Despite numerous benchmark releases, and staggering profits year after year, the humble mobile phone game still fails to be taken seriously by many of those who call themselves 'gamers'. Before that can change, mobile gaming as a whole is going to have to pass several milestones to prove itself to the cynics.
One of the biggest of those milestones will drop when a worthy rival to the Grand Theft Auto series makes it to the screens of mobiles, and in American Gangster we have our latest, and perhaps most successful attempt at just that. The surprisingly good movie has made for a surprisingly good game, although sadly it feels far more like a prelude to a brilliant sequel than an instant classic.
If you're familiar with GTA or any of its host of clones you'll know the format here, perhaps too well. You explore a city on car or on foot, hunting down the blips on your radar that mark the starting points of a host of missions. Most of these involve pick-ups, assassinations and getaways, though the real twist here is that you also get to play a fearless go-getting cop.
The setting in 1970s Harlem provides cool and cliché in equal measure, but thanks to some genuinely excellent graphical polish and visual style, American Gangster feels every part the big budget mobile game. Sure, you will stumble across the odd glitch, and the change over from night to day is rather laughable, but as was the case on consoles with the first 3D GTA, the scope and ambition of this release makes some minor technical problems quite forgivable.
You spend most of your time driving, which is a little fiddly at first, but will quickly find yourself pulling donuts and sweeping corners like Steve McQueen in Bullitt.
However, the automotive exploits are also the start of American Gangster's problems. While the open road makes for a perfect raceway, swerve into a crowded park or other public space and it is all too easy to become wedged between trees, or even stuck against a person. This is frustrating at best, and infuriating when you are moments from completing a difficult mission.
The city is also cursed by a repetitive layout, making driving slightly tiresome as you progress, but compared to the missions themselves, the game map feels rife with variety. That's because missions are incredibly similar throughout, almost always sending you on a soulless goose chase from one point to another, and even when the gunplay begins to increase in prominence, things quickly feel far too familiar.
Despite this, overall American Gangster is a very enjoyable attempt at bringing sandbox play to your phone, and considering its depth it has some impressive controls. While it seems a little harsh to continually compare the game to one of the most respected console titles ever created, the fact we do is a testament to American Gangster's ambition. Sadly, this time around the experience doesn't quite measure up but based on this performance it can't be long before a mobile contender gets the console boys to sit up and pay some respect.