Some of the more interesting PS2 titles of recent times were the two Getaway games. Set in London, the games featured gritty gangster based action and were both supported by solid cinematic values and good storyline. However, the gameplay just never lived up to expectations and until the PS3 hits, Getaway is on the backburner. SCE London aren't putting their tools away yet though, instead they have started a new franchise very much in the same vein. 'Gangs of London' is the title and while it doesn't match the Getaway for sheer playability, it is a fun romp, albeit a romp which probably doesn't go far enough.
In Gangs of London you take charge of one of six gangs and have to take the whole of London over via a number of turf wars. At the start you have truces with every one of them, but as soon as you attack them on their own turf, the wars begin and you have to progressively take over various sections of London until you are the only gang in the town. In many ways the storyline is a disappointment. Between missions you are filled in as to what's going on but there is way too much repetition of why you're performing missions and there really isn't a long, coherent storyline to follow like in GTA Liberty City stories.
The game as expected is played from a third person perspective and here is where the problem begins. The characters move like bricks. They are ridiculously hard to control and it takes a little while to become accustomed to the controls even though it uses the typical analogue style control. Other than that, you can jack cars, go into buildings and generally do anything you could do in The Getaway. The missions themselves are quite varied but many of the styles are repeated ad nauseum. The amount of times the game asks you to ram a car is unbelievable. The flipside of this is GOL is almost the perfect portable game. The missions can be completed in about 3-5 minutes each usually and it's obvious that SCE London was very aware that many people will be playing this during short periods of time.
There are a few other things carried over from The Getaway. The setting is still London and you will find the typical landmarks featured but unlike the original two titles, it is not a building by building replication of the city which is sure to disappoint those who live there. As well as this, the unique system where the blinker indicates where you should turn has been retained and if there is one thing GTA should rip off from this series it is that feature because it's brilliantly executed.
While the storyline is not linear and you have a choice of three to four missions usually, the game itself is extremely linear and is no where near a sandbox. If you start a mission and stray to far from the location, the game begins to inform you, the mission can't be completed. Whatever happened to being able to tackle a mission however you want to? Also, when you enter buildings, there is always only one way to enter and leave, which makes it seem incredibly linear and we liken this more to Virtua Cop than The Getaway, especially when combat occurs.
However one thing we really like about the game is the gang system. For the first time in a game (and perhaps GTA should look at this one too) you take control of a gang and can give orders very much like you do in games such as Rainbow Six and Ghost Recon. Also, if your character gets shot, you take control of another character in the gang allowing you to complete the mission. This does make the game extremely easy and also a 'run-n-gun' affair, but with some refinement it could revolutionise the sandbox action game genre.
Unfortunately, the visuals of the game are lackluster and do not match that of The Getaway. Considering what we've seen in other PSP games and their ability to match the PS2 counterparts this is incredibly disappointing. One thing which this has allowed though is very short load times and a solid framerate so it's not all bad news. The voice acting is done very well and really adds to the gritty London atmosphere which we've come to know from movies such as Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels.
Gangs of London had huge potential but fails to live up to it in so many ways. The controls are abysmal, the visuals are disappointing and it's all over much too soon. However there is enough here to keep you going if it can be found lower than retail price because it offers solid pocket action for short spurts.