Developer, Publisher: Gameloft
Released: March 15th, 2017
Reviewed On: Razer Phone, Android 7.1
Available via: Google Play
The lack of open world releases on mobile platforms has created a considerable gap in the genre ready to be filled by an exciting new release to break up the stale market. Gameloft’s Gangstar series has long served up competition to numerous Grand Theft Auto ports on mobile, and while it sadly isn’t a better franchise, it stood out well with its unique settings. Gangstar: New Orleans brings the franchise to the next level of quality, offering an exciting open world mayhem at a free download price. It isn’t without faults, but considerably improves on its predecessor, and New Orleans captures the essential fun of a crime city sandbox. With plenty of activities to offer, it works pretty well, although the free to play design drags the game down somewhat. It’s still a solid experience, you just wouldn’t find the same level of quality as the numerous Grand Theft Auto games. At the free price though, Gangstar: New Orleans is certainly worth a try, and packs a lot of features into its open world to offer a compelling experience.
Gameplay doesn’t change if you’re familiar with the series or played some of the Grand Theft Auto games available on Android. It’s still a mix of driving, action and open world mayhem, with players given a large map to explore at leisure. The streets are packed with things to do, ranging from story missions to timed challenges and collectibles, although there isn’t a lot to engage in once you’ve tried all those. Gameplay improvements over Gangstar Vegas are noticeable though, with better gunplay and a more solid structure. Driving still isn’t great, but provides a decent enough means of getting from A to B. New Orleans markedly improves upon the series’ design, bringing it on par with the quality of Grand Theft Auto, which only counts as a good thing.
Graphically Gangstar: New Orleans looks superb, evolving on the mobile Havoc engine of its predecessors and makes use of tech advancements we’ve seen in the mobile market over the last couple of years. It isn’t the best looking game, and I’ve noticed a huge lack of detail in backgrounds that has a lot of pop-in due to poor draw distances. With no visual settings to tweak, high end phones are treated to the same view as slower models. Texture detail only really shows in the foreground, with the back view completely blurred out, which makes the game looks especially bad if you’re flying a helicopter. Still, it’s better than what we’ve seen from the series in the past, and the upgraded engine certainly helps evolve the gameplay.
I’m not the biggest fan of the game’s mission design, as it tends to drag the pace out with repetition quite a bit, but Gangstar: New Orleans delivers a serviceable distraction with its activities. You can blaze through story missions, unrestricted by gear or level requirements, although the game makes little of its open world design in these linear set pieces. Majority of distractions come in small side missions, which are usually shoot outs or races to compliment similar events in the campaign. Scattered around the map, these have specific gear requirements to undertake, which means you often can’t do them without certain items. This brings me to significant gripes with the loot system in New Orleans that slows the pacing down when you’re stuck grinding same missions for better loot boxes. It isn’t the best of systems, and I’d often hop over to story missions just to escape the sameness of side activities.
New Orleans breaks up its map into multiple turfs to control, each offering a host of side missions to do. Each awards you with three tiers of completion based on the level of gear, awarding three points each. Those unlock further territories and allows you to take over more of the city. The missions are pretty basic and involve simple tasks to accomplish, such as eliminating targets or completing a race, set on a timer with the aim to accomplish the best result. And you’d want those three-star ratings to unlock more turfs. Completing missions expands player influence in the region, used to “raid” a territory for control, which after winning unlocks access to a business to generate money. This all gives you a lot of content, but completing it is not an easy task. This ties into the slow reward system Gangstar: New Orleans is based on, which uses a familiar degree of randomization we’ve come to see from loot boxes.
Called spirit jars here, these loot boxes give out random rewards, with open-world progression relying on specific guns or vehicles to complete tasks. The random system ensures there’s a certain level of grind involved, forcing players to complete repetitive objectives. There’d be moments I’ll get stuck in progression wall, getting the same items I have over and over. The only thing to do is upgrade your existing gear, but lack of certain categories won’t allow me to proceed in side missions. When you hit this progression wall, the open world loses its appeal, with the only thing left to do are a few collectibles. Even all missions can be launched through the game’s map, eliminating the need for commute. Gangstar: New Orleans certainly lacks behind in open-world design, and there’s few things to do if you’re stuck on the slow progression curve.
You aren’t here for the story either, as most of the dialogue is cringy at best, and the entire premise has you recruit different characters for a gang. These missions go by quite fast, and thankfully have no restrictions on playing them. The downside is completing them leaves all of the slow open world stuff to deal with to unlock more story content. Apart from that, there’s an online component, where you fight for city control between multiple players. There isn’t much on offer just yet, and Gangstar: New Orleans quickly runs out of things to do, but I’m sure the developer will support the game throughout the coming years.
The game includes typical systems I’ve come to expect from an open world game, giving you a piece of land to develop, character customization and the unlimited sandbox. The whole map is accessible from the start, although I haven’t found much incentive in driving to and from missions. It doesn’t help that vehicle handling is extremely clunky, and lacks refinement of comparative Grand Theft Auto titles, which play much better overall on the controls. Gangstar’s touch layout is pretty competent, and doesn’t present the need to customize it, although larger buttons are much more helpful. There are few things to disappoint, and slow progression is the biggest of all. New Orleans doesn’t disappoint with the content for its free price, and pacing hits are expected from the features tied to this formula.
Gangstar: New Orleans brings in a fresh open-world experience, stirring up the stagnated genre that hasn’t seen a lot in recent years. It brings the series on par with Grand Theft Auto, offering a quality amount of content, available at a free price here. The game may be hindered by its free design, and progression can drag on, but a solid gameplay foundation well makes up for it. New Orleans provides a perfect excuse to jump into some open-world mayhem with a variety of guns and vehicles, giving players complete freedom to shape their journey. It’s hard not to compare Gangstar to Grand Theft Auto, and they are essentially the same game, but New Orleans finally brings quality competition to Rockstar’s mobile ports that this series so lacked over the past few years. At the free price, there are far worse things you could go with, and while I’m not the biggest fan of New Orleans’ progression, the game delivers a fun open-world experience that’s worth dipping into. With better gameplay, more activities and a bigger world, it is easily the best game in the series yet.