms of gameplay.
After a brief, comic book style introduction, you're introduced to the game world, where you'll be tasked with rising to the top of the criminal underworld. This done by taking on various jobs, which earn you both cash and experience. Cash can be used to upgrade your arsenal of weaponry or purchase money-making properties, while experience makes you stronger, letting you tackle increasingly difficult jobs. And as you progress more of the world will open up, giving you even more jobs to tackle.Being a Thug is Easier Than it Looks
Despite the game's violent theme, there isn't actually any action in Gangster City. You move around the world by selecting icons on a map and you select jobs from a menu. And since all of the action is based on numbers -- the more experience and weaponry you have, the better your chance of winning -- actually completing the jobs is a very passive experience. You simply watch a still cut scene to determine if you win or not.
There's also a bit of luck to the job system, as occasionally replaying missions will see both wins and losses. But, for the most part, the higher your experience level the better chance you have of being successful.
The game also gives you a little bit of freedom in determining how your character will progress, as at each new experience level you can choose what aspects you want to upgrade: health, strength, or defense. However, there doesn't seem to be much benefit to experimenting in this regard, as a more balanced stat set-up is really the ideal.
Taking on jobs not only nets you money and experience, it also takes up precious energy. You only get so much energy at any given time -- something that increases as you progress -- so it's important to pay attention to how much each job takes so you can get the most out of your energy reserve. However, the energy bar also slowly refills over time. This helps ensure that not only are play sessions relatively short, but it also provides incentive to have you coming back to the game on a regular basis.
If you ever played another Facebook mafia game you'll be right at home with the way Gangster City plays. But where the game starts to differentiate itself is through its presentation.
Making Crime Look Good
Let's face it: a menu-based game is pretty dull to look at. Thankfully, Gangster City attempts to alleviate this with some great visual touches. In order to actually take a job you first have to venture to a specific location, ranging from shady bars to mob-run hotels. You then talk to one of the numerous characters who will present you with a list of available jobs. It's still light on the action, but, in contrast to other mob-themed games, it actually feels like more than simply navigating a menu.
This is helped a great deal by the game's wonderful art direction, which is reminiscent of the excellent Nintendo DS title Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars; not bad company to be in at all. Shockingly, Gangster City even goes a step farther than having just great visuals and actually features voice-acting. Each character has several lines of dialog, which are actually voiced pretty well. It may not seem like a huge addition, but it does add to the overall experience. It's also a feature that is lacking from the majority of Facebook games currently available.
Of course, as a Facebook game, Gangster City also features several social features. You can hire your friends to join your gang and guard your properties, which, while not necessary to progress, does make things much easier. However, it does require that you convince your friends to play the game too, as you can only hire fellow Gangster City players.
And while free, the game also gives you the option to pay real-world money for various upgrades. These are all located in the "black market," where everything costs actual money. These items include certain special weapons that aren't available any other way and energy drinks, which let you play for longer without having to wait for your energy bar to refill. Like the social features, none of these upgrades are necessary, they just make things easier.
The Bottom Line
If you're already heavily invested in one of Facebook's other mafia games, there is little to entice you to Gangster City. It plays virtually identically, albeit with a very pretty coat of paint on top. But for new players this coat of paint could be the deciding factor, as it really makes the entire experience much more enjoyable. If the drab menus of Mafia Wars or Mob Wars have turned you off of the genre, Gangster City could be the perfect game to woe you to the criminal underworld.