MetroGames 'Auto Hustle' shocks and scores with the GTA crowd
Crime does pay when you're on Facebook, where the genre is one of the most established settings for a social game. We've had the godfather of them all, David Maestri's Mob Wars, followed by Zynga's Mafia Wars. Later on, heavyweights like Ubisoft drops in with CSI: Crime City, Sony brings us James Patterson's Catch a Killer, while THQ lets loose Saints Row®: Total Control. Each new entrant is loaded with flaws, but pushes the envelope a bit in mechanics and design, moving farther away from the tried-and-true, spreadsheet clicks-and-waits, towards something that increasingly resembles Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto.
After a buggy start last October, I think MetroGames' Auto Hustle has finally made it as a GTA clone. In fact, I'd go on and say Auto Hustle could easily rival Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars on the DS. That's strong praise for a Facebook game and potentially dangerous, as Auto Hustle is sure to generate controversy if it catches on.
And Auto Hustle has definitely been catching since its second unveiling. Within the past four days, activity for the game has more than doubled from 11,836 to 26,350 daily average users, while its monthly average rose from 94,310 to 132,106 (AppData). Because MetroGames can't cross-promoteAuto Hustle with their family-friendly titles, the company is ready to build its userbase from scratch. They want to attract the traditional hardcore gamer (which is probably why the game uses WASD and has a pause feature) and those on Facebook who want more mature titles. While it's hard to tell which side of the fence the players are coming from, it's not hard to guess what's attracting them.
Auto Hustle is full of callous, gleeful violence that goes beyond clicking a link and waiting around. You can walk in the city, drive cars, run people over with cars, blow up cars, shoot people, and chase after them when they run away screaming. By the fourth mission, you're killing police officers and bombing a police station; the later is an action that comes with a crude, video cutscene of the place exploding.
At the gun shop, I saw 29 weapons on display. Out of those, six -- "Railgun", "Katana", "Scatter Gun", "Golden Pistol", "Laser Pistol", and "Flamethrower!" are accompanied by an instantaneous visual demo that gets triggered when you mouse over the images. The only animated weapon that isn't served with a side of noisy death is the Golden Pistol, which shows a man decked in gold bling, cocking the gun and going 'heh-heh-heh' to himself.
At home, you can 'Pimp Out Your Pad' which amounts to nothing more than buying a new, pre-furnished room. But the real decor probably comes after you acquire Stacy Steel, your first con artist (all of whom appear to be beautiful ladies), she'll hang out on the only chair you own, blinking and preening until you switch her out with someone more to your liking. She's not dead weight either. As a shoutout to the usual Facebook games formula, your female con artist can be assigned tasks. You just click-and-wait and she'll bring you back money and experience points.
The dialogue in the game is not subtle in the least. The situations are absurd and it's all reminiscent of badly penned comic books. (In one mission, you're hired to kill a guy just because another guy feels insecure about the size of his graphic novel collection.) The game has got murder, theft, arson, cop-killing, exploding heads, and sexy women, but one cheap thrill Auto Hustle hasn't gone for is profanity. You'll hear a lot of dark things in the game, but cursing won't be among them.
Now I'm left wondering what Rockstar thinks about all this, but there's a reason why they haven't put a real GTA-branded game on Facebook yet. At the New York Law School's Video Game Law Panel last week, Seth Krauss, the Executive VP of Take-Two Interactive (which owns Rockstar), explained his company's rationale for not jumping onto the mobile and social gaming wagon. Krauss acknowledged Zynga's success, but still lacks confidence in the Zynga business model. He notes that Electronic Arts hasn't seen great returns in its foray into the social gaming space, and that right now it's "very risky to build a business model during a paradigm shift." For him, the cards are still up in the air.
Lucky for GTA fans, there's companies like MetroGames willing to take those risks.
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