Drugs are bad, mmmkay?
Miami is a city in transition. Is it the glamorous hub of bikinis and cocaine, or is it the rogue political town that overwhelmingly supported Buchanan in 2000? Is it simply Florida’s new millennium answer to Branson, Missouri?
Alas, Miami Vice: The Game could have gone a number of directions - edgy like GTA or campy like Starsky and Hutch, for instance - but instead it merely stalls out in the placid waters of licensed mediocrity, somewhere around Boca Raton.
[image1]In Miami Vice: The Game, Miami is simply a two-dimensional map with drug problems. The map serves as the main menu for the game and is peppered with icons representing the police department, the drug dealers, the gun shop, and the various missions you can undertake. As either Sonny Crockett or Ricardo Tubbs (modeled after Farrell and Fox, not Johnson and Thomas), you shoot your way through missions and up the drug-ladder, effectively depopulating most of the drug cartels in Miami.
Don’t let the open structure fool you, though: Miami Vice: The Game is as straight as Wilt Chamberlain. Finish one mission and another one opens up - you never really get a choice about where to go or what to do next.
The missions themselves are linear as well. You begin at one end of a hallway-like map and shoot your way to the other side. The environments encompass the standard repertoire of hotels, warehouses, loading docks, etc. - not the most interesting locales we’ve seen in a PSP shooter (see Syphon Filter, please), but they feature literally thousands of boxes, benches, desks, tables, and other furniture designed to stop bullets.
Furniture plays a surprisingly key role in the action. Crockett and Tubbs carry all sorts of munitions, including pistols, submachine guns and sniper rifles, but they inexplicably cannot fire while moving. Thus, the best strategy is to take cover behind some piece of indestructible furniture and peek out to shoot. The mechanics for hiding, peeking, and emerging from cover are elegant and easy to master, if inherently stupid.
[image2]The aiming is also easy since Miami Vice takes a cue from Resident Evil 4's great over-the-shoulder camera. Since you can’t shoot and move at the same time, you’re never really struggling with the analog nub. The game works best when approached with a patient duck, cover, snipe, advance method.
But things get hairy when you stray from that plan. The framerate drops suddenly when you run, and at close range things turn positively surrealistic. It’s difficult to see your opponent even if he’s standing right in front of you, and turning to either side on the run can cause headache-inducing disorientation. It’s like a hangover without the party.
The enemy A.I., incidentally, is just a shade smarter than your average drunk. They will take cover, but sometimes behind the very same cardboard box that you are using. And on the same side! Most enemies are reluctant to expose themselves to danger for a couple seconds, but sure enough, they’ll eventually come out and stand around like targets. They die pretty easily, too, especially in comparison to the Vice squad, whose hardy officers can take thirty or forty bullets before croaking.
At five or six hours, the main game won’t hold your attention much longer than the next version of I Love the 80's. To distract you from such bland, linear action, the game has plenty of jingly bells and whistles. Mini-game and drug-dealing elements are actually integrated nicely into the game’s structure, but are nothing to blow lines over.
In mini-game speedboat runs, you steer around a maze-like map shooting evil speedboats. Aim is entirely auto-controlled, so it’s easier than picking up a cocaine habit. Faring better are the hacking and drug-dealing mini-games. If you find flashrams (which I refuse to believe existed in the eighties, even in tech-savvy Miami) during your missions, you can hack them for bonuses and weapons upgrades. “Hacking” consists of playing a puzzle game in which you blow up nodules with a chargeable cursor. It’s hard to explain, but it’s not hard to play and is maybe a notch more satisfying than the rest of the game. Drug-dealing, on the other hand, is a balance game in which you must simply keep a cursor in the middle of a moving field. It’s so boring, you’ll wish you were on drugs.
[image3]In a nice move, all the games are tied together with an overarching reputation system. If you do well in the missions, using weak guns or achieving high rates of accuracy, your reputation goes up. More reputation means that you can deal drugs with better dealers, which increases your reputation further. An artificial economy lets you do some basic trading, which can net you better guns and information, which in turn makes missions easier. And around we go.
Crockett and Tubbs standardized the buddy-cop formula, so being able to play as either with a buddy in co-op multiplayer gives this otherwise by-the-numbers shooter a whiff of personality. However, you have to have two copies of the game, and that’s a hefty price for a skinny experience.
Though the graphics are decent, the sound is notably bad. Music is a good indicator as to whether or not all of the bad guys in the room are dead, but little else, and the voice-acting is horrible. So too is the humorless and largely expository writing. As we all know, the 80s, by and large, were not good on the ears.
Nor on the brain. Miami Vice: The Game embraces neither its campy past nor its current hipness, instead delivering a hackneyed third-person action romp saved only by a few neat ideas. White blazers were never cool, anyway.