Everybody is now over the moon because of that TV show “Breaking Bad”, I’m not one to argue the quality of the show, or how good it was, however, I will say that there was a show back in 2002 that was actually far more brutal, amoral, and darker than BB. It hooked you from the very first episode, we knew it as “The Shield”.
For those poor souls unfamiliar with the TV network FX’s masterpiece, The Shield tells the story of a rather peculiar police officer, Vic Mackey, and his team - specialized in gang activity in a very dangerous fictional district called Farmington in Los Angeles. Mackey and his team have a curious sense of morality, which is made clear when they plant evidence, rip off suspects and pummel bandits while keeping the peace in the streets. What made this TV series great and not just another cop show, was the fact that sometimes the viewer justified Mackey’s obscure methods to achieve a greater good, not matter how merciless or crooked. At least, I know I did.
Now that you have gathered the main facts of this series, let’s advance to the next stage, the videogame. Aspyr media and Point of View released this title in 2007 for the PS2 and the PC. I had the chance to play both versions, but even though the graphics look better in the PC, the PS2 version has better controls and that’s something you are going to find quite useful in this one.
When facing criminals you have a wide variety of “tactics” to neutralize them. Vic has a fair list of brawling moves for grappling enemies and kneeing them in the balls (and who doesn’t like the occasional ball buster, huh?) I have already mentioned the beatings and the planting of evidence, which is something original in a game, the problem lies in the irrationality of the actions you are supposed to perform. There are times when you can catch a criminal but not arrest him, or you need to plant a weapon to frame a certain bloke but that criminal was firing at you moments ago, so why would you need to plant a gun on him? It makes no sense.
In any case, the shootings and pursuits are the main attractions of the game. When a suspect tries to escape, Vic will automatically start to run while a left hand side indicator will indicate the player which buttons to push. If the suspect is not apprehended quickly, it will reach a sort of “thugs haven” and many of his friends will come out all guns blazing. You really don’t want that. The aiming and shooting systems in the game are more frustrating than that bloody dog’s laugh in Duck Hunt. Seriously, you would feel lucky if you can hit a suspect one time after emptying two clips. Besides, the AI of Vic’s mates doesn’t make anything easier, they just stand there as sitting ducks while hordes of street gangs pour lead on them.
Similar to other 3rd person shooters such as GTA or Godfather, The Shield has a “heat” meter. The heat meter bar is raised when criminals are shot instead of arrested, or evidence is stashed away in what is called the “retirement fund”, a savings account for Vic and his boys. In order to lower the heat, you‘ll need to return the evidence to the evidence locker at the precinct and make a couple of collars without requesting any body bags.
From a fanboy’s perspective, the game looks and feels just like the TV series. The police precinct (called The Barn) is an exact copy of that in the show, every room, even some signs are there too as a wink to the fans, not to mention all the characters. The story of the game takes place between seasons three and four (the show had seven seasons total) with Mackey’s team on the brink of termination. The only way to keep the Strike Team roaming the streets of LA is to pull a high-profile bust (an arms race between the Byz-Lat and One-Niners, two of the major gangs that terrorize the district).
Vic Mackey, the main character looks good, maybe not a carbon copy of the actor Michael Chiklis but close enough to be real. The other characters though, with very few exceptions, don’t look too similar to their human counterparts. Some of them actually look like full sized human puppets.
The game will take the player to a good number of LA locations that go from posh mansions, to crack houses, factories and other abandoned places whose surroundings and different elements on the stage look ok by the PS2 standards but lack some polish. The facial animations during cutscenes look odd, especially when the characters’ faces seem to not have eyeballs. Too Rayden-like for a non-sci-fi game. Eerie. Despite the graphics not being top notch, the game tends to slow down at times for no apparent reason. The sound offers the player some of the tunes that can be heard in the series, including some of the actual actors’ voices and a few hard rock / new metal tunes thrown in to accompany the pace of the game in a good way without offering too much either.
Gameplay wise, our duty is to take Vic Mackey and his Strike Team wherever they are needed. Sometimes colleagues will provide hints of what to do next, some other times you will need to use physical strength to make the bad guys confess by giving them semi-eternal beatings. When I say semi-eternal, I really mean it. Some thugs have a life bar that cannot be depleted, no matter how many times you hit them. While at the scene you will need to find evidence, drugs, bullets, money, weapons, etc. The curious thing here is that you can find the evidence only by playing a mini-game, which is something fun for the first two times you try it, but by the third try it becomes a perfect mixture between dull and annoying. This mini game consists in moving the analog stick over a police badge, while paying attention to a circle that either gets bigger or smaller depending on how far you are from the object you are attempting to discover. If you win the mini game you get the item, fail and the evidence will be forever lost, and that’s something that will happen a lot, believe me.
The title struggled hard to see the light of the day. Multiple company acquisitions put the game in peril several times until Aspyr decided to continue with the project (it had been announced by High Moon Studios in March 2004 but cancelled) As a result of the multiple issues the game spent years being developed which, I believe, is one of the reasons it was so poorly received by the critics. If the game had been released in 2004 when it was originally planned it would have ranked much higher than it did, but in 2007 with so many other games on the table it went completely unnoticed despite its unique features.
I was really happy when I first heard of a game based on The Shield being released; the title uses at times the potential of the series characters and I am not totally disappointed with this game at all, I just wished it was not so imprecise or clumsy, but by no means it deserves the critical abuse it received. It could have been much worse. Duke Nukem Forever springs to mind here.
Verdict:- Pretty much “just another game”, a passable title, but has moments where it manages to capture the vibe of the original series, which is something few games really achieve.
I would certainly encourage all fans of the TV show to play this adaptation and have some fun with it remembering quotes and moments from the drama but if you are not a fan of the series and maybe 3rd person shooters are not your thing, you should probably stick to other games of the genre and stay clear of The Shield.
Second Opinion:- The best thing about the mighty PS2 games console was the sheer number and type of games and genres it had. Pretty much everything can be found on this beast of a machine and is probably why so many units were sold.
The problem was however that so many of the 3rd person games just felt like a copy and paste from stuff like 'Hitman' even the action games still felt like they came from a stealth origin. You see when you slow games in this genre down they kind of feel better and help to cover up the machines lack of power needed to run it without graphical glitches. The Shield's biggest problem is that it just feels a bit clunky because of the speed the game moves compared to the on screen actual action, there is something just doesnt sit right with it all.
What's there works okay to the point where fun can be had for sure, the voice acting is so bad it's brilliant and the story is weak but in-line with the TV show so it passes. I guess what i'm trying to say is that this is just another in the long line of 'Meh' games for Sony's machine and a great example of why so many people refuse to see it as the amazing console it was. So many gems hidden beneath average games like this one I guess.
Transbot Scores:- 5 out of 10