A significant reason for the onset of a mid-life crisis, it's generally accepted, rests on the notion of a feeling of deep disappointment at how things have turned out. Alas, it's a feeling players of Gangs of London will soon know more intimately than they would wish to.
Initially promising, many expected Sony's release to deliver the goods – a reasonable assumption given that the company has a mostly enviable track record when it comes to work produced in-house. In addition, we presume it's also very aware of the PSP's need for decent software as it approaches its second UK Christmas.
A shame then that Gangs of London is one hell of a turkey.
It's not that the content lacks breadth. Aside from the main event and its Free Roaming mode, there's The Pub, which doesn't involve drinking but does offer multiplayer darts, skittles, pool (both US and UK) and a variation of Snake, the classic handset game. All are well-executed and pleasingly compelling. Or should you fancy something with a bit more meat, consider Gang Battle, a turn-based strategy board game style option that sees you trying to conquer sectors of London while fighting off rival gangs.
That's also in effect what you do in Story mode, albeit in a 3D graphical approximation of the capital. And it's with this central option the game manages to shoot itself in the foot.
The set-up is straightforward: once you've selected the gang you'd like to be part of, you go off to claim the London criminal underworld as your own. Obviously other gangs are unlikely to relinquish their turf without a fight, so you'll spend your time killing their members until you've disposed of their leader.
Whether you do this systematically by only opting for the missions involving the opponent you're currently most involved with or arbitrarily by going up against several gangs at once won't change the fact that the tasks you face soon feel repetitive, mostly involving premeditated hits, defense of a location, car ramming, protection work or a stealth undertaking, with cut-scenes bookending the action and moving the plot along – the latter being a decidedly mixed blessing.
The dialogue is shocking. Not because of the language, which is some of the harshest yet heard in a game, but because the script is often so poor, clichéd or, in a fascinating twist, a combination of both. It is almost comical, though not intentionally – there's certainly no evidence of the wit found in the GTA games, for instance. And while the level of violence may be the same, by playing it straight Gangs of London enters a realm of moral dubiousness that Rockstar's games cleverly avoid.
Ultimately, Sony's game feels just as nasty as the London criminal underworld it attempts to portray. If that is the intention, it's certainly succeeded. However it's doubtful it also meant for Gangs of London's mechanics to match the notorious badness of the Kray twins. The majority of the action is so poorly-implemented, you'll feel like you're mugging yourself just by switching on your PSP.
Take, for example, the aneurism-inducing stealth missions, which involve going up against a number of gun-toting fiends with merely a knife in your hand. Fine when you manage to sneak your clunky avatar behind them and stab them in the neck, but highly irritating when they spot and shoot you repeatedly while you try desperately, though usually hopelessly, to get your blade to connect with the intended target. The swearing that ensues from having to restart the mission is at least in good company.
For most other tasks you're usually accompanied by three cronies who you can either swap between and control directly or instruct with a command system that is, regrettably, as simple as their intelligence. They often stand in the wrong place, get flummoxed by the environment and display remarkably little regard for self-preservation. Then again, their adversaries aren't exactly Nobel Physics Prize winning material either.
Don't put Gangs of London on anyone's Christmas list. Whether it's stealth, driving or shooting, the game feels limited and unengaging, is hampered by unresponsive controls and completely lacks the necessary polish of a modern production. The presence of the decent mini-games improves matters but, as with most 50-year-olds purchasing a sports car, a bit of fun on the side hardly disguises the underlying problem.