It really shouldn’t surprise anyone that the rap game and the videogame have become so tight as of late. Granted, in the early stages of the musical genre, it would have been difficult to imagine, say, NWA as part of any platform presentation, or Public Enemy making a cameo in a wrestling simulation. But as the musical artform’s fanbase has flocked to Playstation and Xbox country, merchandisers have recognized the phenomenon. The result is several tie-in titles, almost all using violence and brutal backdrops (wrestling, fighting) as their main modus operandi. Nowhere is the effort more evident than in the world of hardcore or gansta rap. There, the life stories of the artists seem to make perfect role-playing plotlines.
Enter 50 Cent, ex-drug dealer carrying the scars from several gun shot wounds, pop culture superstar and savvy entertainment entrepreneur. Dude even has his own line of vitamin water for crying out loud. So the licensing of a Grand Theft Auto like experience with a.k.a. Curtis Jackson in the lead seems like a no brainer. Sadly, the individuals behind Vivendi Universal’s games division took the “mindless” mandate to heart. Buried beneath all the bluster and beats, behind the street smart lingo and decidedly dopey cameos, there is an interesting scrolling shoot-em up conceit to such a crime story. Too bad 50 Cent: Bulletproof – G Unit Edition is so aimless and aggravating.
The frustration starts from the very beginning. In the game’s narrative, you’re a drug dealing hoodlum named…50 Cent who is looking for his pal K-Dog. Unfortunately, it turns out that homeboy has bit the big one, and it’s up to 50 to find the killer, as well as shake the government agents who now want him DOA. What follows is a series of goal-oriented gauntlets, levels where you, in essence, murder as many people as possible, hoping to reach the boss, whom you then have to slaughter as well. Every once in a while, a puzzle will appear, usually centering on how to open locked doors or uncover necessary health/ammunition credits. But aside from mindless homicide, there is not much else to the gameplay.
Similarly, the animatics are incredibly lame. Loaded with dialogue that sounds like Quentin Tarantino filtered through a five year old, Bulletproof finds 50 demanding payback, tossing off F-bombs like he’s channeling Tony Montana with Tourettes, and chatting up the ladies in your typical “bitches and hos” seduction style. After you finish a level, you are sent back to the “Hood”, where you can use the money you earn (kicking each victim after you kill them reveals various items of value, from weaponry to cash) to buy cheats, more powerful antipersonnel devices and 50 Cent songs/videos. There is even a place to flesh out your wardrobe, though the point of changing from a yellow jersey style shirt to a red muscle T seems rather pointless to your overall purpose.
The original version of this title –- a third person shooter created for the Playstation 2 –- has been altered significantly for the handheld PSP. Instead of the original POV, we are over and above the action, locked inside environments comprised of simple shapes (squares, triangles), various atmospheric elements (shipping boxes, meth lab components) and mindless attack drones. Anyone looking for well-matched artificial intelligence should probably stick with your standard Rockstar offerings. 50 Cent: Bulletproof offers up enemies that are so single-purposed (run, then shoot/strike) that you can easily kill them — usually. In addition, the game sets up certain “special moves” (reachable once you are standing next to a potential target) that, through the right combination of keystrokes, allows 50 to finish off a challenger, Mortal Kombat style.
Still, the standard gameplay is very redundant. Pressing on the right trigger and hitting the X button will give you automatic aim, and while you’re firing/slicing/dicing away, your enemies act like characters in a martial arts movie, almost immobile and unwilling to continue their attack. Blood sprays in gory gallons, and 50 can even sport a spurting slash or two. If you manage your trips to the Hood wisely, you can walk away loaded and virtually indestructible on certain levels. There are times, however, when the game cheats you as well. Certain goals are almost unfeasible to reach (requiring the killing of dozens –- if not hundreds –- of people), only to make the next stage twice as trying. Before you know it, you are out of ammo, low on health (painkillers being the extremely odd remedy of choice) and facing another onslaught of homicidal halfwits.
Technically, the game tests the PSP’s limits. There is lots of lag time in 50 Cent: Bulletproof, instances where another lame scene of Eminem (as a crooked cop) or Dr. Dre (as a street smart informant type) takes eons to load. Even worse, some levels require additional time to appear, UMD whizzing away, the wait throwing off your rhythm and your overall strategy -– not that there’s much plotting and planning necessary. The linear nature of the narrative moves you along from plot point to plot point, and your pals in the Hood are more than happy to tell you the next place to visit, the next goal to achieve, the next move to make. Such an approach would seem to suggest that 50 Cent: Bulletproof is aimed at the underage set. Yet the M for Mature rating is clearly stamped on the coverart. What is that saying about the intelligence level of the intended audience?
Visually, the PSP’s amazing graphical capabilities are under-utilized here. The animation during the storyline is blocky and basic, the characters rendered in sharp angles and cartoonish caricatures. As for the gaming elements, the figures are tiny and clone-ish, with the bad guys ranging from bald bikers to leather wearing thugs. Play can be problematic for those unfamiliar with the PSP set up, the thumb controller’s multi-positional possibilities tested by the 50 character’s rather straightforward N-S-E-W movements. There is no finesse here, no need to memorize certain combinations, no pieces of an overall story arc to fit together. This is basic bloodsport, nothing more or less. If all you want is the vicarious thrill of roaming around dark alleys and slaying every human who darkens your path, 50 Cent: Bulletproof is your spree-killing ticket.
A crack GTA addict will probably solve this simplistic game in a couple of quick sessions. Others will grow instantly frustrated by the point and shoot lack of skill, and quit. While a multiplayer option could provide more high tech bang for your buck, and the handy compilation of 50 tracks and videos is a nice plus (the PSP is a handheld device capable of more than gaming, you know), this is still a pedestrian example of a modern platform product. You may be able to find 50 in the club, bottle full of bub, but the only place this vanity project belongs is on the bottom shelf of a brick and mortar discount aisle.