Auto Hustle brings Grand Theft Auto’s criminal rampages to Facebook
It all started out so innocently. For years now, Facebook has been rightly or wrongly associated with disarmingly endearing characters and bucolic bouts of farming, and most brutal action largely goes on in text in grittier games such as Mafia Wars. MetroGames’ Auto Hustle seeks to change all that. Taking Rockstar’s famed and controversial Grand Theft Auto formula and sprinkling it with a few doses of social gaming, Auto Hustle brings GTA’s saga of car theft, mass murder, and inevitable reckless driving to Facebook while suffering a few wrecks in the process.
Auto Hustle begins promisingly enough. After picking out your favorite avatar from a lineup of thugs, you start the game in a shoddy apartment spartanly decorated with such enviable amenities as empty bottles and a stained jersey. (There’s a lot of potential here for decorative items—even if they are rotting pinups and the like—but the store currently only contains weapons and vehicles.) By picking up the phone, much as you do in GTA, you’ll be given a list of jobs that follow the tried-and-true Facebook formula of requiring energy and level requirements. Curiously, all of these jobs deal with theft and murder and generally avoid any mention of narcotics, and I was fairly certain that even the bottles and cans on the apartment floor were of the soft drink variety. The quests and achievements themselves sometimes lean toward the extreme: for instance, there’s an achievement called “Murder One” that requires you to kill 50 people in two minutes. Elsewhere, the focus is on humor: in one quest, Manuel the Super says “My no-good wife has moved out and taken my laptop. I need that to play Fashion World. Go get it back.” By accomplishing these missions, you’ll earn the cash and experience necessary to buy new weapons and cars.
Out in the street things get a little more complicated. Auto Hustle uses an overhead view much like Grand Theft Auto I and II (and, to a somewhat lesser extent, GTA: Chinatown Wars for the Nintendo DS), and you’ll find yourself driving cars with horrible controls, running over scores of pedestrians (which grants you XP), and slamming into other cars as you not-so-stealthily make your way to your next heist. It’s possible to master this somewhat by using the WASD and directional keys in tandem, but the slightest error will have you making five-point turns in the middle of the street and mowing down helpless onlookers. Fans of GTA will likely laugh at the poor controls as being somewhat representative and reminiscent of the series, but it quickly becomes maddeningly annoying as you smash your way through the city. And the cars are destructible, too: take too many hits and the car will explode, sending you to the hospital for a fee. If you can get out before it explodes, you can always grab a new one: simply fire at a car and the driver will jump out, giving you an instant new ride. Along the way, you’ll likely notice that you can start a killing spree—even accidentally—presumably for the achievement mentioned above.
Killing, predictably, catches the attention of the cops, although there are a few bugs in their performance. For instance, at one point I stepped out of my car and (children, leave the room, please) started blasting away at pedestrians and blowing up cars just to see what would happen. (Aiming is as simple as clicking your mouse in the desired direction.) The population of a small town died before a cop came running up to put me down. Curious, I also started a spree right outside one of the city’s police stations, and found myself chuckling as two cops practically danced around me, too bugged to make an arrest, while I continued my spree. Several actions such as wrecks or killing pedestrians will attract the attention of these cops while you’re on the street, and as with GTA, a “Wanted” timer will pop up. If you can outrun the cops before the timer goes off, you’re home free. If they catch you, they throw you in jail and slap you with a heavy fine. (You can also bribe them with Facebook credits.) As a result, if there’s anything being thrown in jail teaches you, it’s how to drive the game’s cars properly. Otherwise, you’ll find that crime really doesn’t pay.
Socially, the game shows some promise, although social interactions are usually limited to group quests and gift exchanges. You can also trade parts with your friends in order to build weapons such as bazookas (the only known assembly weapon currently in the game). The soundtrack, while appropriate, can get annoying after a long play session, and leaves one wishing for the quirky radio stations of GTA. In fact, even if you could cycle through and humorously get music that would be more appropriate for a farming game (complete with an appropriate station name, like KHUG), I believe Auto Hustle would go a long way toward capturing the spirit of its inspiration.
Much like the game’s protagonist, Auto Hustle is a fresh but capable face looking to move on to bigger jobs and more profitable heists, and we’ll be watching closely to see how well it holds its own in a rough and competitive landscape filled with farms, puzzles, and cookie shops. There’s still plenty of room for expansion here (in fact, it’s almost possible to do all the game’s current quests in one long sitting provided you have friends playing), and many bugs must be wiped out before Auto Hustle truly becomes a contender. But if you’re going to emulate a game, MetroGames picked a good inspiration. For all of its bad press, the Grand Theft Auto series counts among the masterpieces of modern gaming, and I hope we’ll see some of the series’ narrative depth worked into Auto Hustle. Overall, the game is a fine example of how many elements of console games are successfully working their way into Facebook, and while it reminds us of how far Facebook has come as a gaming platform, the game’s comparative simplicity also reminds us of how far it has to go.