There's no hiding the rush to satiate hardcore gaming lusts for a Grand Theft Auto-style sandbox action game on iPhone and Gangstar: West Coast Hustle is the latest and without a doubt the greatest yet. With its pimped out 3D graphics and thoroughly polished controls, this ambitious action title does a bang up job of delivering entertaining gang gameplay.
West Coast Hustle adorns you with the gold chains and sleeveless white T-shirt of P.Thug, a gang banger who goes back, back to Cali, Cali after escaping from Mexico. After he refuses his best friend's advice to lay low, the two decide to slowly work their way back into the thick of turf wars in the hopes of seizing control of the city for themselves.
The emphasis lies squarely on the story, which starts you off running piddly errands as you establish trust with the local shot callers. Side missions and mini-games are few and far between: instead, the game focuses on P.Thug's unlikely adventure.
Despite its sandbox structure, West Coast Hustle wisely drives play forward using the story. While moments of predictability riddle the story with holes like a Hummer caught in a drive-by, it gives purpose to the various criminal acts that you commit.
Unlike other open world action games where you're thrown random missions for the sake of earning money, you're always given a reason for completing each mission you undertake. It makes the experience that much more enjoyable because you're motivated to pursue the story.
Money does play a role, albeit a minor one. Weapons and restorative items can be picked up using cash earned by killing enemies, running over innocents, and completing missions. One inventive element even lets you spend dough corrupting cops so they can spend time eating donuts instead of chasing you down. None of this is required, though, and you could just as easily make it through the game with few expenditures.
The relative unimportance of cash in West Coast Hustle signifies a broader quality of its design. A limited amount of gameplay exists away from the story, which has a chilling effect on exploration. There's no need to take on the few side missions that pop up because you don't really need the money. There aren't any hidden collectibles, so you don't have to bother searching side streets and back alleys.
Motivation to explore, which has long been a hallmark of the Grand Theft Auto franchise that serves as inspiration here, has been capped. The ability to hit the pause menu and simply select missions from a list contributes to this too, despite its seemingly helpful nature.
Fun scripted missions drive the game forward, even if more could be done to fill the streets with activity. Give us collectibles, real estate, customisable clothing, mini-games, exotic weapons. West Coast Hustle is a pretty sandbox - we just want a few more toys within which to play..
This is a game that flaunts a lot of bling - slick visuals, functional controls, challenging missions - and it far surpasses any previous effort at open world gameplay on iPhone. There's room for improvement, whether it's reducing graphical pop up on the horizon or incorporating more side missions, but these aren't sufficient to detract from an otherwise exhilarating crime spree.