Car Jack Streets in Review – Grand Theft Auto for your iDevice?

Fans of the Grand Theft Auto series who own an iDevice have been praying to the gaming gods to deliver onto them a similar experience. When it comes to handheld gaming, the Sony PSP and most recently the Nintendo DS owners of the world have had their prayers answered. But for the now roughly 38 million multi-touch Apple device owners, they are still waiting.

With the release of Car Jack Streets from developer Tag Games, a development team that includes members who worked on the original GTA, have the gaming gods finally listened and granted them the game they so desperately seek, or is this yet another pretender to the throne?

Car Jack Streets is a top down open world experience for your device. You take control of Randal Meyers moments after he’s been kicked out of another casino. Randal owes the Italian mob one million dollars in gambling debts and they’re ready to collect. You’re contacted by Frankie, the head of the family and told you’re required to pay him fifty thousand dollars a week until your debt is paid in full. If not, your life will come to a sudden and painful end. Lucky for you, Uncle Murphy is going to help you out. He puts you in contact with a number of shady individuals spread throughout the city who need particular odd jobs completed. You’ll begin boosting cars, delivering pizzas, and taking on the occasional security position to earn the money needed to save your scrawny butt from an early dirt nap.

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The game is based in real-time, so having one week to pay back 50k means you have seven days from the moment you start the game to make your first payment. The developers have built the game around the concept you’ll play roughly twenty minutes a day, five to seven days a week until your million dollar debt is cleared. Each day when you start up the game, you’re given a number of missions to complete. After you’ve completed those missions, you’re basically done for the day. If you want to continue playing beyond that, you have a couple of options, take control of a taxi or deliver pizzas. You also have the option to boost cars for Kirk’s Auto. Depending on the type of vehicle and condition it’s in, will determine on how much he’s willing to pay you. To an extent this is a game within the game. Not only will you have the money you’ve earned stealing these cars to pay back your debt to Frankie, but the total amount of the boosted cars goes toward the City’s Police Most Wanted list, which is actually an online leader board to compare yourself with others on daily, weekly and all-time totals. In addition, you will unlock new vehicles as you hit particular milestones, 100k, 250k, 500k and so on.

There is no option to turn off the real-time game play. This creates some interesting scenarios and a pretty significant problem. A lot of the fans that purchase this game are going to be what the community would refer to as, “hardcore.” That being said, they are going to want to sit with their device and play for potentially, hours at a time. Having the variety of your missions dry up after roughly twenty minutes of game play is going to be disappointing, taking control of a taxi or delivering pizza will be fun the first couple of times, but won’t sustain you for long. Boosting cars is going to go a lot further to extend that experience and having goals to reach will make that extended experience meaningful, but this will become a repetitive experience. You’ll get an idea of the closest location you can go to steal a car, so you can get it back to Kirk’s place to collect your cash. Turn around and run back to the same location and do it all over again. Why go any further out than you have to, to turn a profit and rack up the money you need to unlock more vehicles, when there’s no incentive to do so. After you’ve done this for a couple of hours, you’ve earned the following week’s payment to Frankie, yet you will not be able to give him another payment until the end of the real week is up. So you continue playing missions and boosting cars to unlock additional vehicles for the rest of the week, until you can make another payment. The first day of the new week comes around, you make your 50k payment and you still have a couple 100k built up that you won’t be able to give him until those weeks play out in real time. After a couple weeks of playing in this way, the additional vehicles will be unlocked and you will have collected a million dollars to pay Frankie back in full. Yet you have to wait twenty weeks in real-time to give him his money and see the end of the game. Even the most hardcore fan is going to lose interest and not return to the game to see how it finishes.

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Now, let’s say you’re not a hardcore fan, you’re not worried about the leader board or earning new vehicles, you’re the type of individual who’s going to play the game the way the developers intended it to be played. You play twenty minutes a day five to seven days a week and you either reach a week where you don’t earn the 50k required to make your payment, or you take a break for a week and don’t get back to the game. Here’s where the significant problem comes in, you DIE, Frankie makes good on his threat and has you killed. If you were at week sixteen and you moved onto another game for a week or something happened in your life and you couldn’t play for that week. You lose SIXTEEN weeks of play and have to start over from week one. A game released in 2009, should not be built with this as its only way to play. Until an option is built into the game for the user to play at their pace, very few will see the final outcome of Randal’s story.

There are two control types in the game, one for when you’re on foot and the other for when you’re in your vehicle. On foot you have a d-pad in the lower left corner of the screen. The controls are responsive and work well for getting Randal around. You will find that a lot of the times being on foot is the best way to locate the 50 hidden packages around the map. Individually the packages don’t add anything to the game, other than giving you something else to do in the game when you’ve run out of missions. I’ve only found 44, it’s possible there’s something unlocked if all 50 are found. You will find while on foot that your character is unable to get over a wall or bush. If you are in a residential area, and a row of bushes stands between you and your objective, you have two options. Run around the entire city block to get beyond the homes with their rows of vegetation or car jack a vehicle and drive through them. If it’s a wall and there’s no vehicle ramp for you to jump over it, you will have to go around.

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In your vehicle, you have another type of controls. The d-pad on the bottom left corner becomes left and right directional’s while your gas and brakes are one on top of the other on the bottom right side. These controls are overwhelming when you begin playing. The learning curve is in the hours to get to a point where you can control your vehicle. My realization that you die at the end of a week if you’re unable to make a payment to Frankie, came when I was unable to gain an understanding of the controls in that length of time. On a number of occasions, I turned the game off in frustration from how out of control my vehicle was. If you don’t have the patience to spend serious time learning the controls, you shouldn’t make the purchasing investment in this game.

There are three speeds your vehicle can move while going forward. The first is a snail’s pace, Sunday driving type movement. The top speed will have you whipping the back end of your vehicle around turns leaving tire tracks and the middle speed is just that. The problem with the controls are that you never have enough control over your vehicle at top speed to allow you to do anything other than, run into walls, buildings, other vehicles and pedestrians, we’re talking a mass genocide amount of pedestrians here. The one exception is if you have a long straight away. Otherwise, be prepared to have four stars and more law enforcement than you can handle chasing you down, because that is all you are ever going to get a chance to experience at this rate of speed. When you lower your expectations for how fast you can go and take it down to the snail’s pace and with more experience move up to the middle speed, you really begin to enjoy a lot of what the game has to offer. If you understand this from the start of your experience rather than eventually figuring it out on your own you will enjoy Car Jack Streets a lot more.

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The game looks good. The city feels large and well populated. Architecture and landscaping are very appealing to the eye. You get a real sense of scale when moving from one end of the map to the other. If you unload your weapon into a vehicle enough times, it will explode into a ball of fire and smoke. Now if that vehicle is next to another vehicle which in turn is next to an additional vehicle, it will start a chain reaction that is a joy to watch and gives you a real feeling of satisfaction. There are minor clipping issues you may notice. If your car is sitting still on the sidewalk, pedestrians will walk through it. If you’re driving and turn into a light pole, you will continue moving as though it didn’t happen, same with trees, you can drive or walk through trees and it’s as though they were hovering in the air. With twenty plus varieties of vehicles to choose from, weapon types like shotguns and grenade launchers that each have a different visual effect when fired along with the size of the city and quality of its look, these are minor quibbles.

There are five radio stations in the game with a variety of musical tastes to choose from. You also get comical radio personalities similar to what you find in a GTA game. With over 80 minutes worth of music in the game, this is quite possibly its strongest component. Tag Games has gone out and found artists you’ve most likely never heard of before now, but will want to know more about after having played through the game. There is an option built into the menu that takes you to the artist’s itunes page when you touch their name. Something I believe will be occurring on a regular basis.

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When you reach an understanding of the controls, you will find the game is a pleasure to play. Moving around the world of Car Jack Streets at a slower pace, completing missions successfully, finding hidden packages, and unlocking cars is addictive. The number of previously unknown artists you will experience will have you sitting in your vehicle waiting for a song to end or passing up missions all together just to listen to what song will be coming on next. The size and design of the city will have you exploring every nook and cranny to see what else is available.

Finding the controls of your vehicle to be a nightmare with a steep learning curve in the beginning will have you wanting to throw your device across the room. Not being able to control what pace you go through the game or missing a payment that causes you to lose all progress which results in you having to restart from day one will lead you to deleting the game and never returning to it to find out the outcome of Randal’s adventure.

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There’s a very enjoyable game in Car Jack Streets although it’s buried underneath some initial and potentially future frustrations. If developer Tag Games listens to the outcry from the community and allows the user to play the game at their own pace while significantly improving the controls of the vehicle at a higher rate of speed or even toning down the police presence when you run over a genocidal amount of pedestrians, the game will have the opportunity to become the Grand Theft Auto experience millions of multi-touch owners are waiting for. If not, Car Jack Streets will become another, “what could have been” foot note until Rockstar Games delivers onto us the real deal.

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App Summary
Title:Car Jack StreetsDeveloper:Tag Games
Price:$4.99App Size:102.1 MB
  • 80+ minutes of excellent music and radio personalities.
  • Large open world environment to explore.
  • Unlockable vehicles and achievements as you progress through the game.
  • Nice range of missions to complete.
  • Hours required to learn driving controls, still uncontrollable at top speed.
  • Real-Time 20 week game clock will result in few players seeing the final outcome of the game.
  • Not making required payment in any particular week results in characters death and restart from day one.

 

  • Big Albie

    I’ve read a few of the other reviews out there, but this one is the most in-depth out there. I think before jump into CJS, they should read this article and understand the learning curve behind the controls as well as the level of commitment necessary for this game. If you’re a casual gamer, CJS in its current form with its real-time payment system will not work for you. This is a comprehensive review and required reading if you’re even thinking about CJS.

  • spamboy

    Tag does say that in their first update, a freeplay mode without the real-time payment is “likely”.

  • RaZrVIN

    I guess you could call me a “hardcore” gamer, but will it truly take hours upon hours to just comprehend the controls for the vehicle? That is pretty bad, considering controls make or break a game, and that a GTA-like game like this is ALL about the CARS. Good in-depth review!

  • http://www.youtube.com/lordcrom LordCrom

    Thank you Big Albie. Yea, the real-time play mode is going to kill the casual gamer and could be to much for even the most experienced of gamers.

  • http://www.youtube.com/lordcrom LordCrom

    Actually Tag has already submitted the first update and it doesn’t have freeplay mode in it. They are saying for the update beyond that one they are considering it though.

  • http://www.youtube.com/lordcrom LordCrom

    At the highest speed, it will take you sometime. If you know that going in and start out at the slower speeds to built up an understanding of the controls, it should be quicker for you. I went in blind and it took some serious time to get use to it. Your right, it is all about the CARS and how they control. Thank you!

  • Vester

    i love the game, lots of people TA here i noticed!

  • http://www.youtube.com/lordcrom LordCrom

    It has a lot to like built inside. Looking forward to the improvements of future updates. A lot of good TA people here indeed! Thanks for stopping in.

  • Big Albie

    Based on the feedback thus far, it would seem that your review was one of the more accurate in terms of gameplay and in the issues you brought up.

  • http://www.youtube.com/lordcrom LordCrom

    That is a compliment of high praise! Thank you Albie, with a lot of the other reviews, I was starting to wonder if we had all played the same game.

  • ishtanbul35

    You say that there are three different speeds, but as far as I can tell, there are only two. There is the normal speed when you press the accelerate arrow, and the high speed when you press Turbo. Am I missing something here?

  • http://www.youtube.com/lordcrom LordCrom

    If you are in the vehicle from a stopped position and you press it once, you will go at a snails pace, press it one more time and you will go at normal speed, press it a last time and you will go at top speed. The camera will pull out a bit more with each higher speed. If you attempt it on a straight away, you should be able to see it.

  • Brendon

    I was just wondering how does this compare to payback?

  • http://www.youtube.com/lordcrom LordCrom

    Hey Brendon,

    I really can’t say from personal experience. I have only attempted the demo for Payback. Going over Young’s review for Payback here on TMA, it sounds as though they are similar to each other. Young does mention there are 11 maps in Payback. Not sure of the size of each map, but there is only one large one in CJS. So Payback, may have an advantage there. Sounds as though the music in both games is equally as good along with the weapon and vehicle types. Payback has a tank and a rumored helicopter. CJS is going to be bring in both a tank and heli in a future update. The map is stationary in CJS but your able to move it to your liking in Payback. There is a minimap in Payback, with one to be included in a future update of CJS. Paybacks iTunes page stats it has a rewind anytime feature to restart most missions. That feature is not currently available in CJS.

    Hope that helps you in someway. Thanks

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