Big, huge, enormous rapper 50 Cent's video game debut may have received a critical drubbing last year, but that hasn't stopped Vivendi Games and new developer High Voltage from working on a new version of the game, Bulletproof, for the PlayStation Portable. But while the story is the same, the gameplay definitely isn't. We sat down with the new portable version of Bulletproof, subtitled G Unit Edition (named after the rapper's famed entourage), and found a surprisingly entertaining and reasonably deep overhead action experience that actually hearkens back to games like Champions of Norrath and even Gauntlet. (Stick with us, we'll explain.)
So, yes, the plot in G Unit Edition is basically the same as the original Bulletproof, with 50 Cent loading up a massive arsenal to hit the streets in search of his missing compatriot K-Dog. Along the way you'll run up against rival gang members, police officers on both sides of the law, and a slowly unraveling mystery that will become more complicated with each step. All the video cutscenes we've seen so far have been taken straight from last year's console release, so we imagine the storyline is going to be the same throughout this new game. You never know when some new surprises might pop up, though.
Anyway, the big change in G Unit Edition is the new perspective. As we mentioned, this time around you'll play the game from overhead instead of third person, and the feel (as we've observed so far) is similar to any number of dungeon-crawling action role-playing games from the past few years--except you'll be crawling through the 'hood, not some rat-infested cave. The combat engine is surprisingly complex. You'll come upon a varied mixture of melee and ranged weapons as you move from area to area, from baseball bats, knives, and nightsticks to submachine guns, sawed-off shotguns, and the trusty old 9mm. Holding the right shoulder button will let you lock onto the closest enemy, and once you're locked on, a colored circle underneath his feet will go from red to green to indicate how much damage you'll do once you shoot him. You'll even get a little damage value popping up from the enemy every time you attack successfully. Hit points in a 50 Cent game? Say it ain't so.
There's a lot of depth to the melee combat, too. You can do a multi-hit combo by hammering on the attack button, but if you charge up for the right amount of time, you can deliver a more-powerful finisher that will usually take an enemy out. There's also a grapple system that lets you run right up and grab an enemy. Once you're holding him, you can use him as a human shield to block gunfire from other enemies, throw him to get him quickly out of the way, or perform a pretty brutal execution move that varies depending on the weapon you've got equipped but which will naturally get the enemy permanently out of your way with the touch of one button.
And then there's the loot aspect. While you won't be picking up any +5 bastard swords of flaming wrath, you'll at least be able to pick up cash, bling, and the occasional weapon upgrade, body armor, or a health boost from fallen enemies, so the game definitely drives you to keep slaying and picking stuff up. Later on, you'll be able to start cashing in all that hard-earned (or, uh, stolen) loot for a number of goodies. Everything from new G Unit duds and weapon upgrades to cheats and even 50 Cent songs and videos can be purchased from several of 50's compatriots who hang out on the streets of the 'hood. The game uses a map that lets you revisit completed missions, so you can head back to previous levels later with your newly amassed arsenal and blast through again to pick up even more cash.
The levels we've seen so far have generally had a point-A-to-point-B sort of flow to them, where you need to head to a specific location on the minimap, which is denoted by a particular icon, to pick up information, kill a certain enemy, or exit to the next level. There's been some light puzzle-solving in the action, too, such as in one mansion level, which we had to access by tracking down the right police officer and obtaining the security code to the entrance. Once inside, we were blocked by another security system, and we had to kill enemies who were holding various keys in order to gain access to new rooms, each of which contained a security panel. We then had to hunt down clues to figure out the order in which to access these panels to open up the main system and proceed onward.
Finally, G Unit Edition will feature an ad hoc wireless multiplayer mode that shoehorns deathmatch-style gameplay into the game's single-player combat engine, which seems to work reasonably well. In addition to deathmatch, there are urban-themed variants on other popular modes like capture the flag and king of the hill. Another team-based mode we saw had one team trying to protect a number of cars scattered around the map, while the other team tried to track down and demolish these cars, Final Fight style. You'll be able to select your character model before playing, from characters like 50 himself, G Unit members Tony Yayo and Lloyd Banks, and Eminem (who plays the corrupt cop McVicar in the story portion of the game).
Whatever you thought of Bulletproof on the consoles last year, it looks like High Voltage is taking the PSP iteration in a fairly interesting, different direction that seems more suited for a handheld and may breathe new life into the franchise. G Unit Edition is due out at the end of August, so look for a full review around that time.