There are many things Miami Vice is not. For one thing, it’s not – unlike the new Michael Mann film – a gritty take on cops in deep cover featuring Colin Farrell with a bizarre Village People moustache. It’s also neither a police procedural game, a la S.W.A.T., nor a cheap, rip off of GTA: Vice City. It’s not a follow-on from the wretched Davilex TV cash-in, nor does it encourage the wearing of light-coloured suits with pastel-coloured T-shirts, no socks and espadrilles. For these last three points, we should probably be grateful.
More importantly, it’s not your usual PSP game of a movie – possibly one of the most wretched things in current games publishing for the simple reason that while most PS2 games of movies are woefully poor the PSP versions are usually even worse. Instead, Miami Vice is that surprisingly rare commodity: a PSP action game that can actually hold your attention for longer than the first half hour. And that in turn comes down to the fact that – like Daxter before it – it’s a PSP exclusive, designed from the ground-up with the Sony handheld in mind.
I suspect Rebellion did the sensible thing, and started with the controls, because while it is an action game played from a third-person perspective, Miami Vice doesn’t play like your typical third-person actioner. Clearly feeling that moving and firing simultaneously were beyond the PSP’s distinctive controls, Rebellion has adopted a system much like Resident Evil 4’s, where the analogue nub normally moves your protagonist – either Crockett or Tubbs – around, until you depress the right shoulder button. At this point, you’re rooted to the spot, and the control switches to control a laser-sight, allowing you to pick off targets with about as much accuracy as that never-quite-analogue-enough nub allows. Now here’s where things get slightly more sophisticated. As standing still while people shoot at you is rarely a recipe for survival, the left shoulder button puts you in and out of cover mode. You simply tuck yourself in behind a handy box, wall, doorway or barrier, enter cover, edge to the corner, aim and fire around it, then duck back in when the bullets start firing. It’s simple, it’s elegant, and it works.
What’s more, it sets the fundamental mechanics of the game. Each mission sees your hero infiltrating or escaping some sort of drug cartel hang-out, blasting roughly anyone that moves while collecting the merchandise and discovering memory cards (this will become important later). In effect, what this means is entering each room in turn (open level design not being a Miami Vice strong point), scrambling for cover, then eliminating any enemies in the most efficient means possible. In feel, it’s actually closer to a single-man Ghost Recon than it is to most third-person games; because you don’t last long out of cover, you have to make each move with care. It’s a surprisingly enjoyable, surprisingly tense experience – and would be even more so if it weren’t for one thing.