Release Date: August 23, 2005
Violent and Unashamed
Keep America Beautiful wants to scrub the spray paint out of your games. Politicians are sniffing around, grumbling about inquiries and new legislation. Take2's CEO holds a spot on a list of people "screwing up America." Such things almost make you want to root for a game like 187: Ride or Die.
187's premise is all street bravado and score-settling. It gives you guns and cars and drops you into its cartoon gangsta land to race, kill and earn cred. Even if it were executed artfully, you probably wouldn't convince book-burning types that it deserves shelf space next to the Nintendogs of the world, but you might stand a chance of persuading reasonable folk that because it succeeds on its own terms, it deserves the chance to be purchased by gamers with a steady bead on fiction vs. reality, right vs. wrong, and so on.
With gameplay as authentically lightweight as its premise is faux tough, however, 187 disappoints whatever cheering section may have awaited its arrival. Courses offer a minimum of variety and few obstacles that stand in the way of quick mastery, while the simplistic shooting adds little in the way of depth or challenge. Serious arcade racer fans may find a few tight finishes and unexpected explosions around a corner or two, though without the graphical polish or stylish presentation rightfully expected of current efforts in the genre.
A Gangsta Primer
Dupree needs a new road warrior to help teach rival gang boss Cortez some respect. The Mexican Mafia is moving in on Dupree's turf, and the only way to shut them down is for you, gangsta Buck, to race Cortez's crew through several Los Angeles neighborhoods. A modest selection of cars, SUVs and pickups – numerous enough but lacking variety in appearance and handling – hauls you around the courses. A similarly piddling cache of shotguns, automatic weapons and ... errr ... mines lets you blast through the competition when driving skills alone aren't enough to get you the gold.
As you win back Dupree's 'hood one race at a time, new areas, vehicles and race types open up for the next events. The streetscapes don't change up the action much from one course to the next, with the exception of the arena combat missions and the Sticks level, a re-creation of the Los Angeles River strewn with shipping containers and debris that does require some precision driving. Otherwise, the courses put up a challenge only for a couple of laps before you learn how to glide around every corner and avoid or shoot every exploding tank.
Race types are much what you'd expect, from simple Whip Races, wherein you just have to place first or get a tongue-lashing from Dupree, to Death Races (don't be last at the lap point or you explode) and arena Death Matches. Occasional risk-taking pays off in the form of semi-hidden weapons, the one-shot-kill rocket launcher among them, which can save your bacon at the last second in a Death Race. Po-po Chases are little more than freeway boost hunts, and a Speed-style bomb run feels like padding, a waste of the rare opportunity to really throttle up on the open road.
Combat mostly comes into play when you're trying to complete objectives for silver and gold rewards that give you special weapons and extra health in the next event. In single-player mode, lazy gunners will discover that it's quite easy to boost in front of the competition and hold the backward-fire button to take out car after car. The rocket launcher and the mines pack the biggest, most novel punch, but the other guns offer only a soggy firecracker level of blasting power. If it weren't for the minor rewards for nailing the silver and gold objectives, combat would be little more than a distraction.
Split-screen, System Link and Live multiplayer extends 187's playability somewhat. Co-op divides the driving and shooting duties between two players, and curiously gives control of the boost function to the shooter rather than the driver. Playing with a friend against AI-controlled enemies or online against human drivers doesn't really change the gameplay fundamentals enough to compensate for the shortcomings that plague single player, but like most arcade racers, introducing the social element does entertain for a bit before tedium returns.
For better or worse, the feature that dominates the 187 experience is neither hoopties nor heaters, but the stale gangsta flava that taints gameplay, presentation and cut scenes. Dupree's pre-race briefings string together endless, comical chains of gangsta-speak. His rants entertain so consistently, in fact, that they become reason enough in themselves to retry failed races just to hear Dupree berate you for performing below g-rida standards, or even for just one more, "ya heard." As fun as that is, its main effect is to reinforce the impression that the gameplay's as flimsy as the self-conscious street patois.
Gimping Your Ride
With gameplay this simple, the controls had better be the epitome of pick-up-and-play, and they largely hit that mark. Boost-building drift moves come easily with a tap of the left trigger, leaving little excuse for not having a full boost meter when you need it in those final stretches. Controlling your ride during boosts resists precision, but that's as it should be when accelerating to light-bending speeds.
Picking up a weapon when you already have two does test your button-pounding dexterity, but as most weapons are so similar, dropping one to pick up another is most often not worth the trouble anyway. Shooting requires no aiming with the default controls; one button to fire forward, another to fire behind is all that's necessary. An alternate scheme allows for 360-degree aiming with the right thumbstick, a setup that gives the shooting player a little more to do in multiplayer co-op.
Muscle cars, sports cars and pickups feel like they're firmly tracking the road. SUVs do pose a welcome handling challenge and are a good deal tougher to damage with gunfire. Mines and explosive obstacles knock you about convincingly enough that you may catch yourself charging into them on purpose just for the effect.
Not Looking So Good in the 'Hood
Slabs of gray and beige fill up your screen most of the time. Splashes of graffiti add some minor visual interest to the environments, but most of the color is reserved for nighttime events, with glowing lights on cars and buildings that are pleasant to lay eyes upon, if not exactly impressive by current-gen standards. Occasional glimpses of the downtown LA skyline are also worth a gander if you care to do a little looking around.
In a racing game ostensibly focused on variety of unlockables to hang on to your interest, vehicle design deserves more attention than 187 allows. These cars are shiny, but the Crunk shines just like GD Up and the Old Skool and the Gangsta Clicc. You can choose from a handful of basic colors for each car, and superficial flourishes decorate the hoods for a tad of differentiation, but not so much that it encourages you to press on for the sole purpose of revealing the next dazzling ride.
Cut scenes and in-game cinematics stand out as 187's graphical high points. The cut scenes portray their street drama with all the polished camera work and slick editing of a Fast and Furious sequel (in the good way). Cortez's racers explode into end-over-end tumbles when you feed them enough lead. Tail-light blurring helps energize a middling feeling of speed, and the boost warp effect helps in that department, too, but don't expect a hyper, Burnout-quality sense of propulsion.
Guerilla Black's music and voice acting merit a mention for the professional-sounding sheen they lend to the overall presentation. Even if the content of Dupree's dialogue goes to comedic excess, his delivery communicates the wronged-gangsta fury that drives the game's premise. The rhymes and production values sound like selections from any contemporary urban radio station, and they do contribute to a decent overall auditory atmosphere. This soundtrack probably won't make or break Guerilla Black's career, but at the very least, his efforts land a few notches above that "Lazy Generation" song in Burnout 3: Takedown.
Check Your Respect
In the end, 187: Ride or Die lacks the muscular gameplay promised by its street-tough premise. Its simple drive-and-shoot mechanics afford it an immediate playability, but at the cost of any compelling encouragement to keep moving through the game, save for the shameless gangsta shellac and occasionally affecting visuals. If you absolutely must try every racer out there, or if you just need something to pass the time before Burnout Revenge hits the streets, 187's worth a brief rent. Otherwise, keep an eye out for it on lists of things that are bad for your moral development, but as far as playing it goes, let this one blaze on by.
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