Davilex and Ocean have had a go - now it's Vivendi's turn to try and eke a decent game out of the newly revived Miami Vice licence. This time there's the weight of the blockbuster movie starring Colin Farrell and Jamie Foxx to propel it into gamer's consciousness - and the fact that the PSP has been somewhat starved of high quality exclusive releases for most of the year.
But rather than attempt some lame Vice City rip-off (an ironic concept in itself), developer Rebellion has pulled off a simple, but initially engaging shooter that shamelessly apes the core combat in Resident Evil 4, and spices it up with the crime-fuelled menace of The Getaway. It's short, fairly repetitive, not exactly innovative, quite easy, but mildly enjoyable thanks to a decent control system that bothers to play to the strengths of the PSP.
Based around a series of broadly similar and entirely linear levels that encompass staples like a factory, warehouse, nightclub and so on, the premise is almost entirely the same throughout the game. You play as Crocket or Tubbs (chosen at the very start) blasting your way through a series of drug cartels, and then bizarrely selling the drugs on to dealers in order to squeeze information out of them and to buy yourself better gear. No one said it had to be morally sound.
Kill all the Haitians. Again.
Most levels have immensely straightforward objectives: confiscate the various drug stashes, find the FlashRAM, kill all the perps and get the hell out. Viewed from the standard third-person perspective, you dash between cover points pressing L to enter or exit while sliding the analogue nub left or right to get the best view. Once you're ready to peel off a shot, you can sidle up to the edge of the wall or crate (or whatever - there are places to hide out all over the place) and hold R to zoom into the over-the-shoulder shot mode and press X to loose off a shot from your pistol/shotgun/SMG/Assault Rifle/etc. Complete with red laser pointer, it's clear what our friends in Oxford were playing during the design stage, but why not? It works well in the context of the game, and more importantly is a neat fit with the PSP's limitations, providing an important workaround for the lack of the second stick.
On a related note, the perennial bugbear of many PSP action-adventures to date has been the fiddly nature of camera controls. Similarly hamstrung by the missing second stick, Rebellion has plumped for a one-stick system that, while certainly not perfect, at least ensures that you rarely find yourself unable to see where your enemies are approaching from. Evidently designed from the ground up to compensate, the levels feel flatter by design, and any time you do have to fire down or up at a target, you're already well-placed to see them. In addition, a fairly forgiving targeting system makes it simple to know when you've got a bead on your target, with the 'dot' at the end of your laser pointer turning white to indicate when someone's likely to feast on a hot lead lunch.
With enemy positions and behaviour entirely scripted, the AI goons wander in and out of cover to present you with a 'no-lose' situation, and even on the occasions when you've been careless and been killed, regular checkpointing bails you out, along with plentiful health and ammo. Even the occasional tough bits can be romped through once you're aware of those 'surprise' enemies that leap out when they probably shouldn't. So, it's no great challenge, and holds no real gameplay innovation, but the decent control system and pleasantly detailed visuals make it a game you can chip your way through without getting annoyed with. It's a transparently formulaic attempt to build some drug-busting action to the PSP while there's a movie big enough to get the kids interested in it, nothing more, nothing less.
Uninspired by the movie
There's nothing particularly terrible about the game, but its relation to the movie or the licence itself is highly questionable. To say it's 'inspired' by the movie is possibly stretching it, but hey, you've got to get games on the shelves somehow, and Vivendi's tactic has already borne fruit, with the game nestling at No.11 in UK chart at the time of writing. Developed outside of the usual licence-based restraints (merely being 'inspired' by the movie, remember), the game has practically nothing going on in terms of storyline (with cursory text explanations putting the 'brief' in the pre- and post-mission briefings), and no real cohesive sense of character development whatsoever. In-game, it's bordering on dreadful, with the same stock expletive-ridden phrases being relentlessly barked at you. Seriously, if I get called a 'bitch' one more time, or I hear 'die, Gendarme scum' again, I won't be held accountable for my actions.
But, in all seriousness, there's absolutely no need for games like this to fuel the ire of the Daily Mail crowd by giving people the misguided impression that gritty, urban, expletive-filled trash talk is cool or desirable. Hearing some of the crap spewed out repeatedly by this game is just mindless, senseless drivel that does nothing for its enjoyment. If any parent unwittingly bought this for their kid and then had to put up with overhearing its potty-mouthed ranting for hours on end, they'd be mortified.
Aside from that small - but significant - point, the game makes no real effort to build any framework for your actions. You just go in, duck in and out of cover repeatedly, kill a bunch of perps, pick up some drugs, leave. Between missions you scour the stylish overhead map of night-time Miami, littered with drug dealers to visit and offload your stash for cash. Elsewhere on the map, the ever-useful supergrass Freddie Luiz has mission information for sale (such as where the drugs, enemies, health packs and FlashRAM are - which is a bit of a cheating way to play the game, incidentally), the local tailor of choice lets you upgrade your sharp suits, while the police station gives you a chance to save your game or play pretty awful abstract mini 'hacking' games to earn weapons upgrades.
Picking up FlashRAM during missions unlocks one of 10 of these 2D mini-games, but they're obscure in the extreme, tasking you with collecting rings of data within a strict time limit by powering up a triangle and bashing it into stubbornly resistant cubes that drift around the screen. It's like someone's really bad idea Live Arcade idea has randomly been shoehorned into a game about cops busting Miami's drug scene for literally no reason other than to provide a mechanic to upgrade your weaponry. But the fact that it's hugely tricky and not even remotely enjoyable makes it one of the most pointless additions to a game we can think of.
And while we're on the subject of pointlessness, the speedboat interlude is absolutely without merit, too, providing you with the kind of perfunctory challenge that a four-year-old playing his first videogame could win at on his first go. Guide speedboat, shoot targets, collect drugs, win, move on. If Rebellion can't even make it remotely fun or challenging, then why bother, frankly?
Nevertheless, the core run and gun segments of the game aren't that bad, so you'll perhaps blithely overlook the distinct lack of structure, the meaningless of the reputation system, and the rather cobbled together feel of the project. If you've got a mate in tow, then you might even feel compelled to play through it in co-op, but although it works fine, it simply makes an easy game even easier. Ho hum.
The rather downbeat conclusion about Miami Vice has to be that it's one of those games that's not bad, but nor is it ever that good, either. Yes, it's bland, pick up and play fun that's simple to get into, but if you did ever find yourself picking it up for five minutes you'd probably have already seen all there is to it in that time. You'd shrug, say "it's a simple little shooter," put it back down, and know immediately that it's not a game you'd part cash for it; in harsh terms, that's perhaps all you need to know.