Version Reviewed: 1.0
Lasting Appeal [rating:3/5]
There is nothing in the world worse than starting to play a game with expectations. Whether they expectations are bad or good doesn't matter, it's just the fact that you already have some pre-conceived thought in your head about a product that clouds your judgement. I ran into this problem when I first heard about Car Jack Streets. I just knew deep down that I was supposed to like this game. Maybe my pre-conceived opinion was based on the same thing that made Grand Theft Auto and GTA 2 so tempting. I felt in Car Jack Streets, as with the original two GTA games, that I was getting away with something. In a sea of normal platformers and puzzle games, Car Jack Streets, much like GTA before it, is violent... absurdly violent if you think about it. The premise of the whole game is to steal cars to do jobs to pay back a mob boss. Senseless death is just a side effect... something that you become desensitized to almost instantly. Running over and shooting people is just how the game works, and I'm quite glad that Apple let the game into the iTunes store.
As for the game itself, there are parts of it that work and parts of it that don't. The best thing about this game, hands down, is the presentation. The graphics of the game look like they could've come straight from GTA2. You are presented with a birds-eye view of your location, with detailed buildings, cars, and pedestrians working organically together. There are absolutely no frame rate or clipping issues throughout, even during explosion scenes. The best thing about the graphics is that the time of day in the game is directly influenced by the actual time of day. If you play the game before bed, it will be night time. If you play the game on your lunch break... or during the work day, the game will be bright and sunny. I've never seen rain... but maybe it tracks your weather too. I live in Phoenix, so rain doesn't happen too often around me, but if anyone has found in-game rain, let me know.
The king of the game is definitely the sound. During the game, there is some faint background noise with the occasional gunshot sound, usually emanating from your character as you shoot the oncoming law enforcement. The real gem happens when you enter a vehicle. Just like GTA3, when you enter a vehicle, the radio turns on. I fully expected some kind of Mega Man style song, but the songs that play are real tracks played by real people. There are a bunch of them, and the in-game radio announcers do a great job. More games need to incorporate real songs into their albums, it just makes the entire in-game experience that much more personal.
Nobody will argue that the graphics and sound are the kings of this show, but story and gameplay are pretty decent too. The story starts with you, Randal, owing a million dollars in gambling debt to a mob boss named Frankie. The story is presented to you in a great comic book format that really submerses you into the game. The goal for you is to deliver a certain amount of money to Frankie every day, and the days all pass in real time. There is a clock on screen that is the actual time that not only affects when you have to deliver the money, but also, as previously mentioned, the on-screen daylight. Earning money in the game is a simple task, with people calling your character every minute or so to do jobs. The jobs usually involve killing someone or blowing up a building... you know, the standard fare.
Unfortunately, my biggest problem with the game is the car driving controls. Regular foot walking is fine, just move a D-pad around the screen an you move in that direction, but the car moves a bit differently. When you get into a car, you are given the forward backwards controls on the right side and the steering on the left. These controls work when going up on the screen, but going down requires you to reorientate yourself. When coming towards you, in order to turn right you must move the pad to the left. This is fine and all, but when trying to escape the cops I've often made some stupid driving maneuvers, turning into walls and oncoming traffic. Occasionally I've even pulled direct turns into buildings, unfortunately killing myself in the process. It would be really nice of Tag Games if I were given the option to be able to drive with the same controls that are used for on-foot movement (regular D-pad). The other problem with the car is that when you hit something, there is no give. If just the corner of your car gets hit by another car, you make a full stop and have to back up to drive away. You'll learn quickly that stop and go traffic on the iPhone is way worse than real life,.
I'm just not so sure that playing Car Jack Streets gives me that "loving feeling". While I think that the premise is cool, paying off a million dollar debt in real time, job at a time, just doesn't make me absolutely want to come back and play every day. The million dollar mark just seems like such a huge number when I'm only making $1,000 at a time. After a while, the sceneries start to blend together and the gameplay gets a bit stale. I think the biggest problem with the game is that there is just not enough variety. Driving around completing jobs is fun for a while, but when you have to go through stop and go traffic on the iPhone just to get anywhere, you don't want to drive around anymore. If everything were just closer together I would walk everywhere... but then I would miss the sound track. Hmm.
Overall, I would probably recommend the game, but it is not an unconditional recommendation. I can't see myself coming back to this game every day, or even sporadically in a few months just because of the quality of some of the other iPhone games. The driving is just a bit too time consuming for this one to be a mega hit, but if you like GTA 1+2, you will probably get a good deal of satisfaction from it. The graphics are amazing, the sound is spectacular, an the walking controls are really fun, so even if you don't enjoy the stop and go driving or the lack of urgency, you will still find some enjoyment in Car Jack Streets. If I had to choose between this game and a Subway footlong sub, I would probably go with the game... but please eat something. Starving yourself isn't good, even if it is for the sake of iPhone gaming glory.