Version Reviewed: 1.0.0
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I was admittedly apprehensive going in to review Gangstar: Miami Vindication. I thought that it would be more of Gameloft trying to outdo someone else at their own game (in this case, with Grand Theft Auto: Vice City), and that, in the end, it would be a fairly drab affair. I still don't know why Gangstar couldn't have been set in New York or Houston or London, or any city besides Miami. Maybe I'm wrong in thinking that innovation is the key to success, but it seems that Gameloft is really missing their opportunity to break off from their GTA clone status and really try to take the lead in the genre. Regardless of my thought on the matter, Gangstar: Miami Vindication is a well-crafted GTA clone that will please even the most deep rooted doubters.
What I like most about Gameloft's interpretation of the GTA system is that they seem to give the game more focus. All to often in GTA I feel like I am running around doing nothing. As much as I like walking aimlessly around beautifully crafted cities, I'd rather play a game in the process. Miami Vindication lets you voluntarilly cut out most of the side business (killing random pedestrians, running from cops, jumping cars) and lets you focus more on the game at hand. Sure, you'll still waste some time, but I'd say that 90% of my play time was dedicated to the actual game.
The game itself follows the same formula that GTA mastered so well many years ago: go to base, watch a little cut-scene, get task, complete task, head to base for another task. The missions span from the typical "steal this car, kill this guy missions" to races, tailing cars, and taking pictures for surveillance. Nothing that Gangstar: Miami Vindication has to offer will blow you away in the originality department, but it is all done well. Missions are easy to follow, don't require too much jumping (jumping never works well with these games), and don't veer too far from the overall story.
As far as the story goes, it's a bit hokey, but no more hokey than its Vice City counterpart. As you'd expect, there are a fair number of gang leaders, mob bosses, shady police, and women with skintight clothing, all with a story to tell. What I didn't expect was that the stories they told would be voice acted as well as they were. Characters, for the most part, had accents that correctly represented their ethnicity and overall shadiness (although in one scene their was a dirty Latino cop that sounded like he could've been from Ohio). Also, unlike the original iteration of the Gangstar series, Miami Vindication took very little time at all to start swearing. I think I heard my first F-bomb less than five minutes in - something that I wasn't expecting. The swearing isn't overdone so you won't have to go clean your ears out like you did after playing Corporate Fury.
The most impressive thing of all in Miami Vindication is the sheer size of the game. The game's build of Miami is enormous, with Gameloft calling it "the most immersive full-3D crime simulation ever on iPhone/iPod Touch." The game has over 75 missions that span downtown, Miami Beach, the harbor, Miami Bay, and the swamps. Included in the city is a slew of new vehicles to drive, including boats, motorcycles, and cars. Everything in the city is beautifully rendered, but there are some little graphical quirks that are bothersome.
Unlike the nicely rendered cities and vehicles, the people are pretty sloppy looking. Their movements are all extremely robotic, and their actions are equally as strange. The strange movement issues aren't just with the people, though, as the vehicle driving mechanics have some bizarre moments. Occasionally, your boat will just wobble uncontrollably or your car will sometimes jump from roads onto bridges from underneath. Also disconcerting is the driving AI. People run into each other and into stop lights at rates that no city should become accustomed to. In a city like the one in Miami Vindication, the cops should be much more worried about people dying in traffic than a bit of drug smuggling. They need to get their priorities straight.
All in all, even with the graphical snafus, I think that Miami Vindication will please just about anyone who wants to play a good GTA-like game. With its huge city, impressive voice acting, and competent controls, I'd say that Miami Vindication is a big win for Gameloft. As happy as I am though with the Gangstar series, I'll be extremely annoyed if the next game is called Gangstar: Chinatown Rumble.