On the PlayStation 2 the Getaway series has always paled in comparison to Rockstar Games' Grand Theft Auto franchise. While the graphics are fine and the carefully crafted city of London is about as realistic as you can get, the games were never on the same level of what Rockstar and their developers were doing. Unfortunately things aren't any different on Sony's PlayStation Portable. While the Gangs of London has a few things going for it, there's no doubt that it plays second fiddle to the year-old Grand Theft Auto: Liberty City Stories.
Gangs of London may not carry the Getaway name, but right from the start it's clear that this game is situated in the same gritty universe. It combines a mix of driving and on-foot missions that tell an interesting story of gangs, violence and, well, more gangs. It has the same awkward controls, depressing atmosphere and mission structures. It's not a bad game when compared to the original Getaway and its sequel, Black Monday. Unfortunately neither of those games were all that good to start out with, and Gangs of London does nothing but compound their problems.
There are five different stories in Gangs of London, one for each of the five gangs (EC2 Crew, Morris Kane Firm, Talwar Brothers, Zakharov Organisation and the Water Dragon Triad) located around the city. The big difference between this game and The Getaway is that instead of controlling one main character you are able to play as a squad of gang members. You can tell each of these criminals where to go and what to do, which is certainly nothing new but the type of play mechanic you rarely see in a handheld game.
One of the biggest problems with Gangs of London is the lack of variety in the missions. You are constantly asked to perform the same kind of task over and over again, and no matter how many times you go and shoot up a building or drive someone around it never ends up being much fun. If you've played any of the Grand Theft Auto series (or any of the clones, including the two previous Getaway titles) then you already know what kind of missions you can expect in Gangs of London, the only difference here is that they aren't as much fun as they have been in the past.
Of all the missions found in Gangs of London, it's the constant on-foot missions that become the most tedious. Most of these missions involve you running through tight corridors and killing dozens of bad guys. Unfortunately every corridor ends up looking the same and the enemies rarely put up much of a fight. These boring missions are only made worse by an unruly camera set-up and a terrible control scheme.
The good news is that most of the missions only take a few minutes to complete. Taking a page out of Liberty City Stories, Gangs of London decides to pack its world with nothing but short and simple tasks that rarely take more than four or five minutes. This is good news for people that are only in it for the story, but if you want to go on deep missions that require you to complete a lot of tasks, then you need to look elsewhere. These missions are also fairly easy, I found myself beating almost all of the tasks on the very first attempt. You can go back through these missions and play them on a higher difficulty setting, but considering how boring they are in the first place I can't imagine anybody wanting to do this.
While the world of Gangs of London has stayed largely unchanged since the original release of The Getaway, there is one thing that is definitely different: the cinema cut-scenes. Instead of watching animated characters bark orders and curse at each other, we see comic book-style panels that do not animate at all. Part of me prefers this new style of cinema, I liked the art and I felt that it gave the game's story a slightly different feel. But these cinemas lack the urgency we felt from other games in this series. I also found the writing to be a little hard to swallow, with characters that used profanity simply for the sake of using it. I'm the last person that would be offended at an abundance of profanity, but it isn't done with any style or wit in Gangs of London.
Oddly enough one of the biggest draws of The Getaway is almost completely edited out of Gangs of London. In the past you have been able to drive around the entire city of London, even when you're on a mission. This time around you are a bit more constrained; you usually have a set path that you are not to deviate from. One could argue that this makes the game a little more portable-friendly, since you never have to actually drive to your next mission or worry about the map. But I found this to be kind of restrictive and a little disappointing. There is a mode that allows you to run around London whenever you like, but there's almost no reason to outside of searching for tourist hotspots.
Because of the shorter missions and the lack of a full city to navigate, the game ends up being pretty short. You can easily bust through all of the missions in less than ten hours. I suppose I shouldn't complain about the length, I can't say that I am all that interested in playing another ten hours in this world. But considering that most of the GTA-type games top 20 hours, this one just seems a little too short for comfort.
The game's controls are all over the board. The game handles fine when you're driving about town, but the moment you get out of the car and try to run around the city everything falls apart. The game stumbles at even the most basic movements, like strafing or just shooting at your foes. Worse yet, it seems like the targeting system goes out of its way to be difficult. There are too many situations where you need to target an enemy that is shooting you at close range, but instead of locking onto that guy it targets somebody that is off in the distance minding his own business. Add all of this together and you have one of the most frustrating experiences you can possibly have on a handheld game system.
While the single-player missions are fairly boring and can be beaten in short order, the real fun (actually, the ONLY fun) of Gangs of London comes in the mini-games. Perhaps the designers knew that they had a short and shallow game on their hand, because Gangs of London is crammed full of fun mini-games that can be played solo and with friends. There's so much here that you might actually spend more time playing these "casual games" than you will going through the full story.
In the pub you can play a bunch of cool parlor games, like darts and billiards. In fact, the game comes with two different types of billiards, both UK 8-Ball and an American equivalent. There is also an arcade machine with an interesting take on the classic game Snake. These games play surprisingly well and are a highlight of Gangs of London. You can play each of these games with multiple people, and even transfer them to your friends PSP via game sharing. Game sharing is the type of thing I want to see more of in PSP games … I just hope that it's used in better titles.
Along with the pub is something called Gang Battle, a turn-based puzzle game that acts like a form of Risk. There's a steep learning curve associated with this mode, but it's ultimately worth your time and effort. This mode is so much fun that it almost makes me want to recommend the game … almost!
The biggest problem with Gangs of London is not the terrible controls or the boring missions; it's that the entire package is no fun to play. With games like Liberty City Stories and Vice City Stories on the PSP it's hard to recommend a game like Gangs of London. Heck, it would be hard to recommend this game even if these games didn't exist. After three failed versions of The Getaway one has to wonder what Sony is thinking, I certainly hope that they aren't planning on shoving these titles down our throats each and every time they have a new system to promote. Avoid this game, just like you avoided all of the other games in this series.