The Open World has now become a sort of transversal genre that overlaps with the classic genres and becomes second nature, often hinged on the expectations of the players themselves. From FPS, action games and RPGs we always expect, to some extent, an open world in which the main narrative is flanked by both riddles of secondary missions, and a free roaming / sandbox that can entertain in a light and carefree way.
This trend is probably linked both to the success of titles that have made the recent history of the medium (GTA in the first place but also The Witcher 3), and to the increasingly pressing demand for an abundance of content and freedom of action within the world of game. This is how the open worlds offer has literally multiplied and is now something of an industry standard.
Proof of this situation is that this genre is now also available on platforms that are not really suitable, both for technical capabilities and for limitations in terms of controls; an example is the theme of this review, that is Gangstar New Orleans for iPad, the new installment of the Gameloft series preceded by the not-so-satisfying ‘Gangstar: Vegas’.
It is an open world that slavishly apes two famous titles that we know well: GTA and Saints Row. The first in the general gameplay structure and theme, the second in the light atmosphere and exaggerated abundance of content.
When you’re not on the move, the world of Gangstar New Orleans looks pretty well done.
The game is mainly played by alternating the game world map with the actual action. You choose the missions, you select weapons and equipment, you move on to the action and, having reached the goal, you return to the menus to select rewards and unlocks through the usual hybrid structure of in-game resources and real money.
The main narrative is done discreetly, even if it follows a plot that to define ‘formulaic’ is an understatement; we are in fact faced with an enormous amount of pseudo-Hollywodian stereotypes and postmodern popular culture in which there is no room for originality or for surprises of any kind. Everything is already seen in a thousand films and as many video games.
The secondary missions follow the same mechanics that we have come to know by heart: you reach a goal, interact in some way, trigger a shooting (or a simple delivery / dialogue) and end with a more or less daring escape.
The description seems reductive … isn’t it the same structure that made the fortunes of super-famous titles? Yes, but the difference lies in the quality of the content, in the richness of the game world, in the depth of the characters, in the variety that is created in the nuances, in the emotional involvement created by a story written by professionals. None of this applies in Gangstar New Orleans which is, ultimately, a soulless clone sticking mediocre content onto a successful formula.
We were talking about Hollywodian stereotypes… where have you already seen these interiors?
The game world is bland and tasteless, the characters are one-dimensional and without thickness, the repetitive missions and the content, in general, are a mere excuse to take the player to the next reward and, Gameloft hopes, monetization.
The gameplay is mainly developed through the driving and combat system. The first uses the on-screen controls to make you drive (right, left, accelerator and brake) and is at least approximate, since it uses two keys for direction; but it is also uncomfortable because the finger has to keep jumping between left and right and between accelerator and brake. It becomes extremely complicated (if not impossible) to drive with precision at high speeds, which would seem essential when doing the job of the urban bandit …
The combat system, on the other hand, is extremely simplistic: you press a button to use a cover and press another to shoot the nearest enemy. When the enemy is out of cover it damages him, when he is in cover no. Here too, similar to the masters of the genre but simplified in such an extreme way that the fun and identification are completely lost.
Even more serious, however, is the fact that walking, driving and shooting are all activities that require a lot of effort on the part of the player; this is because the on-screen controls are a decidedly sub-optimal solution, especially when they are associated with the (ever present) need to move the camera to have an optimal view of events. In short, not only do you not have fun, but it is also very difficult to interact with the game world.
The combat system is a matter of pressing two buttons… not that it is particularly simple on the iPad, especially given the always present framing problems.
Graphically Gangstar New Orleans seems to put a lot of effort into mimicking the stylistic features of the genre, but the result is, even here, rather amateurish. The city looks like this only in some panoramas, but when it comes to playing it is clear that we are faced with a world of polygons that ‘popp’ on the screen intermittently and are covered with textures of limited quality, both technically and artistically. On an audio level, things are a little better with professional speech and music suited to the context.
Overall Gangstar New Orleans offers very little for players who have been involved with open worlds on more appropriate platforms. On no occasion can the gaming experience recall that of GTA (or other titles of the genre) nor hope to constitute a decent clone to carry around for gaming sessions away from home. The tablet platform is definitely not suitable for the genre but this does not mean that it cannot host masterpieces of different genres.
The advice is simple: let’s leave the worlds open on PC and / or consoles and enjoy other genres on tablets. And if we really want action and / or open worlds, we avoid botched clones that shamelessly focus on monetization while saving on content quality and general inspiration.