The home console versions of 50 Cent's Bulletproof received a mauling from the critics, but this PlayStation Portable version is a completely different affair. Instead of being a straight port of the PlayStation 2 game, this handheld version tells the same story but from a top-down perspective. The result is something like Untold Legends and Baldur's Gate, but in an urban setting. We sat down at a recent Vivendi Universal event for a preview of the game ahead of its fourth-quarter 2006 release.
Combat is both melee- and firearm-based, with a wheel system used to choose from a selection of weapons. With the triangle button held down, you move the analog stick in the direction of the chosen weapon to select, and you tap triangle to change between firearm and melee weapons. And where do you find such treats? Luckily, Bulletproof's world features video game cliché number one: You can break barrels and crates to find that someone has helpfully left shotguns in there.
The selection of weapons in the game ranges from your basic planks of wood to flash grenades and rifles. Melee weapons include billy clubs, metal pipes, crowbars, blackjacks, and baseball bats. On the firearm side, you start off with a basic pistol and can eventually acquire a silenced version. Busters, Gats, MACs, Uzis, automatics, shotguns, and assault rifles will also be available, though many will alert enemies to your position when you use them, because they're so noisy.
The combat is frenetic, but the control system does give you some options when taking down enemies. The right shoulder button is used to lock on to adversaries, and 50 Cent will automatically aim at the one closest to him. Shooting straight away once you've locked on will result in a less-than-accurate shot on occasion, but if you hold on for a few seconds it's possible to take enemies down with a single shot. On the grenade side, a red circle on the floor shows the amount of splash damage, so you can see how many enemies it will take out and also if you're likely to injure yourself.
There are a number of more stylish ways to despatch your opponents if you get bored of the run-and-gun approach. When you're approaching enemies, the square button will zoom the camera in and see 50 Cent strip them of their weapons to use it against them. You can also take hostages and use them as cover from enemy gunfire, and when they're no longer needed you can interrogate and execute them. The lifeless bodies can then be looted for money, with a swift kick of 50 Cent's Reeboks revealing bundles of cash, jewellery, and credit cards. Bulletproof was already one of the Family Media Guide's most violent games of last year, and with the PSP version, 50 Cent's game could be making an appearance two years in a row.
Although the game glamorises violence more than most, it does restrict the amount of stylish killing you can perform within a short period of time. Next to the red health bar is a purple bar that denotes stamina, and whenever you enter close combat, it begins to drain. 50 Cent will be able to steal an enemy's weapon only twice in quick succession before he runs out of stamina, which will subsequently affect his ability to run.
The cash earned in the game can be spent in 50 Cent's hood, which is a collection of stores featuring characters and merchandise that its star has been associated with. Enter the pawn shop and you can dress the man in his official G-Unit/Ecko clothing line, with some of the designs from the fall 2006 line, which haven't been seen outside of the game yet. You can also be more practical and buy weapon and health upgrades, some of which will boost your health and stamina permanently. There's an in-joke to Shady Records fans--in a novel addition, you can buy cheats from Eminem's lawyer. If you're a big fan of 50 Cent's music, you can head over to DJ Whoo Kid and buy music tracks to listen to in-game.
Just like in the home versions of Bulletproof, 50 Cent's music forms the majority of the bonus content, except in the PSP version you can watch all your purchased items through the main menu. More than 160 music tracks (15 of which are currently exclusive), 16 music videos, and a 40-minute feature can all be bought and then watched while you're playing the game or accessed from the main menu. The tracks can be rearranged to create a playlist of your favourite tunes, or you can simply skip through them in-game until you find one that suits the mood. The videos are all UMD-video quality and make a nice break from the game, as long as you're not sick of 50 Cent by this point, of course.
Bulletproof on the PSP also features five multiplayer game modes with support for up to six players over ad hoc wireless. There are 16 different characters to choose from, including Eminem and Dr. Dre, all of which can be kitted out in G-Unit clothing. There are the usual deathmatch and capture-the-flag modes (the latter renamed "smash and grab"), but king of bling is a new mode for this game. When you kill another player, you can repeatedly kick him to reveal money. The other player, meanwhile, is hammering buttons to regain consciousness. The skill is therefore stealing as much money from your opponents as possible and leaving before they come back to life.
Despite a complete shift of gameplay style, the story behind the PSP version of Bulletproof is exactly the same. Fiddy's pal K-Dog ends up getting in some pretty serious trouble, and in an effort to save him with pals G-Unit, he ends up getting shot nine times while K-Dog is killed off for good. The rest of the game is spent trying to avenge K-Dog's death, which conveniently allows for an abundance of ultraviolent combat set to a hip-hop soundtrack. Writer Terence Winter penned the story after working on both The Sopranos and 50 Cent's Get Rich or Die Tryin' movie. We panned the script of the original version, though, so if you held out any hope for the story, don't expect much to change in the PSP version.
The change from third-person to overhead is an interesting change for Bulletproof, and it makes a change from the usual straight conversion from the PS2 to the PSP we've come to expect. While the original game is by no means a classic, make sure you keep an eye out for our verdict on the handheld version when it is released later in the year.