Good hybrid-genre games are entertaining because they successfully integrate the best parts of our favorite games into one neat package. Take Gangland, for example. Equal parts strategy, role-playing and The Sims, it delivers a robust yet easy-to-play Mafia-themed romp. A moderately intriguing story about a vengeful brother moves the plot along, but you’ll care more about your own rise to the top than about the filler narrative.

12_1Gangland is all about action and wanton rampage. Early in the game, you’ll spend a great deal of your time assassinating mob bosses and “persuading†local store owners to pay you protection money. Gang warfare inevitably ensues, with rival gang members opening fire on you wherever you go. Fortunately, Gangland’s combat controls are point-and-click — just like those in an RTS game — which lets you sit back and enjoy the action from afar. Opponents are very tough to kill, though, and since they don’t have health meters, shootouts can drag on a while.

When not fighting it out in the streets, you’re on a 16-mission quest to build your reputation as a force in the underground. To do this, you’ll have to acquire territories and allies in each of Paradise City’s map locations. Hired thugs don’t follow you from mission to mission, however. Instead, you’re forced to hire ever-more-powerful special units such as snipers and assassins as the game progresses.

11_1Though you don’t have them with you for long, your henchmen gain experience and improve their skills and attributes as you complete assignments, as they would in an RPG. Unfortunately, higher-level units aren’t noticeably better than their rookie counterparts. The world of Paradise City is rendered in great detail, with entire city blocks modeled and open for exploration. Buildings such as brothels, restaurants, shops, and other “legitimate businesses†sometimes look a bit same-y, but I never got lost thanks to Gangland’s helpful mini-map and navigation controls.

I did find managing all my properties to be a bit frustrating, though. Later gameplay becomes a SimCity-like affair, and after a while, I grew weary of constantly keeping my eye out for cops, while at the same time protecting members of my crime family from rivals as they wandered around town. Enemy NPCs clutter the streets and are easily provoked into firefights.

My biggest gripe involves Gangland’s implementation of vehicles. You’re occasionally given cars for drive-by shootings, but their awful handling makes completing those levels a chore. While the gameplay isn’t perfect, Gangland is not without some fun gameplay elements as well. When it’s at its best, it succeeds as a fun multi-genre hybrid with a strong emphasis on action.

System Requirements: Pentium II 233 MHz, 32 MB RAM, Win95

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