Facebook game-maker Playfish hopes that crime pays when it comes to the just-launched Gangster City, a mob-themed game that lets you climb the crime ladder by taking on missions, buying property, collecting loot and building your family.
The game can, arguably, can be called a clone of Zynga's Mafia Wars, which is a clone of Playdom's Mobsters games. More than anything, this Playfish game reminds us more of one of the most successful video game series of all time -- Grand Theft Auto. (and the DS version, Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, especially). Everything from the comic book style graphics, the storyline and the plane flying over a cityscape in the opening sequence -- it all feels so familiar.
That's not a bad thing, either. One could argue that Gangster City is an example of social gaming growing up -- now adding slick graphics and a more polished experience to game mechanics we've already grown to love in games before it.
As for the actual game, the slick presentation is apparent from the opening cutcene where you're given a sneak peek into the game's backstory. You're a son seeking revenge for his estranged father's death, which lands you at Sticky's bar in Little Ireland looking for answers. At the bar, you meet a pudgy gangster named Mickey and Rachel (see picture below), who will both send you out on missions, which include everything from taking out Triads to stealing sports cars (in a mission called, ironically, "Grand Theft Auto").
Looking past the presentation, Gangster City still plays very much like Mafia Wars, with a few small tweaks that make for a better gaming experience. Like Mafia Wars, players have a certain amount of energy to spend on missions -- and once you're out, you can buy more for real-life cash in the game's Black Market store or wait until it replenishes. Unlike Mafia Wars, Gangster Wars is generous with the energy (both the amount you have and how fast it replenishes), and so far, leveling up has come easy.
Building your mafia is also an easy way to earn cash. You can assign friends to your top mafia member positions and then put them to work doing everything from extortion to money laundering. Each of these jobs also take time to complete, with a cash payout at the end. Once they're done, you can set your family members to work on another job. We've seen this in older games, like Zynga's Pirates, and it's nice to see this game mechanic employed in a bigger (and better) way in another game.
Weapon, vehicle upgrades, etc are required to complete new missions, and they can be purchased in the in-game stores that sell weapons, cars and on the black market, which is where you'll be able to buy more power guns and more energy using Playfish Cash (which you have to buy using real-life cash). There are three slots allotted for weapons when the game begins, so you'll have to be strategic and switch them out depending on what missions you've accepted. More slots unlock as players level up.
Robbing is also a big part of the game, something that Mafia Wars have been missing since Zynga shut off that feature indefinitely last year. There are three lists to choose from: a free list of players to rob and a list of rich or week players, which require you to buy to access. We plunked down the $101 (virtual cash, don't worry) required to access the Weak list and failed our first attempted robbery. Mental note: beef up your resources before going on a robbing spree.
The only negative to this game? We wish this had arrived about six months ago. Right now, the game doesn't have many players, and with Mafia Wars occupying the mindshare of 23 million Facebook gamers, it will be interesting to see if this game will be good enough to convince people to drop Mafia Wars or add it to their Facebook gaming lineup. After all, the best social games out there tend to also have the most players.
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