Bit by bit, social games have been trying to close the space between themselves and traditional games, while still keeping their unique social elements. Metrogames is attempting to bridge that gap with a new Facebook game by the name of Auto Hustle, which takes the first two Grand Theft Auto (GTA) games and melds their mechanics together with those of a traditional Facebook role-playing game.
While somewhat fun at first, the flavor of Auto Hustle quickly begins to come off as a watered-down version of the mainstream predecessor. Coupled some frustrating bugs and the occasional unintuitive control scheme, Auto Hustle is not making good first impressions.
Players start out by picking one of several potential avatars and are immediately given a job to do from the phone in their run-down home. These jobs are set up in as they are in most other Facebook RPGs, in that each one requires a chunk of energy that only recharges over time. Once the mission is accepted, it’s time to hit the streets and cause some havoc.
This is where the GTA cloning comes into play. Under a top-down view, players run through the city streets receiving instructions for the mission over a cell phone. The basics are fairly simple: move with keyboard and aim with the mouse. Like the GTA games, it’s possible to either focus on the mission, or take a break to terrorize citizens. As players run around, they can shoot anything and rack up a kill count. However, this doesn’t appear to do much, as even with a couple dozen kills the police never showed up. Thankfully, once players do reach a higher level, they do have to deal with the police once that killing rampage gets going.
Of course, such a game wouldn’t be a true GTA clone without stealing cars. Simplymove up to the car and click it, and its owner will gracefully donate it. This was the first annoyance of the game, as the keyboard control scheme changes for driving.
There are a variety of vehicles that can be stolen, and all handle in a different way, from buses to sports cars. Once “owned” a car can be used to plow down pedestrians, complete a mission, or added to the player’s “Garage” as part of a collection. Moreover, the car can take damage. If it takes too much, it will ignite and explode, taking the user with it. Don’t worry, as the hospital will fix everything, for a nominal fee.
Mission-wise, players do all the typical gangster jobs, running the gamut from intimidation to car jacking. As they are completed, experience and cash is earned (money can also be found when killing civilians) which are then used to unlock new missions and purchase weapons and cars respectively.
Many missions are also gated with a “Partner” requirement, meaning that the player must have a certain number of friends playing with them to start it. Beyond this social element, there is also basic gifting as well as the occasional item that requires friends to send parts to make (e.g. a bazooka).
While the various features provide a good baseline for a game, Auto Hustle tends to be a bit temperamental, not always working smoothly. The first time we did a mission that required a gun, the game wouldn’t let us equip it, despite following the tutorial directions exactly. This resulted in having to go through a lengthy process to reset the mission, just a few minutes into playing. A similar bug occurred where we could not get into or out of cars — something of a problem when the car is about to explode.
Auto Hustle was just released, so these bugs may get ironed out. Still, Auto Hustle is basically GTA without some of the most gratifying features. Thus far, civilians never fight back, there are no gang wars, and a lot of the extras (such as the quirky radio stations from the original) are gone.
Is the game different at all? Yes, it does have social elements and a few minor nuances here and there. In fact, these work well with the game, and goes to show that mainstream games can be adapted to social play fairly effectively. Nevertheless, most players that try Auto Hustle are just going to see Facebook Grand Theft Auto.[Update: We received a few updates from the developers themselves. We have been made aware of special “Instant Missions” that can be found while exploring the city such as stealing an armored car with the help of one’s friends, or attempting to destroy a set number of vehicles in a limited amount of time.]