L.A. Gridlock Review—To the Exits!
I haven’t reviewed the recently released Minis because, for whatever reason, they can’t be played on my PlayStation Vita. Fortunately, most of the SCEE Minis released last week are compatible with the Vita.
L.A. Gridlock is one of those Minis that managed to sneak up on us, without much PR. Actually, the ever mysterious forum poster Grayback (conspiracy theory suggests he/she is a gaming industry insider) posted a link in the forums a couple of months ago regarding this game. We were not able to report on it in the main blog because the source was in French, and Google’s translation engine might have wrongly translated the news snippet.
We know now, though, that L.A. Gridlock is a tower defense game. TD games in the Minis program were aplenty back in 2010 but then died down. Now, it seems like they are having a comeback, with this and Defenders of the Mystic Garden (review forthcoming). But what separates L.A. Gridlock from the rest of the TD games is its use of a “realistic” setting: Los Angeles!
Instead of installing towers, magical creatures, wizards, knights, or any other D&D archetypes, you place police units on the sides of the street. Then thugs and criminals on their rides cruise down into the area and bump into innocent citizens until they are reduced to smithereens.
You won’t be defending a certain structure located in the center of the level; instead, you must provide safe journey to the citizens. Even I’m confused by what I’ve written, but the objective of the game is keeping the paths safe, unlike the usual protecting the heart of something.
There is a meter on the left side of the screen; it goes up when chaos occurs, and once it is filled, it is game over. It builds up when cars blow up and tempers down when bad guys explode. Motorists and the thugs come in from an entrance point, meander through the city and proceed to the exits. You must keep the innocents alive and destroy the thugs, not letting them escape.
Letting a single enemy unit escape means cash penalty. Less cash, less police units, more chaos. The game also gives you five dollars every few seconds. The main cash source is the toll booth. You can build it everywhere but it does hold up traffic. And slow traffic means lots and lots of people dying when waves of criminals start occupying the streets.
Certainly, L.A. Gridlock is not your typical tower defense game. You can’t expect to net good results from loading your units in one area to attack a single enemy unit because police units can only attack a single “angle” once per enemy unit.
The simple explanation is that police cars can only attack from behind, police vans can only bump the front, and police bikes only the sides—meaning, for every enemy, only one car, one van, and two bikes can attack it. And you don’t have control over this, as they just randomly pick a target and chase it down all over the place. As long as the target is alive, the posts left behind will remain empty, and every single thug that goes past will never be chased. So you have to really lay out a plan.
The controls are easy, and highly optimized for the PSP. You move the cursor with the D-pad/analog nub, confirm with X, and place units with X. Another good thing about this game also is that it does not allow accidental placing of units because you have to hold the X button for a little while. You choose police units with the shoulder buttons. The units are introduced one by one as you progress, along with their upgrades and some hybrids. Pressing Select will give you an overhead perspective; pressing O puts you at different angles. Pressing Triangle transfers the cursor to the current area your screen is showing.
In my opinion, if you want to go 3D, do it with all your might or don’t do it all. Aside from the fact that 3D graphics do not age gracefully, ugly 3D is just hideous. Luckily for L.A. Gridlock, the gameplay is fresh enough for me to forgive the terrible 3D renders and details. Swap Zap was ugly, but it was great. In this case, L.A. Gridlock is a good one, not a great game. I don’t know, maybe on the PSP this game looks good, but on the Vita, it’s too unpleasant for the eyes.
Be warned, the fresh gameplay is also downright limited. There are only eight stages, and it only has four areas. Once you get the formula for success, everything is a walk in the park. There are lots of bugs, too, one of which is clipping. Sometimes the police units don’t work, also, and sometimes pathfinding for hostile, neutral and friendly units gets broken.
Nevertheless, Immersive Games should take a good look at this IP and put more time and money into creating another title with this promising game design. Release this on iOS, I guess, get some money and then release as a full game on PSN later.