Review: Car Jack Streets
Version Reviewed: 0.2.15
It's the cultural gaming phenomenon of recent years - Grand Theft Auto. It's the game that arguably 'made' a number of systems, with an impressive free form nature allowing you to roam and explore - the realism (and cartoon like violence, let's be honest) made it something millions want to play. Game developers the world over started working out how to make similar games, for a variety of platforms.
Now Car Jack Streets brings a Grand Theft Auto-like experience to the mobile phone, in a 700K-sized Java implementation. And it's pretty good... considering.
There are two main things in that consideration, and the first is the graphics. Unlike the recent "Grand Theft Auto 4: Moral Apocalypse", Car Jack Streets is not a full 3D experience - the city and your progress through it (and the game) is from a top down view. Those who are up on their history will realise that this is exactly like the first GTA game, so in a sense this is exactly how it should be.
This has a good impact on the clarity of the graphics - you can make out where you are walking (or driving) and your objectives are always nicely targeted with a flashing circle. Navigating around the city might seem hard when you realise you have no map; but the inclusion of a basic GPS unit, which allows you to select a destination (e.g. Kirk's Auto Shop, who you can sell stolen cars to) and then points out the direction, means you can build up a mental map while not getting horribly lost on the way to a mission.
More on those missions in a moment, because the second thing to point out is the design team behind the game, and their thoughts on what makes a mobile game a good mobile game. Having left DMA designs to start up Tag Games, they worked on the original Grand Theft Auto, so there is a clear lineage of this title from the original 'run around and cause mayhem' GTA title - just not enough for any legal implications.
The game itself is based around completing short missions - these could be as simple (and legal) as delivering Pizza around the city (and getting paid an amazing $100 per pizza, that's a mighty fine slice or two for the driver to earn that much!) right up to being the getaway driver on a bank robbery, destroying the cars for sale at a new garage that's muscling in on the town's existing business, and putting the frighteners on people who aren't paying the Mafia their dues.
And all of this is because you have dues you need to pay back the local crime boss. Frankie is a generous sort though, and he'll let you pay your million dollar debt off at the just for you rate of $50,000 a week.
All this is explained in the opening few minutes by your Uncle Murphy, who introduces the simple controls to you (cursor to move, fire/5 to get in and out your car, and */# to fire any weapon you've picked up). It's essentially a tutorial, and at the end of it you pay Frankie the first $5,000 of this week's money. Don't forget, or the boys come round, shoot you dead, and it's game over.
And when he says you have a week to get the balance, he means an actual week. Car Jack Streets is a real time game, so you'll have missions that need you to be at City Hall at noon, and you'd better be there, even if it is in two and a half hours time. The simple idea of using your mobile's clock to drive game events gives Car Jack Streets a certain longevity and stickiness - and Tag have rightly made sure that just a little bit of gaming every day (around ten minutes they reckon) will be enough to let you make your $50,000 a week.
The City is expansive, and you'll be relying on your GPS in the first few days, although it didn't take me long to start recognising places and routes to more popular destinations, which lifts the game up from a 'follow the screen orders' to something a little more instinctive. The various vehicles all handle slightly differently, and not surprisingly sticking to the rules of the road makes progress through the streets easier (if a little slow). When the clock starts ticking on a mission, it's foot to the floor, power sliding, bouncing over reservations and taking short cuts down alleys and pedestrian walkways - and it's really fun; not least because the police are about and do their best to crack down on those breaking the law (that means you). There's no slowdown in the graphics, and it stayed responsive to my control inputs, no matter how busy the on-screen action became.
Car Jack Streets is a fantastic game - inside this you have a whole city to explore, with various factions to play off against each other, and fun to have. You can chop and change what you feel like doing at a moment's notice... and yet it can get quite repetitive if you play for long periods at a time. But that's not what it's designed for. Picking it up in the spare moments I have each day, Car Jack Streets is a great diversion, with just enough of a hook to keep me coming back for a little more. Definitely recommended.
-- Ewan Spence, Nov 2008.
And here's the official trailer for the game, via YouTube.
Reviewed by Ewan Spence at