One look at the box of Escape From Paradise City reveals a lot of the hallmarks of gaming disaster. There's the name primed to set up a dozen punch lines, the cheap cover art, and a back blurb filled with clichÃ©s about a "dystopian world" and "gritty characters." But the game inside is a lot better than first impressions would lead you to believe. Sirius Games hasn't exactly broken new ground with this action role-playing game/real-time strategy hybrid about cleaning up a crime-ridden burg. (You could consider this a sequel to the developer's similar Gangland, released in 2004 when the company was still known as MediaMobsters.) But at the same time, all of the scrapping, leveling up, and thug management rolls along in a passable, if formulaic, fashion.
Beating up Julio (and friends) down by the schoolyard.
Surprises are few and far between when it comes to story and basic gameplay. Paradise City is a run-down disaster zone where gangs are running wild, a chaotic situation that attracts the attention of NSA agent Walker J. Kovacs. To take charge of this rotten metropolis, he turns to a trio of criminals that you guide through the game's 16 chapters. Most of the solo part of the game is structured like a grade-Z action flick you might have caught at the local drive-in in 1974, and the three "heroes" fit into standard action RPG stereotypes. Nick Porter is a bank robber proficient with guns. Angel Vargas is a speedy street fighter who likes brass knuckles and knives. Fat Boris Chekov is a corrupt cop who's best at firing his pistol and cowering behind hired muscle. You've got the ranged fighter, the melee fighter, and the smart, tricky guy who doesn't need to get his hands dirty to get the job done; these are character types seen before in, oh, just about every action RPG ever made. There is also a multiplayer mode in which you team up to kill each other or take over territory, but good luck finding anybody playing online.
Mechanics are fairly routine, although most of the gameplay features are filled out well. Porter, Angel, and Boris each gain experience points to add to core stats such as body, agility, and charisma each time that they level up. Increasing a level also provides points used to pick traits that emphasize each character's talents. Specifically, Porter is focused on firearms combat, whereas Angel is all about knife fighting, and Boris is keen on bonuses that help him order around lackeys. Each trait in turn activates skills used directly in the game. For example, Boris' fatality trait opens up the headshot and earshot skills, which raise damage done by his pistol during combat. However, there isn't much need to really specialize here, given that you can pretty much acquire most of the traits for each character by the time you finish the single-player campaign. They do add personality to how each mission plays out, at least, which means that you need to alter your approach to levels depending on whether you're controlling Porter, Angel, or Boris. Using Boris really changes things up because his average combat skills force you to meet goals with more trickery and the smart use of allies.
The characters also have access to powers geared to show how you're becoming a crime kingpin with friends in high (and low) places. As you take over neighborhoods and businesses, you earn the points needed to call up these handy abilities, most of which let you alter the city in some fundamental way or call up assistance. You can use neighborhood lockdown to clear streets, street medicine to summon a medic who heals all allied units, and even airstrike to radio for a bombardment of the selected area. They generally require hefty investments in power and cash, though, and can only be used sparingly.