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More hands on with Gameloft's Gangstar: West Coast Hustle

This one's going to be big

More hands on with Gameloft's Gangstar: West Coast Hustle

No, you're not seeing double. Last week, Tracy got his hands on Gangstar: West Coast Hustle, and this week it's my turn.

Normally we wouldn't bother you with such duplication but the build of the game I got to play was newer and covered some features that Tracy didn't get to see.

And, with Gameloft clearly looking to go big on Gangstar - the first proper take on a 3D open-world GTA game on iPhone and iPod touch - the additional coverage is probably justified right?

As Tracy pointed out, the background to the game is a typical coming-of-age gangster story, with you and your chum breaking into the US after trouble following a bank raid in Mexico (of which more later). You end up in LA, or, better put, an iPhone-sized version of LA that's split into five areas.

You get missions by following the blue arrow that shown on the mini-map in the top left hand corner of the screen. This is also where you touch to open up the sub menus for things such as changing the control method - i.e. from tilt to touch driving - as well as game options such as services i.e. using your cash for tasks such as bribing cops.

Tracy has already explained the basic controls: there's a virtual left joystick for movement and an action touch button on the right for punching and shooting. Opening up the cheat mode, however, I got access to all the weapons.

These start with a single 9mm pistol and upgrade to dual pistols, Uzi(s), a shotgun, a AK47 rifle, and end with a RPG-style rocket launcher and sniper rifle, which brings up a zoomed-in scope that you can move around the screen. There was a camera, too, which presumably is used in spying missions. The Uzi and the shotgun were the most fun, especially the Uzi. It's fired using the cod gangster 90-degree twist position.

Of course, armed with such weapons, I did my best to cause trouble. Obviously, there aren't as many pedestrians wandering around as in a console game, but there were some available for target practice. Interestingly you gain cash for shooting them - controversy alert! - as well as being able to pick any other items they drop.

Character AI is apparently still being optimised but the pedestrians didn't run away from the gun-totting madman. Nor indeed did the cops come to take me down. The cops were very aggressive, however, when my driving caused accidents. You have a notoriety meter which consists of a gauge that fills up with cop badges depending on how bad you've been. You can hide or change cars to reduce your alert status.

At this point, I should also mention the in-game radio stations. There are five in total and you can flick between them with your finger as they are shown in the middle top of the screen. The music wasn't licensed, but composed in-house around themes such as rock, pop, hip-hop, dance etc. The one track that stuck in my head was a total Franz Ferdinand rip.

Another element that's important for the plot was a mission I played that was told in flashback. Located in back in a Mexican prison, I had to bare-knuckle fight various inmates to gain respect to join one of the prison gangs. Neatly this mission used a graphical effect similar to a scratched film to demonstrate its flashback nature.

In total, there are five chapters for each area of LA plus loads of side missions to attempt. Gameloft couldn't provide official number for total playtime but from what I've seen I'd consider Gangstars to be over 15 hours long.

The final things I noticed were on the main home menu was a button marked UbiFriends, which is sister company Ubisoft's social gaming Facebook portal. And there was a Twitter button, so integrating your actions within Gangstar to your wider world of connected mates is certainly high on Gameloft's agenda.

It's also worth mentioning that while the environments of the game are very impressive - by far the best free-roaming 3D game we've yet seen on iPhone - there were issues with scenery popping up.

Now I'd expect much of this to be cleared up as the game is optimised prior to launch. Indeed, it was an aesthetic issue and didn't affect gameplay, but it will be interesting to see how far Gameloft's development team is pushing the iPhone/iPod touch hardware with this game.

This, effectively, is what pop up is: pop up happens when there's too much game to fit in the device's memory. There will be a high resolution version specifically optimised for iPhone 3GS, of course.

As for news of pricing and release date, we don't know anything official, but we'd expect Gangstar: West Coast Hustle to be released sometime during August and cost $9.99 or £5.99.