Released in 1998, the original Gangsters had a promising premise, but it was marred by the fact that it was more complicated than complex. There was potentially a deep strategy game hidden somewhere beneath its convoluted interface and strange artificial intelligence problems, but finding that game was a chore. For Gangsters 2, developer Hothouse Creations has attempted to remedy the problems of the first. The interface has been streamlined, and the game has been simplified. Unfortunately, the company also removed much of the detail, and the resultant game doesn't offer you much to do. It's repetitive and confusing in some areas, and too simple in others. And the interface, though easier to understand, is still problematic.
In Gangsters 2, you play as Joey Bane, a small-time mobster looking to avenge the death of his father and become big-time in the process. You begin in the city of Buffalo Falls, where you must hunt down a few of the men responsible for your father's death and establish a foothold for your operations. You hire gangsters and the muscle to protect them, and you send them out into enemy territory to wreak havoc on your rivals' establishments, kill their henchmen, and take over their operations.
As the game goes on, you'll be able to open your own illegal businesses, hire more gangsters, buy more equipment, and that's about it. There isn't much depth to the game, and neither the business simulation nor the combat elements are very interesting.
A typical scenario will go something like this: You begin with your territory established. There are a few illegal businesses already set up or a few predetermined locations where you can set them up yourself. Then you send gangsters out to protect your investments or hire local muscle to guard them. Some enemy gang members will inevitably come in and try to wreck your buildings, and your guys will kill them. Once you're set up, you send your guys to their territory and take key places. Then you either take over the objective location or kill the guy you're supposed to kill. And so on.
The scenarios don't offer much variety, though they'll get bigger, and the enemy will get stronger. There are many frustrations packed into this seemingly simple setup. For one thing, hiring business managers to run your operations is difficult. You must first set up the business, then switch over to a newspaper screen and skim the paper to find someone to run it. Then you switch back to the business and tell the newly hired manager to go there. It's unnecessarily complicated, and there's no strategic reason why you can't simply hire a manager from the building screen.
The fact that areas like this are so obtuse seems to be at odds with the overall simplicity of the game. You have very little control over your gangsters. Combat involves nothing more than getting them near the opposition, at which point your forces will fight to the death or flee, depending on how high you set their aggression level. At times, Gangsters 2 is like playing a simple real-time strategy game that only allows you one type of unit.
What's more frustrating is that your gangsters will earn notoriety, and if it gets too high the police will come after them. Never mind that there are no living witnesses to a crime--simply killing enemy gangsters in your territory will increase a gangster's notoriety. The problem is, the whole game seems to be centered on these altercations, and in the beginning you have only a handful of gangsters at your disposal.
The graphics in Gangsters 2 are simple but appropriate. The cities you'll take over are obviously modeled on 1920s Chicago, but you won't spend much time looking at them. The game is almost unplayable on the city level, if only because the visible area is so small that there's no real indication of which buildings are visible. The most useful view is the map view, which shows the important buildings as icons and the gangsters as little colored dots. You can issue orders from this view, and you'll spend most of your time doing so. Because of this, Gangsters 2 becomes a game of sending green dots over to the yellow dots, and hoping the yellow dots disappear before the green dots.
The sound is likewise very simple. The music is unobtrusive, and the ambient city sounds are authentic if sparse. But the narrator, who runs you through the game's light tutorial and gives you mission briefings, is another story. The monologue is read with little inflection, and seems like the narrator is reading his lines for the first time. It's done in probably the world's worst Joe Pesci imitation, and it's bad enough to make you say, "yes, you are a clown."
The business element of Gangsters 2 is just as plain as the combat. You buy blocks or take over those controlled by your enemies. You can set up illegal businesses in some of the buildings, but they are predetermined, and you get little choice in the matter, other than whether or not you want to set them up. This isn't really a choice, as that's the only way you're going to make money. Businesses provide a certain amount of money per game-hour (which translates to a few minutes of real time), and often you must sit around and wait until you have enough money to buy another place or hire more goons. There's no way to speed up the game, which makes the downtime somewhat boring.
Like Gangsters, Gangsters 2 seems to be a deep strategy game. You can bribe police officials, break your men out of prison, kidnap enemy gangsters, and more. The problem is, you never need to, unless a mission objective specifically requires it. The scenarios are relatively easy, and once you get a strong gang together, you can tear through enemy territory in a very short amount of time.
If the business elements were deeper, or if there was some sort of strategic combat in the game, Gangsters 2 could have been a much more interesting game. But the developer not only simplified the original game, it gutted it. The end result leaves you with few options and few meaningful decisions to make. The original Gangsters was deep but confusing; Gangsters 2 is just shallow.