Chicago 1930 Review
We head to Chicago and the era of prohibition, to go head-to-head with the city's gangsters in this strategy game.
Review by Tracy Bosworth
Published 1st March 2004
- Developer: Spellbound
- Publisher: Wanadoo Edition
- Release Date: 20th February 2004
Thanks to the prohibition of alcohol, the streets of Chicago have been turned into a criminal haven allowing gangs to completely take over the streets with their underground breweries, bars, casinos, brothels and nightclubs. All gang warfare is centred upon the control of the alcohol business and in 1928, Hank O’Neil and a smaller proportion of the authorities are running the town. All of a sudden another man with big plans appears on the scene. Don Falcone is now in town and he wants his share of the underworld monopoly, to contend him a special police force is set up creating open warfare between the mafia and the police.
Chicago 1930 has two career paths to choose from, working under the command of Don Falcone players can choose the side of the Mafia in which you merrily take over the city and stamp your authority on rival gangs. Alternatively you can choose the good side and become the police, here you will be required to clean up the streets and put a stop to the criminal gang ridden underworld.
Which ever side you decide to join you will recruit and lead a team of men through various missions which unfortunately serve little variation in terms of gameplay. Each side provides a main character for you to work with and it is this character who recruits the rest of your team (from a selection of available characters) for the missions.
Each character available to you has their own strengths and weaknesses and whilst one man might be great with a gun in his hand another may simply prefer to talk his way out of certain situations. It is these attributes which lead to an element of strategy during gameplay. Obviously it makes sense to equip the gunmen with guns and give a handful of cash at the ‘talker’, unfortunately during the actual missions these attributes and skills become useless and less apparent as the guys in the team just tend to morph into complete clones of each other making any strategic plans fly straight out of the window, they’re all as useless as each other!
Whilst the game itself certainly has its good points, they tend to be outweighed by the bad. The control system for one is extremely sluggish and there are far too many issues apparent. All missions tend to revolve around wondering through large areas covering various buildings, locked doors and corridors looking for someone to talk to, someone to kill and rob or simply looking for a specific object. It DOES get tedious and this is not helped by the poor combat system and lack of strategic moves. You would think for instance that since the game gives you the option of controlling a group of men that you would actually be able to assign certain tasks for them to do. But no, the best options available to you are to have your crew back you up in gunfights and hope that they take the bullets for your important character or to simply send the useless ones ahead in order to clear the way for the important one.
Combat is another disaster, enemies are usually armed with either guns or hand weapons such as bats and knuckle dusters and although they are pretty equal to you in terms of ability, they are incredibly slow to act and spend a silly amount of time aiming and fumbling around fitting weapons. Hand to hand Combat largely consists of moving quickly in the hope that you strike them before they strike you, if you hit them first, great, tie them up and move on. However, if they get you first you will be ‘knocked out’ meaning you will have to endure a ridiculous 5 minute wait whilst your character comes around. Why on earth did the developers do this??? It’s stupid! The game itself suggests leaving the computer for a while until the guy gets up off the floor! It just seems as though they left this bit until last, couldn’t think of anything good to do when a character gets knocked out so decided to simply take him out of play for a while…it simply doesn’t work and leaves players sat with nothing to do for 5 minutes.
The gun fights are even worse, even with using the best gun man I had, the shots never seemed to hit the enemy but could miraculously hit a small bottle lying on the ground with ease. Either the enemies were kitted out with bullet proof clothing (and heads) or my men simply felt guilty about hurting people! On the other hand, enemies had no trouble hitting my men with their shots which led to highly frustrating save/load gun battles in a simple bid to proceed.
Another thing going in favour of the bad guys is their incredible ability to turn invisible. Let me explain, the game tries to limit the amount of sight available by taking away the line of sight from behind characters and to the sides meaning that only a very small amount of the environment is available for you to see, the rest is simply faded out with any living creatures hidden in the darkness. This brings many problems, first of all you can walk into a small room and the 3 guys in there will be hidden in the darkness, it looks nice and safe for you to proceed then you suddenly get showered with bullets. The biggest bug comes in the form of invisible enemies, as mentioned earlier. Sometimes, an enemy will emerge from an area of darkness but the game ‘forgets’ to put him back in the line of sight meaning you suddenly get bludgeoned to death and don’t have a clue what hit you, literally.
When you do manage to get the upper hand with the controls the game can be pretty good. You have the option to either kill enemies or to simply knock them out and tie them up, which ever you decide to do you can then move the bodies and collect whatever they drop. Also, pointing guns at people doesn’t have to result in a blood bath, some people will actually surrender to you should you threaten them with a weapon leaving them standing with their hands in the air ready to be searched.
Enemy AI however is pretty poor, you can easily beat a guy to death whilst two of his friends stand a couple of metres away chattering with one another. Also, on more than one occasion I managed to walk up to an enemy pointing a gun right in his face, he simply failed to react at all, maybe he was in shock?
As mentioned earlier, the game does have its good points and one of these is its graphics. Chicago 1930 takes place in a highly detailed environment which, although not very interactive serves its purpose well at setting the atmosphere complete with fully prepared dining rooms, dirty factory equipment and posh hotel suites. Character animation varies from decent to good, not all characters move in the same way and I noticed some even have their own unique styles of running and standing.
The audio again serves the game well with a very fitting soundtrack made up of pianos, bass and strings and the voice acting is decent enough to pass without criticism.
I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed Chicago 1930, all the way up to the second mission where things started to get a little stale. The control system was hard enough to get used to but that usually gets easier the more you play right? Well not in Chicago since progress meant more complex controls, harder gun fights and more tedious puzzles. There is no doubt about it, Chicago 1930 had great potential and I can see ways the game could’ve been changed or improved to make it a great contender but with the horrible control system, lack of real team strategy and pointless ‘pauses’ in the game, only a gamer with the patience of a saint stands any chance of getting through this game.
Review Score: 6.8/10
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