Every few months, the people at Voltage Games ask me to review a new “visual romantic novel” featuring a queer storyline. Every time they do so, I say yes, feeling both smug and generous since the games are always deeply silly in both concept and execution. But then, every single time, when I reach the end of the game, I am totally invested in the love affair I’ve spent the last several hours on.
This has perhaps never been more true than in the most recent entry to Voltage’s collection of games with an LGBTQ storyline: Gangsters In Love.
AS I SAID, THE PREMISE IS ALWAYS SILLY.
GiL begins, as all Voltage’s games do, by asking the player to assume the role of narrator and choose a name, which is a great opportunity to ensure your gaming experience reflects your true self.
I REALLY WANT A DOG, OKAY?
From there, you may pick from several love interests, which in this case are members of a violent, criminal (yet easygoing and sensitive) gang. (The gang has no name, which feels like a missed opportunity for added silliness, and hopefully will be fixed in future versions.) Now, you are going to pick Aurora, obviously, because she is a lady and that’s why we’re all here. But let me tell you, that choice might not be as easy as you’d assume because, at first blush, Aurora is a sexually terrifying psychopath.
First of all, it transpires that your parents owe Aurora (who is professional card shark) a great deal of money, which you will be paying back by serving her every whim.
The woman comes on stronger than a drunken can of Axe Body Spray, and for the first time in any of these games, I was not initially sold on the prospect of a love affair between my character and hers. But my feelings improved slightly when Aurora flawlessly executed the Lesbian Hail Mary.
THIS LINE IS THE ONLY WAY I HAVE EVER GOTTEN LAID IN MY LIFE.
In no time, she’s teaching you to become a world class poker player, protecting you from rival gangs, and pitting you against your (also queer) archenemy.
But the game shines best when it gets the realest. Aurora’s deep flaws as a character (including emotional and physical scarring and a tendency towards alcohol abuse, both of which are addressed with surprising candor) make this feel more vital than any of the other storylines I’ve covered so far. It’s exactly the kind of sexy, yet poorly thought-out romance we should all have in our fictional lives, and have the good sense to keep out of our real ones.
And also, as someone who writes queer sex scenes myself, I can tell you that these are…quite good. I mean, they’re not graphic, but they’re good. (You have no idea what it costs me to admit that this ridiculous cartoon is kind of hot, but it is, and I am.)
The animation and music, while still rudimentary, are a marked improvement from Queen’s Gambit and Astoria, allowing for a greater range of character expressions and moods. As in the other games, the characters still dress like lobotomized Barbies. However, it does feature the first in-game wardrobe item I have ever coveted.
Of course, notwithstanding my enjoyment of the game, my ability to move the “love meter” at the end of each chapter remains heartbreakingly pitiful, and I have resigned myself to the fact that I will never earn a “passionate ending.”
The bottom line is, notwithstanding the arbitrary choices you make throughout, Gangsters in Love is more “read” than “played.” But thankfully, Voltage employs remarkably talented writers who infuse both heat, pathos, and humor into this odd little subgenre. (They can’t possibly be paying them enough.) This storyline in particular leaves lots of room for future chapters (when will my parents return? Why won’t Aurora use the word “girlfriend?”)
So yet again, I give Gangsters in Love my bemused but sincere endorsement.
Gangsters in Love is available for iPhone, iPad, and Android products.