Miami Vice

E3: The PSP gets a new super sharp shooter.

Hollywood just can't seem to stop itself turning rubbish old TV shows into big budget movies. From Charlie's Angels and Starsky and Hutch to the Dukes of Hazzard and the forthcoming Baywatch movie, aargh, there's just no getting away from them. And why are they all American TV shows, anyway? Keira Knightley would make a lovely Juliet Bravo, and who can't see Gerard Depardieu breathing new life into the role of that bloke out of 'Allo 'Allo? (Banderas to star as incompetent Italian fascist type, obv).

Anyway, come this summer, there will be no getting away from Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx, either, since their faces are likely to be plastered all over billboards and TV screens as the release of the Miami Vice film draws near. This particular remake has a reasonable chance of being half decent, though, since Michael Mann, the creator of the original series, is directing. The words "reasonable" and "half" are key here, since Mann has ditched the turquoise suits and silly shoes in favour of dirty vests and mobile phones that can't also double as sofas in a bid to bring Miami Vice bang up to date.

Inevitably, there's also a videogame tie-in on the way - but more surprisingly, it's not currently in development for every console ever invented. The Miami Vice game is a PSP exclusive, don't you know; to be more precise, it's a third-person shooter with lots of guns, drugs and hot stealth action that's been developed specifically for everyone's favourite handheld that isn't the Nintendo DS. (And best of all, it's nothing to do with the appalling bag of dog eggs of the same name that came out on consoles last year.)

The game is set just before the movie's storyline and sees our heroes, Crockett and Tubbs, teaming up to bring down a notorious South American drug lord. You won't see Farrell or Foxx's likenesses, though, or hear their voices - according to Vivendi's Jacob Zabie, production schedules got in the way, and it didn't help when the massive hurricane that hit the US last year messed them all up.

What no Johnson?

1

If we were drug dealers, we wouldn't hand round docks as much as videogame ones do.

Ah well. At the start of the game, you get to choose which character you play as, which will determine which FMVs you see and what dialogue you hear as you play through the game. To begin with, Zabie takes us through the first mission, where your main objective is to infiltrate a mansion populated with well-armed drug dealers.

Luckily, you're not too badly armed either. There six weapons in Miami Vice - a pistol, shotgun, assault rifle, carbine, SMG and sniper. You can either pick up guns and ammo when they've been dropped by enemies or pay a visit to your friendly local arms dealer, who will also supply you with upgrades such as silencers and so on.

Which is all very well, but what of the game's targeting system? Will Miami Vice suffer from the same control issues which plague so many PSP titles? Not if Zabie has anything to do with it: "It was designed for the PSP, and hence we designed an aiming and gunplay mode that was designed for this and not ported."

To enter aim mode, he explains, you hold down the right shoulder button - " la Resident Evil 4." Indeed, both the camera and control mechanisms bear more than a passing resemblance to those in Capcom's hit shooter, which arguably is no bad thing. To help you aim with precision you have a laser scope, which turns white when you're bang on target. This is handy because getting in there first is key, as Zabie explains: "If you hit a guy once, he will reel and that will stop him from shooting. So the first shot is the most important."

It's also important to think strategically about who or what you're shooting, rather than dashing through levels with all guns blazing. "One of the big aspects of this game is to use cover. By using cover, you can peek around corners, shoot around corners, crouch down to get a different angle... This is a very big part of the gameplay," Zabie says.

Cover story

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The lighting effects in the game have been specially designed to match those in the game.

You can also create your own cover - to demonstrate this, Zabie shoots down a stone statue, which then becomes a handy horizontal barrier for his character to crouch behind. But since environments are destructible, your enemy can blow away your cover in some instances, and vice versa. Helpfully, all items which are destructible will show up as white when you target them, "So you don't have to waste your bullets trying to destroy things that are not of value."

Zabie describes the enemy AI as being "very unforgiving", and by the looks of things he's not wrong. They've got bloody good hearing, these drug dealers, so you'll have to do lots of sneaking around rather than running and gunning. If an enemy does spot you, he'll call out to his mates for backup, which is your hint to take cover sharpish.

If you really want to, it is possible to blaze your way through levels, relying on health power-ups to keep you alive. But this will affect your reputation and therefore your progress in other areas of the game.

"You earn reputation from doing your missions successfully, and the more accurate you are, the more contraband you find, the more enemies you kill and the type of weapons you use all contribute to your reputation. But if you burn a lot of med kits, your reputation goes down," Zabie says.

Similarly, if you take advantage of all the bullet proof clothing available to you, you're likely to stay alive longer, but you'll be seen as a bit of a nancy boy by the local criminal fraternity. "Basically, you want to be a clean cop - you want to go in there and get it all done without dying a lot."

Horatio Caned

3

It's all about taking things slowly - running and gunning will get you nowhere but the morgue.

That's clean cop in the sense of swift and efficient rather than morally upstanding, by the way, since a key part of the game involves confiscating any drugs you find and selling them on. You can then use the extra cash to buy better suits, weapons and so on. Your reputation comes into play here, since some of the bigger drug dealers will only talk to you if they've heard of you. When you're doing deals, there's always the option to murder the dealer and run off with all the drugs and the money - but the disadvantage of this is that you'll never be able to deal with them again, for obvious reasons.

Once you're truly a big boy around town, you can start dealing with the really powerful drug barons via what are described as Interactive Cutscene Encounters, or ICE events for short. While you're watching an FMV rather than controlling your character, you're using the D-pad to negotiate a deal. If things start to go wrong you can attempt to use more diplomatic techniques, but since this is fundamentally wimpy your reputation will go down. If you take a more aggressive stance, your reputation will go up, but you'll risk being thrown out, beaten up, shot at or quite possibly all three.

When it all gets too much, you might like to take time out and have a go at one of the ten "hacking" mini-games. As you progress through missions you'll come across various memory sticks which you can pick up - to hack them, you'll need to complete various puzzles which revolve around shooting blue thingies whilst avoiding red thingies, basically. If you succeed you'll be rewarded with exclusive upgrades (such as our particular favourite, the white suit - now that's a bit more like it. Shame you can't roll the sleeves up though).

Take two

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There's not much time to enjoy the Miami sunset when there's vice to be, er, sorted out.

There's also a co-op mode, which allows you and a friend to play through the whole game as Crockett and Tubbs (providing you both have a copy of the game - there's no sharing here). This should make completing missions a little easier, since you can work strategically to cover each other and concentrate on different enemies simultaneously. However, you'll also need to be careful that you don't shoot your mate by accident, and there could be some rows over booty since it's finders keepers when it comes to contraband and the like.

All in all, Miami Vice appears to be shaping up rather well - having had the chance to give it a quick play, we can confirm that the targeting system works, which is always a bonus, and things like the stealth element and the reputation mechanic indicate that this is going to be more than just a straightforward run-and-gunner. It's too early to say whether this is the game that PSP-owning shooter fans have been waiting for, but there are three things we know for sure - it's a lot better than some of the other titles in the genre, it's a lot better than that Miami Vice game from last year, and it's a lot better than that Baywatch film is going to be.

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