Publisher: Vivendi Universal Games
Release Date: July 2006
If you're thinking scathingly bright pastel colors, silly '80s fashion, and the cheesiest of all TV music when you hear Miami Vice, then I'm afraid you're on the wrong track. The upcoming Miami Vice: The Game for the PSP is based on the upcoming film starring Jamie Foxx and Colin Farrell, not the masterpiece 1984 TV series starring Don Johnson and Philip Michael Thomas. It was honestly pretty disappointing. Miami Vice: The Game, much like the film it's based on, seems downright serious. This takes some getting used to if you're a child of the '80s like me, but the game is quite interesting in its own right, once you start giving it a fair chance.
Miami Vice: The Game lets you take Crockett or Tubbs (or both of them in the co-op campaign) on a dangerous assignment that involves infiltrating a South American drug ring so they can take it down once and for all. Achieving this goal involves two major types of gameplay: a simulation-style, almost RPG-esque portion where you try to become as successful a drug dealer as you can, and a third-person shooter portion where you blow away bad guys. There's a definite Grand Theft Auto vibe to the proceedings, but Miami Vice isn't similar enough to quite qualify as part of the same genre, let alone as an over-similar title.
The shooting portion of the game is built around the idea of simulating cop movie fight physics in a shooter. You chase the bad guys around on foot and through buildings, relying on convenient corners, walls, and statues for cover. There are some interesting ways to interact with your cover, such as pulling down statues or hopping walls to chase down fleeing perpetrators. Generally, Crockett and Tubbs can carry two weapons each, a trademark action-movie hero pistol and then something more exotic, like an automatic weapon or rifle. The alternate weapons are unlocked or found during gameplay. The default pistol, however, stays remarkably useful throughout the game, thanks to its laser sight.
Miami Vice is the rare co-op game that has implemented the concept of friendly fire such that you don't want to go find the developers and slap them; since you can always see your partner's targeting laser, it's easy to avoid accidentally crossing his line of fire. It's just as hard to end up accidentally shooting your buddy if you don't mean it. The game's shooting sequences proceed at an unusually deliberate, almost cautious pace, which helps ratchet up the tension between your frenzied exchange of gunfire with the enemy. Curiously, what outfits you wear into the battle have an impact on how your gunfights go: going in with battle armor grants more defense than, say, going in wearing a styling suit. Of course, you'll receive a better reputation score for winning with style and weaker weapons than you will for blasting through the game with body armor and automatic weapons. Why? Well, c'mon, blowing away bad guys in a suit just looks cooler. To help you set up such blazing victories of style, you can do things like pay off informants to give you information about levels before you dive in.
The other portions of the game are largely driven by quests for drug-dealing excellence, although there are some other mini-games to take into consideration, too. Primarily, you'll need to make a point of selling drugs to other dealer intelligently, both to keep up your cash reserves and to preserve your cover. As with all economic transactions, your goal is to find ways to buy low and sell high as you manage the six different kinds of drugs with which Miami Vice allows the player to deal. Complicating matters is the fact that there's a finite number of dealers, who each have their own drug preferences and quirks. The guy you can always count on to buy marijuana at a high price may suddenly become useless if you're trying to get rid of some cocaine. Warnings about changes in the price of a given drug flash up on the screen at different points, which you can use to plan when to offload large amounts of drugs.
The primary mini-games tend to tie in with your need to keep your cover intact, and make sure you present just the right image to the drug ring you're infiltrating. Act too passive, and they won't take you seriously, but get too aggressive, and they'll just blow off your head. You can control your detective's actions during the mini-game portions (called "interactive cut scene encounters") by trying to keep a color-coded gauge balanced in just the right area between "too aggressive" and "too passive." It works in more or less exactly the same way that the tension gauge did for interrogations in The Punisher. Generally, the game will reward attempts to take risks by presenting an aggressive front more so than solving problems through passive means, and in particular rewards efforts to make Crockett or Tubbs look supremely badass. Pushing your bar more toward the aggressive side of the scale and then backing off gets a better reaction than maintaining the bar's location perfectly in the safe spot of the gauge for the entire mini-game, for example.
The nature of the event was such that getting a good idea of how a game sounded wasn't always easy, but thanks to the high-definition monitors the PSPs were hooked up to, it was very easy to get an up-close examination of how Miami Vice looked. The graphics were some of the sharpest we've seen on the PSP, with natural body movements and high poly counts for both the two main heroes and their sunglass-wearing antagonists. The textures were simple, and colors tended toward flat shades, which helped make the targeting laser stand out a bit better. Movement was smooth, even during the long section of co-op play in the first level, although there were never more than a handful of enemies onscreen at once. The interfaces for the mini-games and drug-trading sequences were similarly bright and intuitive.
If the gameplay as a whole is as sharp as the presentation, then players of Miami Vice: The Game will be in for a fun action-movie style ride when the game hits at the end of June.
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