Rockstar's sensational GTA V trailer reminded us just how much we love crime spree sandboxes, and Gameloft can usually be relied upon to deliver some decent iOS knockoffs. Usually.
The Gangstar series may have wowed us back when we didn't know any better... but by the looks of this latest version, the series is due for a major overhaul or early retirement.
See, the familiar elements are still here. After gang second-in-command Raul ends up disfigured and unrecognisable from a mysterious murder attempt, he'll need to claw his way back to dominance the only way he knows how: popping caps, stealing cars and generally being extremely unpleasant to all and sundry. Rio is impressively large and contains a far amount of missions to do... which would be fine if everything wasn't so horribly implemented.
There is no easy way to say this, so I'll go straight for the jugular. Gameloft's engine is longer fit for task. It's buggy, jaggy and incredibly underpowered compared to the latest wave of Unity titles, which impacts upon both mechanics and presentation.
In gameplay terms, the combat is unresponsive, fiddly and frequently glitchy (especially brawling) - and since you'll be doing so much of it, this quickly becomes a dealbreaker. Bikes also showcase truly bizarre handling that would make Sir Isaac Newton spin in his grave.
Presentation suffers on a much more profound level. Gangstar Rio looks passable on an iPad 2, but every other platform exhibits an outrageously small clipping plane and hilarious texture pop-in. Cars and pedestrians leap into existence meters in front of you. The texture work is abysmal. Models are primitively Kryten-esque. While some of the vistas can be ambiently attractive, each individual element is absolutely shocking.
Gangstar Rio certainly packs a lot of raw value. Over 60 missions and a respect-based experience system provides plenty to do, but damningly, you just won't have any fun grinding through it all. This boils down to the horrendous scripting that goes out of it's way to be as unpleasant and vulgar as possible, yet takes itself far too seriously in the process. Once you've factored in the truly awful writing and the worst voice acting you'll hear this year, the experience becomes an unremitting, unedifying slog. With no reason to like or identify with any of the characters, frankly, I wish it was a lot shorter.
- Lots to see, do and shoot up
- Persistent respect system
- Great raw value
- Hopelessly outdated engine leads to mechanical woes
- Looks passable on iPad 2, terrible elsewhere
- Thoroughly awful scripting, voice acting, storyline and characters
Summary: An obsolete engine and terrible design decisions cripple Gangstar Rio beyond all recognition or recommendation. There's plenty of content, but being big and being worth playing are two very different things.
Worse, it's a disappointing and lazy effort from a company who have been consistently wowing us all year... and one that clearly hammers home the need for a new engine. Where are all those Unreal Engine titles, exactly?
Compatibility: Compatible with iPhone 3GS, iPhone 4, iPhone 4S, iPod touch (3rd generation), iPod touch (4th generation) and iPad. Requires iOS 4.0 or later.
Price: £4.99 - App Store