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If you’ve played any of the Grand Theft Auto games in the last decade and you also happen to own an iPhone, you’re likely familiar with Gameloft’s Gangstar franchise. This series of mobile crime spree simulators has just received a sequel in Gangstar Rio: City of Saints, the third entry in the series. This latest edition is a pretty solid game overall, but has some serious weaknesses holding it down.
As the title implies, Rio is our sandbox of choice this time around. Our leading man gets car bombed, losing his absolutely horrid girlfriend and most of his face in the process. After some reconstructive surgery gives him a new face, he takes on the name ‘Angel’ and tries to infiltrate his old gang to figure out what happened. The story this time around is probably the game’s biggest weakness, or at least the presentation of that story. The overly raunchy and vulgar script is full of cringe worthy lines, made worse by absolutely wooden voice acting and line delivery. There’s often a big disconnect from the story and gameplay, as your character learns about things the player never does and just magically knows where you’re supposed to go next. Some kind of text message or phone call connecting these missions together would have been nice.
Gameplay, on the other hand, is pretty well done. The combat can still feel pretty clunky, and driving can be chaotic and random, but it’s still fun to play. The sunny sandbox of Rio is more alive than ever, and randomly exploring can be fun. The missions offer a bit more variety this time around, and there are more unique environments, but most of that is just window dressing. Missions still mostly consist of “drive here, kill these dudes, drive away, likely while evading police.” Rinse and repeat. There are several control methods for driving, and surprisingly enough, the tilt controls are fairly tight and well done. Experiment and see what works for you.
New to the series is the “Respect” leveling system. You gain respect for completing missions or causing random havoc, and eventually level up. As you level up you’ll get to upgrade Angel’s health, melee, shooting, and driving ability. You’ll also gain access to new guns and clothing items at the shops. These items are locked until you have enough respect, even if you have enough money to purchase them. This feels very limiting in a game that should put freedom up on a pedestal, and it was frustrating when a clothing shop wouldn’t sell me a pair of pants for no reason.
Graphically, this game is an improvement over its predecessors. Unfortunately, it’s really optimized for the iPhone 4S and iPad 2. If you’re playing on an older device, you’ll have to deal with some seriously bad texture pop up as items render at the last second or as cars just pop into existence. Some of the textures are pretty awful looking, but sandbox games will never have the same graphical quality that more linear games have, and a lot of it is understandable.
All in all, this is a fairly weak sequel. Fans of the series will likely enjoy it anyway, especially if they don’t care about the story. It’s not a bad game by any means, it just isn’t very polished and several aspects give the impression that there was a lack of real effort. You can hit the streets of Rio for seven dollars in this iOS universal game.