Hands on with Gangstar: West Coast Hustle on iPhone

Drop off those nickel GTA clones and prepare to pick up Gameloft's impressive dime piece

Hands on with Gangstar: West Coast Hustle on iPhone

There's one thing that was made clear in our yesterday afternoon drive-by with Gangstar: West Coast Hustle, and it's this: damn, it's good to be a gangstar.

Gameloft's parody should have no problem bustin' a cap in competitors Payback and Car Jack Streets by virtue of its slick 3D graphics. The familiar controls and entertaining missions, however, are what promise to make this gang-banging action game our homeboy.

To be sure, improvements must be made to improve stability and polish up the controls, but we like how West Coast Hustle currently rolls.

Continuing directly from the events of Gangstar: Kings of LA, this iPhone follow up puts you in the low-riding jeans of a gang banger returning from the US-Mexican border to the city of angels, Los Angeles. Starting from nothing, you take on missions hustling hoes, delivering drugs, and roughing up the hombres in the neighbourhood on your way to the top. It's your typical coming-of-age gangster story.

What makes West Coast Hustle different is the third-person perspective. Unlike the unwieldy top-down views offered by competing titles, here you're in the thick of the action with full control over the view. A slide of your finger anywhere on the screen rotates the camera. It's seemingly insignificant, but the 3D mechanics ensure the game aligns itself with the most recent instalments of Rockstar's Grand Theft Auto.

The controls contribute to that appeal. A virtual analogue stick allows you control over your thug on foot, while action buttons on the right side of the screen enable you to jack vehicles and attack enemies. It's a setup that works extremely well, which isn't surprising given improvements since this interface was previously employed in Terminator Salvation.

Driving offers three distinct control schemes, only one of which we took for a spin. The default setup involves sliding a horizontal pad on the left to steer, with acceleration and brakes applied via pedals on the right. We're told two additional options will be supplied: a virtual steering wheel and an accelerometer mode that translates tilts of your handset into turns.

By virtue of having played other Gameloft titles that utilise the same driving controls, we're generally okay with the default setting, although there's plenty of room for improvement. For example, use of a virtual analogue stick for steering would be fantastic. The option to turn on the accelerometer is intriguing, though we're hesitant to assume it's the ideal solution given that it isn't being billed as the default or preferred method of control.

Ultimately, what's important is that West Coast Hustle has controls that don't distract from the hilarious gameplay. Not having to fumble with the touchscreen means enjoying over-the-top missions.

One early task had us picking up a ('sex worker' - ed) and a client in a limousine, only to drive around downtown Los Angeles while they conduct business in the back. The goal is to keep the ride from getting bumpy while the pair get on with the bump 'n' grind.

Another mission much later in the game involves a serious scuffle with prison inmates that puts the combat controls to the test. Jamming on the attack button at the right lets the punches fly (or fires off a gun, if you have one equipped). Like Grand Theft Auto, you attack a target that is automatically selected based on the enemy closest to your position. It largely works, though we were unable to discern how to switch targets.

Even with these issues, West Coast Hustle already looks light years ahead of the open world action games available on iPhone.

Control - which has been a critical point of contention in Payback and Car Jack Streets - feels largely right here. Combine that with visual flair, an original soundtrack, laugh-out-loud missions and you've got a game worth spending some Gs on come August.