With very few exceptions, movie-to-game titles haven't exactly been triumphant in the past, but developers keep trying to make them and publishers keep spitting them out. Now SouthPeak Interactive has joined the ranks of the ideologues in introducing Men in Black: The Game.
The MiB 3D action/adventure title is loosely based on the premise of the recent movie: During the mid-50s, the US Government created a small, under-funded agency to moderate close encounters of the extraterrestrial kind, sub rosa, of course. The few individuals who worked with these agents came to know them as the "Men in Black," referring to the simple, inconspicuous suits they wore. Years later, in 1961, alien beings contacted the MiB, hence moving the agency forward in its work - independent of the government and left to its own devices. Well, it's been at least 35 years, the organization is still alive, and this is where the game begins.
You assume the role of James Edwards, better identified as Will Smith from the film. Your first mission follows the movie most precisely in that you are not yet an MiB agent, but rather a piquant New York City detective dispatched to investigate a robbery in progress at 83rd and Broadway - a task that ends up proving your alien-hunting merit. Once you finish this stage, learning most of the skills you'll need throughout the game, you'll be brought to the MiB Headquarters.
Inside HQ, you're briefed on your mission, and then you select one of three characters for the duration: Agent J, the New York City detective (Will Smith); Agent K, the most decorated agent (Tommy Lee Jones); or Agent L, the first female agent and former coroner (Linda Fiorentino). At this point, the game abandons the movie plot by introducing three new missions with two sub-missions for you to accomplish. The first takes place in an Arctic weather station, the second within the Amazon, and the third at the estate of Skip Frales, a computer expert who made a fortune at a young age manufacturing PCs (not another Bill Gates parody... sigh). Within each level, you'll run through a series of mission-based tasks such as finding key cards, deactivating security systems, picking up idols, reading messages and clues, solving puzzles, and battling aliens in the form of Manitobas, large bugs, spore frogs, and grays and even those appearing as humans, all with the goal of piecing the story together toward an end. However, while the environments in which these activities take place change, the action pretty much stays the same.
The perspective, graphics, and gameplay of MiB are similar to Capcom's Resident Evil, yet only the look is nearly as polished. The basic fighting engine, with an obviously deficient AI, often has you repeatedly kicking an enemy at several-second intervals while he mostly remains stationary, occasionally moving backwards or forwards, half-heartedly blocking your hits. And during many encounters, continuously applying only the high kick will eventually disable your rival with very little damage to yourself. So wherein lies the frustration? The monotony of hand combat and the lethargic gun battles. The unresponsiveness and general sloth of the controls (the game can only be controlled through keyboard input, no gamepads allowed) will really get you when you have more than one gunman to attack and you have anything less than a powerful Series 4 De-Atomizer or Pulsar Blaster. They'll fire upon you at will, alternating turns, and not until their actions have ceased will you be able to cap off a shot or hit your inventory to use a health kit and restore your crushed physique - unlike in Resident Evil where combat is actually real time, giving you a fighting chance.
MiB would perhaps be more fun to play if you could at least run quickly. Compared to the ease with which your enemies move you'll likely be quite incensed that you appear to be running through molasses while they're closing in on you fast. Also, the controls are extremely flaky and unreliable when you attempt to quickly pull out your gun, or put it away, in the event of an alien being too close to shoot, but close enough to punch. There's no challenge in being handicapped by the lack of speed and unresponsiveness of the controls; that's merely frustration. The poor interface places MiB on par with the tedium of data entry, as many of your strategies will require nothing more than patience, as you repeatedly hit the fire button, waiting to shoot within the window of time when your enemy is finished firing at you.
Besides slow-motion running and shooting, your character will be equipped to jump, dodge, punch, kick, as well as examine objects, open doors, and so forth. But herein lies another problem. Unless you are lined up directly in front of your object, you can't act. And jumps are quite improbable even once you align yourself; for example, you can't hop up on a box unless you're right in front of it. And yet you can execute a standing jump across building rooftops?
All in all, it's quite obvious the time and energy went into set design and mediocre character animations, not into actually making the game work. On the positive side, in the beginning, the sound is fairly interesting. The New York City apartment building seduces you with excellent street sounds of hollow urban ambiance. But then it too goes downhill, with your character's insistent one-liners and the endlessly looped "climatic moment" music churning in the background. In addition, the perspective is flaky, in that when your character is far away, it's difficult for you to see the action taking place in front of him or her. But all of these points aside, what seems to differentiate a good game from a bad game is that in the former, a challenging section may inspire you to move on, but also teaches you skills you'll use later, luring you deeper into play. A bad game tends to leave you glad to be finished with one part and questioning whether it's worth it to even continue. MiB lands on its face in the latter category, giving, at its best, some nice-looking environments to gaze at while cultivating a bothersome case of carpal tunnel syndrome, leaving you begging for a "neuralizer" to forget you've ever played this game in the first place.