Gangsta Paradise is a simple game, not in terms of difficulty, but in scope. Developed and self-published by Prison Games, Gangsta Paradise is essentially a Shoot ‘em Up, but it’s lacking a few of the typical elements that are commonly seen in the genre. At first glance, it looks like it could be a Tower Defense game, but there are no strategic defense elements involved like traps or automated turrets – just you and your gun(s). I have mixed feelings about this game, it has a decent foundation, but it’s only that, a foundation, there’s no second floor, and the first floor might be missing a few rooms.
The story is pretty much non-existent in the actual game. According to the store page, a new group of gangsters has moved into town, lead by Al Calzone. His gang is demanding protection money from all the local businesses and people who aren’t paying are getting hurt. The player character is worried that they’ll be coming to his mother’s flower shop next so he takes it upon himself to put a stop to all of it. Before I read that I figured you played as a rival gang member, or perhaps some sort of rogue ex-mafia hitman, because your character looks like a stereotypical guy in the Italian Mafia similar to some of the enemy characters. He’s also kind of badass – he has a perpetual stance that he stays in the entire game, leaning against a classic 1940’s era car in every stage.
You might be wondering how does he lean against a car the entire game? Don’t you move around? Yes, of course you can move… but only up and down, no left or right here. So your character just slides up and down the side of the cars, nonchalant and looking cool. You might think that seems a little lazy, and it is. I would give them a pass if there were other characters you could play as, but there aren’t. Just the one guy. I know game development isn’t easy, but I would have liked another character or two to pick from, especially since each character obviously has a very limited amount of animations.
The main gameplay element in Gangsta Paradise is shooting as many gangsters as possible before they destroy the barricade in front of you. Pressing the A button makes your character shoot his gun; fortunately, it can be held down so you don’t have to continuously tap the button. Another helpful element is the aiming line your character has coming out of his gun. Without it, the game would be much more difficult, but on the other hand, it could be interesting if there was a hard mode where it was turned off. Headshots do extra damage, and the visual aim-assist makes it easy to line them up. When you kill an enemy they drop a coin, which is automatically picked up after a second or two. The coins dropped by stronger enemies in later levels are worth more. The money you accumulate is very important, it can be used during gameplay to buy more powerful guns. There are four guns you can temporarily buy: dual revolvers, a Tommy gun, a shotgun, and a minigun. They last until they run out of ammo and then the default pistol is re-equipped. The dual revolvers are available from the start of the game but the other guns are only available once you reach certain levels and can only be used in subsequent levels. The guns make the gameplay more interesting but it would be nice if there were a few more guns, four doesn’t seem like much for a game where all you do is shoot guns at bad guys.
The starting gun is just a regular pistol with a seven-round clip that reloads faster than the other guns but is also relatively weak. The Y button initiates a reload of your current gun, but they automatically reload once the current clip is empty. It would have been interesting if there was a fast reload mechanic like in the Gears of War franchise. The starting pistol has infinite ammo for reloads whereas the guns you can purchase have a limited amount of extra ammo, and with the exception of the shotgun they reload incredibly slowly. Since you can’t move left and right, those buttons let you select which weapon you would like to purchase during the level, and pressing RT buys the selected gun, if you have enough money. A couple of times I encountered a bug where I would purchase a gun in the heat of battle and then it wouldn’t switch to the one i just bought, instead I would still have my basic pistol but the money was gone. This was sort of frustrating but the levels aren’t that long so it wasn’t that big of a deal. You also have a grenade that you can throw with LT that costs money each time you use it (it costs more in later levels). When activated, it damages the enemies in the area where you throw it, and for some reason, the grenade also shocks them, freezing any of the affected enemies in place for a few seconds. This saved me more than a few times.
From the main menu, you can use the extra money you have earned to upgrade each of the weapons and increase the damage they do. It would be nice if they had some other upgrade options like faster reload speed, bigger magazines, or different types of grenades. You can also upgrade your barricade, which increases its health. Every four upgrades it changes in appearance. The first upgrade is a barb wire fence which looks cool but doesn’t hurt the enemies once they reach it. Speaking of the menu, there aren’t really any other options, there isn’t even an options menu.
The game is made up of forty stages spread evenly over four Episodes. Each stage represents a day and there’s a bar at the top right that lets you know how far into the stage you are. Enemies come at you in groups, and each group is always made up of the same type of enemy; sometimes they get a little mixed together if you’re in a hectic section, which is tough but the variety is nice to see on the screen. Each episode has a slightly different look; like a street during the day, or an alley at night.
Overall the art is adequate. The enemy characters are by far the best part of the art design. There’s a large variety of enemies for you to fill full of lead; most have melee attacks but some have ranged attacks, you can usually tell by the weapon they’re holding. Some of my favorites include the fat chefs who throw fish at you, the baklava-wearing demolition guy who looks like the spy from Team Fortress, and the suit-wearing guys carrying car doors as a shield forcing you to headshot them through the window. Overall the art style sort of reminds me of what you might see in a higher-end Flash game or a Free-to-Play mobile game.
The audio design overall is pretty average. The menu music stands out and sounds like what you might hear in a 1940’s nightclub. There’s another jazzy big band-sounding track that plays during the levels, but the main audio elements during gameplay are the sounds of the gunfire, which at most points is pretty constant, and each weapon sounds how you would expect.
Overall the game took me 2-3 hours to beat, but I still have some grindy achievements left to unlock. The game gives you a rating of one to three bullet holes for each level, similar to stars in other games. Three holes is the top rating, and as I played I was trying to get three holes in each level. I didn’t have much problem through the first three episodes but the last ten levels really ramped up the difficulty. Fortunately, the game features a local co-op mode and I enlisted my lovely girlfriend to help me. It was fun playing in co-op and much easier to earn the highest ratings in the levels. My girlfriend and I were both disappointed to find out that the second player’s character is exactly the same as the first, but with a pink outline instead of a blue one. If you look at the title screen at the top you’ll see there’s a female sniper aiming her rifle at the bad guys and a le-resistance looking fellow, I assumed they would be selectable for the second player since they didn’t make an appearance anywhere else in the game, but I was wrong.
Gangsta Paradise is sort of a misnomer, you end up killing all the gangsters so I don’t know how that could be a paradise for them, and the game as a whole is not a paradise either – it’s more like a purgatory, completely middle of the road, nothing great about it, but nothing terrible either. With the exception of the enemies, there isn’t much variety. The game is somewhat bare-bones and a one-trick pony, but the trick it performs it does adequately, getting a new gun just in time and mowing down enemies is satisfying. Overall I had an alright time playing the game, especially in co-op. It could use a few more modes, perhaps an endless mode, or a hard mode, and the game should really have included a few more playable character options, one doesn’t really cut it. It’s only $7 in the Xbox store which seems reasonable, but if you’re at all hesitant wait until it goes on sale.Become a Patron!
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.