"Welcome to Miami - bienvenida a Miami." So sang Will Smith once, or rather Will Smith and some hispanic ladies, before going on to "rap" about jetskis, cinnamon tans, the lovely sunny weather and all that sort of thing. But if you think life in Miami really is "every day like a mardi gras", you're much mistaken - or so Oxford-based Rebellion would have you believe.
That's because its new PSP shooter, like the new movie it's based around, depicts a city that's nothing like the tropical paradise of endless partying and glorious racial harmony described by Will Smith - or indeed the slick, glossy, deck-shoes-on-and-sleeves-rolled-up city of the original Miami Vice TV show. No, this Miami is very urban, awfully gritty, and, well, a bit sort of dingy, basically.
But hey, no one said life on these city streets was going to be easy (apart from Will Smith obviously but we've covered that). And it's especially tough if you're a hard-nosed maverick cop-on-the-edge who plays by his own rules, and has nothing to protect him from gangster bullets but a vest that he doesn't appear to have time to wash very often.
Which is what you'll find out if you get the chance to play Miami Vice, as we did recently. What you're also likely to discover is that this isn't just a straightforward third-person shooter - because although you will indeed spend a lot of time crouching behind wooden crates and picking off gangsters with a range of increasingly pleasing weapons, there's more to this game than that.
But let's begin at the beginning. At the start of Miami Vice, you can choose to play as Crockett or Tubbs, played in the movie by Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx. The actors' likenesses don't feature here, but the game characters bear a pretty good resemblance anyway - Crockett's hair looks just as silly as Farrell's, for example.
Your first mission is to make your way through a drug baron's mansion, shooting loads of gangsters as you go. There are plenty of on-screen instructions to help you get used to the way the game works, and it won't take you long to realise that you can't just run through missions blasting away - a bit more cunning is required.
So, you'll need to use the crouch option to creep around quietly, giving yourself enough time to get into position before the gangsters get wind of your presence. Once they are, it's all about taking cover and popping out at precisely the right moments to take them down without copping damage.
The targeting system works well, generally speaking - perhaps because this game has been designed exclusively for the PSP. You hold down the right shoulder button to peek round corners or over obstacles, and then aim with the analog nubbin. All weapons come equipped with a laser scope, and the pointer dot will turn white when you're aiming at something you can shoot, whether that's an explosive oil drum or a gentleman's head.
There are plenty of opportunities for satisfying hits where you can creep close to an enemy, take cover, and then neatly burst his head open before he can say "All night on the beach till the break of dawn." When the action really gets underway, though, things can get a bit trickier - it's hard to switch between targets and get a precise aim without fiddling around a bit, which means the pressure is on if there are more than a couple of enemies to deal with.
Your opponents are pretty good at making things difficult for you - they'll frequently take cover and switch positions, but they're not so bright when it comes to other important requirements for being a successful drug dealer. They leave giant bundles of weed and huge vats of crystal meth lying around all over the place, for example; this is useful, since you can sell them on and exchange them for useful info, but it seems a bit silly.
Enemies also seem to run out of original trash talk too quickly, repeating stuff like "You think you can take me?" or that old classic, "Die, gendarme scum" far too often. But since we were playing a preview build of the game, could well be they just hadn't finished putting all the speech in quite yet.
That's not the only problem that we hope will be fixed in the final game - there's the issue of what to do if you run out of bullets. This is unlikely to happen if you're carrying the pistol, because that seems to be the drug dealer's weapon of choice, so there's almost always ammo lying around just waiting to be lifted from their corpses.
But if you like your firepower a little more, well, powerful, you could find yourself in trouble. There are six weapons in the game - you can fire a shotgun, SMG, carbine, assault rifle and sniper rifle as well as the pistol - but you can only carry two at a time. So let's say you opt for the shotgun and SMG, which you might have picked up from dead enemies or purchased from your friendly neighbourhood arms dealer. Suddenly, you discover you're out of ammo - but there's still a whole host of enemies to deal with before the mission is complete.
When this happened to us, we tried a bit of backtracking, knowing we'd left all manner of corpses, complete with guns and ammo, in our wake. But, mysteriously, all the bodies and the guns had disappeared - leaving us with little option but to let the baddies kill us and restart from the last checkpoint. The moral of the story, perhaps, is to only carry one powerful weapon and a pistol at all times - but seeing as that's a bit rubbish, here's hoping things will change in the finished game.
The occasional ammo issue aside, the main portion of the game is good fun - the targeting system and the taking cover element work well, overall, and there are plenty of opportunities for both satisfying stealth kills and fast-paced showdowns. There are also boat missions, where you must simultaneously drive a speedboat and blow up gangsters' vessels so you can collect the drugs stored on board. They're not nearly as challenging as they might sound, to the point where said missions feel like bonus levels more than anything, but they're enjoyable all the same.
Even hard-nosed maverick cops-on-the-edge who play by their own rules need a break from time to time, though, which is why you'll find yourself back at the police station at the end of each mission. There, you can store any drugs you've collected, save and load the game, and - providing you've picked up the Flash RAMs (there's one in every level) - play "hacking" mini-games.
There are ten of these, and they're all a variation on a theme. You control a little white triangle, which you must use to blow up other little shapes floating about the place. For your reward you could receive a weapon upgrade, or you might unlock the location of a top weed baron on the game map. The mini-games have clearly been designed for those who just want to play for a short burst whilst waiting for a bus, and they're nice enough diversions, if IMPOSSIBLY HARD. But that might just be because we're rubbish, of course.
Other places you can visit in between missions include the tailor (where you can pick up a nice new armoured vest, or, in a nod to the eighties TV show, a sharp white suit), and the workplaces of a variety of drug dealers, who will be happy to take weed, MDMA, LSD and the like off your hands. While you're on the game map, messages such as "Coke is down by 15%" will helpfully pop up from time to time, so you can be sure to maximise your income.
Right Said Freddie
Then there's supergrass Freddie Luiz, who will exchange all sorts of handy information about your next mission in exchange for weed. He can give you the codes to shut down any CCTV cameras, for instance, or tell you where to find first aid, Flash RAMs and drugs - buy the info off him, and the locations will show up on your level map.
Most usefully, Freddie can supply you with the exact locations of all the enemies you'll face, which also show up on the map. This can make things a bit too easy - but, of course, you don't have to buy the info, or look at the map, and it's certainly handy if you're having too much trouble with a particular mission.
But if it's an easy time you're after, you might also like to try the game's co-op mode, which sees you and a friend - as Crockett and Tubbs, of course - playing through the missions together. They're exactly the same as those in the single player game, even to the point where there's the same number of enemies and they start out in the same positions. As a result, you should find most missions pretty simple to get through, especially if at least one of you has played the game through on your own.
The one thing that appears to be missing is some kind of radar map so you can see where your buddy is - as it stands, you might find yourself having a few too many "Where are you?" conversations, and getting caught up in the odd bit of friendly fire. But once again, here's hoping that's something they've had time to fix.
What with the co-op mode, the mini-games, the RPG elements and so on, it's clear that Rebellion has attempted to make more than a run-of-the-mill shooter here. And indeed, there's plenty of stuff to keep you occupied when you're not focused on the main single player game. But does it all work as a whole, or are these other elements a bit extraneous to the whole affair? And will Miami Vice succeed where so many other movie tie-ins have failed? Well, for answers to those questions, you'll have to wait for our full review. In the meantime - all together now, "Pardy in the ciddy where the heat is awn..."