If Zynga’s Mafia Wars taught us anything, it’s that people like to play the bad guy. Though the concept has been done time and time again, now it’s Glu Mobile’s turn to make an iteration on the criminal-based role-playing game with its newest iOS release, Big Time Gangsta for iPhone and iPad. Though it is comparable in some respects, to Mafia Wars, the game is actually quite different, hosting a number of social gaming mechanics seen across other Facebook RPGs.
Perhaps that is the best way to describe it: A mobile-Facebook-style-RPG. Players battle non-player rivals, complete missions, and attempt to be the top person within the criminal underworld. Unfortunately, while this sounds interesting, the whole of the game is dramatically limited by its somewhat arbitrary objectives and its cyclical design. Moreover, while the game has text-book use of social game monetization mechanics, the lack of social play makes most of the design fall short of its potential.
Players take on the role of a “big name” gangster that has recently been released from prison. Returning to their “hood,” a bunch of no-names have taken over and it’s time for the user to bring things back under their control, reassuming their former glory and respect.
In order to do this, players must recruit non-player characters and tap on buildings that have a gun icon above them. Doing so will engage the user in a simple RPG’ish battle against the current resident gangs as they actively shoot at one another. There is minimal control in this, as players can only tap on the enemies in order to shoot faster, with whatever friendly gang member is selected, or opt to use consumable items (more on this in a second). Other than this, when players have multiple gang members on the screen, they can tap different ones to fire with.
The only other “significant” amount of control stems from the consumable power ups — which are used during combat to temporarily boost things such as damage, defense, accuracy, and so on. Players are able to purchase them using both in-game or virtual currency. Health kits are also available to heal them.
Though the usefulness of health kits is already pretty obvious, they also help keep gang members from being significantly injured (they lose all their health in a fight) and being sent to the hospital. Should this happen, it will take an extended period of time for them to recuperate, meaning they cannot be used for anything else in the game until they have done so. As a monetization element, players can make them recuperate more quickly by spending a virtual currency called “Cred.”
Beyond being used to purchase extra gang members at any time, Cred can also be utilized to purchase more powerful weapons and consumable items.
With this app, players can assign any gang member to do a mission that will take a set period of time (a few minutes to a few hours). The longer it takes to do, the more income it will earn, but the gangster is unable to participate in anything until its completion. Using Cred can make the completion instant. For power gamers that want to use Cred, it can be purchased in quantities ranging from 10 to 400, costing $1.99 to $49.99 respectively. Additionally, the in-game currency can also be bought within the same price range (10,000 to 400,000 in-game currency respectively).
Unfortunately, the game comes off as extraordinarily repetitive and dull. Players tap a building to take it over, shoot some NPCs, and then periodically collect protection money and do missions from that location. They then repeat this process with new buildings with the only difference being more enemies. This cycle then repeats itself. There is no sense of any real progression or accomplishment, and the game‘s flavor is lost within the first five minutes. It’s all about making money, so that you can make even more money. There isn’t anything to customize; not even basic equipment choices for NPCs. There is nothing to spend money on except more guns and consumable items.
To add to the game’s problems, it utilizes monetization mechanics that are found in social games, but it holds no social play (or any real hook for that matter). In terms of Glu Mobile’s last tile, Contract Killer, the social-style monetization worked because it was different and fun to play the sniper and assassinate targets. With this type of game, the fun comes from playing with friends and trying to beat other players’ gangs or mafias. Additionally, with games like Mafia Wars, players are managing their friends, NPCs, armor, vehicles, stats, animals, locations, forms of income, enemies, and about a dozen more different things. Big Time Gangsta trims it down to, maybe, five or six things to manage, depending on how loosely one classifies “management,” as each one is exceedingly simple (e.g. managing guns consists of buying it and equipping it). To be fair, this is understandable because you generally need to simplify things drastically when porting ideas over from the desktop web to mobile devices.
Having just launched on March 31st, Big Time Gangsta has a lot of time to grow and evolve. But in its first iteration, it doesn’t leave a very strong impression. Everything the player does is overly simplistic with all the game play wrapped into a small, cyclical design granting no real sense of progression or accomplishment. Moreover, while Glu has experimented successfully with this monetization style in other games like Contract Killer, the lack of social play and competition make it hard to appreciate in this title. In the end, Big Time Gangsta is an app that is going to need a few updates until it is truly worth playing.