These days, the hot thing for artists of all sorts seems to be undertaking a hands-on role in their own videogame. Tony Hawk was probably the first person to nail this, with the likes of Vin Diesel coming through with the excellent Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay in recent years. 50 Cent is the latest to undertake this sort of project with an alternate take on his life with 50 Cent: Bulletproof.
Though it has recently been grouped with True Crime: New York City for whatever reason, whereas TC: NYC implemented a GTA-style open city structure, 50 Cent: Bulletproof is a very straightforward and linear title. A hub world connects all of your intermission options, allowing you to load up on health pills, pick up weapons and such. It's something of a Max Payne meets Dead to Rights bullet-filled romp, so those expecting an open world should look elsewhere.
50 Cent: Bulletproof is a heavily mixed bag. There are a lot of things to like here, like the overall presentation, especially with regards to the amount of 50 Cent and G-Unit content you're able to unlock, but the actual gameplay itself unfortunately falls quite a bit flat. Had the core gameplay elements needed to stand on their own, without the backing and support of 50 Cent, the game would have wound up being a quickly forgettable title. With his backing and overall stylistic input however, the elements surrounding the game can make it a compelling experience for his fans, though non-fans will focus only on the core gameplay itself and will likely become bored or even frustrated rather quickly.
Let's start with the good stuff, though. As mentioned, the game's overall presentation is great for a number of reasons. Firstly, there is a whole slew of exclusive 50 Cent tracks herein, and along with the vast number of remixes, instrumental-only versions of some tracks, the videos and such, the game features a literal ton of reasons for 50 Cent fans to play through the game. It's fairly astonishing how much unlockable content is here, with something on the order of 4 CDs worth of music and a dozen or so videos to unlock. Even the way you unlock all of this stuff, by buying it out of the back of a run-down car from someone who's obviously not on the up-and-up, plays really well into the style of the game.
While we're on the note of music, the game relies on a slew of instrumental remixes of some of 50 Cent's most famous tunes. Even if you're not a fan of his music, he has a great mix of beats and such on his side, and they work excellently in the background of the game. Some of the track changes are odd though, and don't sound all that smooth, but aside from those moments it works extremely well. You can also go ahead and add full songs to the playlist as well, if you want to hear some vocals in there from time to time.
Taking a note from his music videos, the game's cinematics feature something of a music video feel to them. The cinematic camera angles, close and focused shots, use of slow motion and more are all obviously borrowed from today's videos. It's not too often that cutscenes in games have a sense of style to them, and 50 Cent: Bulletproof is one of the few examples. Now, we're not talking Oscar-winning cinematography here, but in general it's very well done and does well to match the style of the story and game.
Bulletproof features the likeness and voice of not only 50 Cent but G-Unit, Dr. Dre, Eminem and more. 50 and G-Unit play themselves while Dre plays the gun-dealing Grizz and Eminem dons the role of Detective McVicar, a shady (get it?) detective who helps out 50 while lining his pockets.
All of the likenesses are excellently portrayed, and the voiceovers are top notch. Again, this isn't award-winning stuff here, but everyone does a great job at portraying their roles. It's funny that musicians, who generally only "act" in music videos, are able to spout better and more realistic lines than many professional voice actors in the gaming industry, but it's true. Granted, 50 and Em have both had starring movie roles now, but we'd label neither as thespians. Still, everyone's voiceover work is delivered very well in a natural and realistic manner; none of the lines seem out of place, with everything sounding like actual conversations than scripts read off of paper. Good stuff.
So, all of the game's presentation aspects are pretty outstanding, and really that's the angle that will compel many folks to pick it up. But conversely, much of Bulletproof's actual gameplay elements and mechanics fall flat, riddled with the "been there, done that but better" syndrome. And worse, some of its aspects can be rather frustrating.
The main cause of frustration is due to the game's aiming mechanism. Rather than using a lock-on system like many third-person action games these days, the game relies on a freelook system, much like the aforementioned Max Payne series or the Hitman franchise. This design is perfectly fine and we're all for it, but its implementation is rather flawed.
The game lets you choose between a fixed or non-fixed aiming system. Fixed means that your input is directly tied to the aiming on-screen, meaning that there's no sort of aiming acceleration like in other titles. When you aim in most console games, the movement speed will start out slow, and then ramp up quickly if you press the analog stick to the edge. This lets you turn faster, but more importantly, it lets you aim correctly in a fine-tuned manner.
Though the non-fixed aiming system features acceleration, it's not done very well. It's still very dependent upon how far you press the analog stick, and as it can be hard to move it a very small amount during a hectic firefight, it's rather difficult to track enemies as they run about. You'll find yourself overshooting them a lot, and then when trying to compensate for that, firing behind them again. It's possible to get used to this, but even when you do it's still not as well implemented as many other shooters on the market are and will always feel "off".
The game's AI doesn't help this at all, though that's not to say that it's bad. Rather, the AI does a very good job of keeping the game feeling like a street war the whole way through, where enemies will constantly run around, firing at you while they can, and constantly finding cover to hide behind. They'll occasionally run directly at you or do other questionable things, but overall the AI does a great job at keeping with the game's street shootout style, even if it's not perfect.
The problem here is that being as the AI moves so much, when it's coupled with the game's wonky aiming controls, it can lead to near-certain frustration. It also doesn't help that the AI in later levels can take an entire clip to mow them down, including the peons, so you need to get off more than a couple lucky shots. Being as you're almost always surrounded, fights simply feel overwhelming, but not in a good way.
Now, keep in mind that we're not complaining that the game is hard, but rather that it's unevenly balanced. Difficult games that present a good challenge are a joy to play through, but games that are difficult because they're unbalanced can be simply frustrating. There's a very key difference there.
Further hurting the gun battles is the fact that enemies will tend to respawn again and again, in questionable spots sometimes, and the only way to pass some areas is to get to the exit. Killing everyone is simply not an option, and trying to do so as you progress through a level leads to more frustration since enemies can spawn behind you and shoot you from behind, even after you've cleared out the area you've just passed through.
There are a few other elements of the game's control scheme and general polishing that don't work as well as they should. For instance, the triggers that are set up to allow you do perform various actions, like open doors or take items, are very position and direction-sensitive. You could be standing right next to want you want to use, but unless you're pointed right at the item, you can't grab or use it. It's very, very picky. This unpolished interaction rears its head into many places in the game, and though it doesn't really hold you up for long, it's just one more straw on the camel's back.
Unfortunately, as the game is basically a straightforward shooter all the way through, the fact that the battles can be boring, if not frustrating at times, makes most of the general gameplay rather uncompelling. While most of it simply relies on pointing and shooting, there are a few aspects that change it up slightly from your general mindless shooter, though not a ton.
For starters, though the game's title says otherwise, 50 Cent is in fact not bulletproof. Since you can get mowed down very quickly without armor, you'll need to make use of whatever cover is available. You can duck behind a wall, pop out and fire off a couple shots to take down foes, or grab a large trash bin or something and use it as mobile cover while you push it. Since enemies tend to pop up behind you though, it sort of kills the usefulness of cover, which is unfortunate. As well, like the interactive items, you need to be in just the right place to back up against or grab cover. This can be a buzz kill, for sure.
For close enemy melee, you have the ability to perform counter-kills, similar to what was seen in Dead to Rights. With these moves, you'll basically disarm an enemy and kill him in one foul swoop. There are a whole slew of counter-kills available to you, though you have to buy all but the first few starting moves, and all of them are animated very well. They're also extremely violent, so as is the case with just about every other second of this game, children need not apply.
Visually, 50 Cent: Bulletproof is a pretty damn nice looking game. It's not the most technologically sophisticated game we've ever seen (that's Vib Ribbon), but its art direction is quite excellent.
For starters, all of the characters are fantastically realized takes on the real people, if not a tad bit exaggerated. It's very clear who plays (or is, as the case may be) everyone in the game, and there's just an overall feeling of care and time that went into creating their virtual characters. 50 Cent in particular looks awesome, tilted hat and all, though the supporting cast isn't far behind.
The game also looks very clean, even if it does take place in some unpleasant areas. Both the PS2 and Xbox versions are rendered quite sharply with nary an aliased line to be seen, and though the textures may not be of super-high resolution, they're all consistent throughout the game. Bulletproof simply has a very cohesive feel to it visually, and though it may not be a showpiece game, it's a very, very solid-looking title.
©2005, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved