50 Cent: Bulletproof has been the subject of much speculation since it was first announced earlier this year. The prospect of a video game starring a popular rapper caused more than a few eyes to roll in the wake of less-than-stellar video game offerings that have tried to capitalize on a musician's appeal. Stylish but obviously CG trailers for the game did nothing to quell doubts that the title would coast on 50's appeal, rather than gameplay. However, 50's involvement with the game, as well as that of developer Genuine Games' experienced team, has resulted in a very surprising twist to this tale: Bulletproof actually looks like it might be a more-than-passable entry in the third-person action genre. After getting a demo and some exclusive hands-on time with the PlayStation 2 and Xbox versions of the game, we're pleasantly surprised to report that 50 Cent: Bulletproof is shaping up to be a strong title capable of gaining notoriety because of its presentation and gameplay, not just its star.
50 Cent: Bulletproof lets you play as virtual 50 Cent as he sets off to discover who shot him and left him for dead. No rapper worth his gold chains would think of doing such a thing without a crew, so 50 calls on G-Unit mates Lloyd Banks, Young Buck, and Tony Yayo to lend a hand. As 50's search zeroes in on who filled him full of holes, he'll discover a larger, far-reaching conspiracy that's going to take him quite a ways from the hood and bring him face-to-face with some serious trouble. The game's story plays out in a surprisingly sophisticated fashion, thanks to the contribution of Terry Winter, the game's scribe, who's no stranger to intrigue and murder, given his role as executive producer of The Sopranos. Winter's work lends the story a cinematic flair that's complemented by its presentation, which we'll touch on in a bit.
The tale will play out via the game's fairly straightforward, objective-based gameplay that will find you operating out of a hub and 50's hood, moving out as you gain new objectives. Your tasks will evolve out of the game's storyline and send you to sort out all manner of business with shady characters as you find out more about your shooting. As you wrap up a task, collecting as much money as you can by going through the pockets of downed foes, you'll be able to head back to your hood and spend your hard-earned bling on new music, videos, and more importantly, new moves and weapons, from different locales in the hood. You'll find music and videos available from a car on the street manned by a familiar face from the G-Unit. Another familiar face will give you access to more than 20 weapons for you to buy, which will be lovingly displayed as you collect them on a wall in 50's apartment. Your arsenal will include everything from a 9mm pistol to a sawed-off shotgun. Of course, 50's arsenal of weapons isn't the only way to take down foes. A local porn theater is where you'll be able to learn "counterkills," special context-sensitive moves you can use to gank a foe in spectacular fashion. The powerful, graphic moves are similar in execution and feel to the disarms seen in Namco's Dead to Rights, which isn't too surprising, considering that members of the Bulletproof team worked on DTR.
The gameplay takes your standard third-person action approach and dresses it up with some nice touches. You'll obviously control 50, but as you go through the game, you'll be joined by the three other members of the G-Unit. How many of the posse comes with you depends on where the story is and what's going on in the level. The beginning of the game gives you a full taste of how this works as you're joined by Banks, Buck, and Yayo. The artificial intelligence-controlled crew actually function as specialized experts, whom you'll need to progress through a level. Banks is your expert lock picker, whom you'll have to keep safe from enemies as he goes about opening locked doors that you need to go through. Buck is your weapons expert, a sneaker-wearing arsenal that excels at mowing down anyone unlucky enough to get in his sights. Finally, Yayo is your demolitions expert, thanks to his talent with all things explosive. Depending on how the level you're playing pans out, you may need some or all of the boys to do their thing and get you through, which will force you to keep them safe for a set period of time while they go about their business. For example, when Banks is picking a lock, you'll see a progress meter appear that lets you know how much longer you need to play bodyguard. If you can't keep your foes off of him, he'll have to stop and defend himself, dragging out the time it will take him to do his thing. The mechanic plays out in new combinations as you go through the game; you'll find yourself paired with different combinations of the three members of the G-Unit posse, as well as other helpful folk, as the story progresses.
Keeping your crew safe, though it's challenging, won't be too hard, thanks to 50's arsenal of moves. You'll be able to run and gun like any good action hero, by using the solid arsenal of weapons in the game. You'll be able to collect weapons and ammo from fallen foes and dual-wield or switch your weapons depending on your whim. The game also features a nice, flashy wrinkle to firing; if you line up your shot and time it correctly, you'll be treated to a quick "bullet's-eye view" of your shot as it plows into your enemy's head with unpleasant results.
I Don't Need 'Em
If gunfire isn't your thing, you'll be able to make use of "mobile cover," which can be either an enemy you grab and use as a human shield, or a dumpster you grab and roll along to cover your movement. Probably the coolest move 50 can perform are the "counterkills," which are wild, brutal methods of quickly killing your foe. Although you'll only be able to perform a modest amount of the kills at first, you'll be able to gain access to a wider, more spectacular array of moves as you progress through the game. The only limit to your counterkilling ways is 50's stamina, measured by a meter between his health and armor bars, which will go down as you perform the kills, forcing you to regain it before performing a counterkill again.
Now, while the aforementioned single-player experience is a meaty one that Genuine Games is hoping will offer players of all skill levels a fun time--raising a little hell with 50 and the gang in the five difficulty levels it can be played at--the developer is also tossing in an extra mode. If you've still got a hankering to run with 50 and the crew, or are just curious to see what kind of mayhem you can wreak, Genuine has included an arcade mode that will let you play through a level and assign point values to everything you do. The resulting fast-paced running, gunning, and killing action that has emerged from this arcade approach is a fun change of pace that will find you replaying levels to see how many crazy combos you can get to earn a high score.
The graphics in the game are surprisingly good, thanks to a winning mix of good art direction and a robust graphics engine. 50 and the crew look very close to their real-life counterparts. Each of the core characters sports a detailed polygonal model that features little touches such as moving clothing and individual fingers. Their looks are enhanced by well-done animation that captures their swagger and imbues them with a good amount of 'tude. The grunts you'll face off against aren't quite as polished, but still look good. The environments we've seen so far are well done and feature a fair amount of interactive elements to accommodate the mobile-cover mechanic and your ability to blow the snot out of them.
Given that the game is a multiplatform title, you may be thinking that one of the two platforms it's heading toward is getting the shaft in some way. Not true. Although the game obviously looks a bit better on the Xbox, with a crisper look, the PlayStation 2 comes pretty close. Anyone with tricked-out televisions can look forward to the Xbox game offering 480p support. Though the PlayStation 2 game doesn't officially support 480p, the gang over at Genuine has magicked-up technological wizardry that they feel will offer a visual fidelity on the PlayStation 2 that comes close to 480p. While we can't swear to that just yet, we can certainly attest to the fact that the PlayStation 2 game looks great. As a result, the game will likely be a looker on either platform. In addition to the in-game graphics in Bulletproof, the game splurges on a few key CG movies that are very well done. The story will be moved along by some solid in-game cinemas that benefit from dramatic camera angles that give the game a movie feel. The only rough spots we've seen so far are the expected awkward camera angles as you play. This is kept in check by two camera systems in the game: one that keeps the camera tight on 50, and another that gives you more control over your view; but we're still hoping it gets tightened up some.
The audio in the game is an insane collection of sights and sounds that aim to make Bulletproof an unprecedented repository of 50 Cent music. All told, the game will feature more than 160 music tracks that will be made up of 50 and G-Unit songs--many of which have yet to be publicly released--and an original hour-and-a-half score from Sha Money XL. In addition to the music, you'll also be able to view more than 15 G-Unit and 50 videos. Now, while music plays a large part in the game, there is a story to be told--so Bulletproof features an impressive "all-stars" lineup of familiar faces, who will be on hand to voice the colorful cast of characters chilling in 50's 'hood. Aside from 50 and G-Unit, you'll hear Eminem voice a detective who's eager to help 50 find out what's going on...for the right price. Dr. Dre will also be in the house as Grizz, the weathered war veteran who helps keep you well armed. DJ Whoo Kidd will also be on hand to dole out the music and videos you can incorporate into your in-game multimedia pager. A cool twist to all the audio and video content in the game is that you'll be able to check it out whenever you like by calling up your pager, and even make your own custom playlists from the available music tracks. Audiophiles with tricked-out sound systems will be pleased to hear that the Xbox will support Dolby 5.1 audio, while the PlayStation 2 game will offer Pro Logic II support.
Based on what we've seen so far, 50 Cent: Bulletproof is turning out surprisingly well. Although the presence of 50, the G-Unit, Dre, and Eminem are all nice touches to be sure, if you stripped them all away, you'd still have a surprisingly solid game that's quite a bit of fun. The core action mechanics are solid and the story is engaging and seems to mix just the right amount of action and melodrama to keep it fun. The arcade mode is a fun retro extra that plays to the gameplay's strength, which is its action. This all bodes extremely well for Bulletproof as development on the game starts to wrap up. At this point, all Genuine Games has to do is tighten up the rough camera spots we mentioned and keep the gameplay varied enough to hold people's interest, and they'll have themselves a solid little game that's worth your time. 50 Cent: Bulletproof is currently slated to ship next month for the PlayStation 2 and Xbox.