In the eyes of videogame publishers, Jerry Bruckheimer's summer blockbusters must seem like perfect license fodder, and Bad Boys II is one of the most obvious choices. After all, the film itself is little more than two hours of wisecracking cops raiding increasingly exotic locations and shooting everything in sight, while shifty characters lurk in the background masterminding drug deal clichés. What's more, director Michael Bay was such a pyromaniac that he was bound to create something memorable, even by accident, which he did with his Matrix-topping Ferrari/bridge chase sequence, complete with car transporters and projectile yachts. It's just a pity he had to spoil it by driving a Humvee over innocent Cubans for the last half an hour or so. Oh, and with the rest of the movie too.
Boys and their toys
In bringing us an interactive take on Bad Boys II, British developer Blitz Games has tried to capture as much of the spirit of the film as possible within its third-person shooter. Detectives Mike Lowrey and Marcus Burnett are on a similar line of inquiry to their big-screen counterparts, shooting an endless procession of drug-peddlers and thugs and generally blowing shit up as they sling innuendo back and forth over the heads of gangsters, and like the movie they don't do a great deal else. The game is split into 15 stages, with control switching between the two bad boys from time to time, and each level I've encountered so far involves moving between pre-determined cover points, lining up your crosshairs and ducking in and out to vanquish bad guys.
Both Lowrey and Burnett are clearly identifiable as their big-screen counterparts Will Smith and Martin Lawrence, and like the film they have a tendency to blow rather too much shit up and piss off Captain Howard, who hurls abuse at them at the end of each level. The only differences being that here the game rewards you for doing more and more damage (even if, somewhat inconsistently, it also rewards you for merely disarming enemies instead of killing them), and that despite conjuring up decent likenesses, Blitz and publisher Empire haven't been able to lure Smith, Lawrence or even Joe Pantoliano into the recording booth to give their characters some authenticity. This is both a blessing and a curse, because while an impersonator is surely better than the real Martin Lawrence, you can't beat Joe Pantoliano for profane outbursts. Hoooooo-sah!
It creates other problems too. At least from what I've seen so far, Bad Boys II is something of a one-trick pony. When Empire unveiled the game at the start of last year, they told us that Mike and Marcus would swap on occasion because Mike was the action man and Marcus was geared towards stealth, but if the Marcus levels I've played so far were any stealthier than the others then I must have been dozing because I didn't notice. At the moment, it's more like Time Crisis Lite (which isn't necessarily a criticism) with manual movement and no light-gun - you race and roll excessively between pre-ordained cover points where you hit square to take cover, wait for the enemies to rush out and take cover, settle your crosshairs between their hazy eyes, and press left, up or right to peer round (assuming first-person view automatically on the way) and R1 to deliver that killer bullet.
You can also lock on to enemies with L1 if you just want to race in and can't be bothered to seek cover, but at the moment the analogue control is very imprecise whether you're standing or behind cover, and the enemies' bounding boxes are pretty stingy. Even if you're poised to fire, the cross teetering over the left arm of an enemy, the slightest tweak to your aiming will likely send it off the other side. Sensitivity options and analogue swapping can't salvage that - it's more of a precision problem. Given that the game is 50 per cent aiming, it clearly needs some work before it becomes gratifying to play. Either that or it needs a light-gun.
It's not the nicest looking game in the world, either. Although Blitz did themselves a favour by sticking to the film's frequent use of Miami's dark, wretched underbelly to begin with - crack dens, abandoned buildings and rat-infested basements - even here there's no escaping the low-poly character models, prefabbed interiors, and enemies who do little other than point guns. During one end-of-level boss encounter, Marcus' nemesis even managed to vanish into thin air when diving between cover. He didn't just vanish behind objects; he literally disappeared from the game world when diving behind a particular smashed up arcade machine if you looked on from the wrong angle. By the time Mike and Marcus start foiling bank robberies, boring 'knock the door down and clear' design has emerged as the norm. Fortunately the game makes up for this somewhat with Bruckheimer-issue destructible environments and explosions - bottles and crockery smash under the hail of bullets, TV sets fizz and die, masonry crumbles, and you can even shoot bullet holes in the outer walls to make way for shafts of light. Maybe after this Blitz can rework Dusk Till Dawn?
Getting back to my chum the skinny bald-headed crackpot bad guy though, he reminds me of another potential banana skin: difficulty. Although it's hard to judge right now because I have no idea how much work is being done to the aiming mechanics, in its current state it's actually quite hard to die in Bad Boys II, even when you're taking blows to the chest from the aforementioned crackhead's grenade launcher. Regular Kevlar pick-ups mean that even if you're getting shot a lot, it's probably not reaching your actual health meter - just your external armour. That your starting gun seems to have unlimited ammo (I suppose it is a Michael Bay adaptation) certainly makes it easier, but the quirks of the other weapons hardly seem to matter anyway - Uzis are perfectly good for head-shotting enemies camped on gangways above, despite the spray and recoil issues.
Whatcha gonna do?
When I saw the Bad Boys II movie, it felt like everything in excess. Too much of this, too much of that, but ultimately it lacked cohesion and it lacked the humour that ran through the first movie and made it - whisper now - actually fairly watchable. With just one scene in BBII that reminds us how funny Will Smith can be, it's hardly surprising that the cut-scenes, characters and voice acting in the game leave something to be desired, and I can't think of a memorable line from the game so far, nor a cut sequence that couldn't have been done in-game or in text form. They just feel... almost redundant. In a way, so does the whole game - Michael Bay movies are massive, overblown orgies of pyrotechnic excess and digital effects wizardry. Given that this one barely even had a plot (Somebody's smuggling ecstasy into Miami! Gasp!), it's hard to see why we needed a game to help make the point.
Still, with the bit of refinement Blitz will have put in since this build was first pressed, Bad Boys II could have leapt from basic and repetitive to something approaching, in critical terms, a good Michael Bay movie. Its chances of being noticed are fairly slim, but if it turns out to be any better than anticipated then we might take another look soon after its February 27th release on PS2, Xbox, Cube and PC.