The film Scarface was released more than 20 years ago, but it continues to inspire wannabe thugs and nihilistic megalomaniacs to this day. As popular and action-packed as the film is, it makes sense that it would be tapped as source material for a video game. What's surprising about the PlayStation Portable game, Scarface: Money. Power. Respect., is that it doesn't just slap a familiar license on a generic action game. Instead of testing your trigger speed, Scarface tests your business acumen by challenging you to manage the operations of a drug cartel. Scarface is a turn-based strategy game that is simple enough to pick up and play but still provides an engaging and rewarding experience. The subject matter isn't for everyone, but if you've seen the movie, you know what to expect. Even then, the notion of playing a drug-dealing strategy game on the go does seem absurd, but the sense of unabashed excess makes the game all the more fun to play.
Unlike the Scarface game for the PlayStation 2, Xbox, and PC, this game doesn't alter the story of the film, so don't expect to see Tony Montana rise from the dead. In fact, Scarface on the PSP isn't very concerned with the story. In a single-player game, you can play a series of 10 scenes from the movie or you can play cartel challenge. If you play the movie scenes, each scenario is set up with a clip from the movie, and then you're given a specific objective relating to that particular scene. For example, when Tony Montana turns on Frank Lopez, your objective is to simply eliminate the Lopez cartel from the map. There are also secondary objectives that require you to take over a set number of territories, win several consecutive battles, or earn a certain amount of money.
In addition to the movie scenarios, you can play the cartel challenge. In the cartel challenge, you can choose to play as the cartel of your choice (although all but one cartel are locked when you first start playing). There are three game modes in the cartel challenge. In race to a fortune mode, the first player to earn a certain amount of money wins. In drug war mode, you play for a set number of rounds and the player with the most money at the end of the game is the winner. Finally, in fight to the finish, you play until there's only one cartel left on the map. The variety of objectives in the movie-scenario missions add a welcome bit of variety to the game, but the cartel-challenge missions require more strategy because you usually start with less money and fewer territories. The cartel challenges also offer more replay value since the missions change every time you play.
Regardless of which mode you play, the gameplay is simple and easy to pick up. Scarface is a turn-based strategy game, where you are the head of a drug cartel and you have to move thugs, push drugs, and make a whole lot of money. The game takes place in Miami, which is divided into more than a dozen different neighborhoods. If you control a neighborhood, you can build drug labs to produce cocaine, heroin, or marijuana. You can then hire pushers to sell the drugs, which is your primary source of income. Buying facilities and hiring crew members takes place in the first phase of the turn. Once you've fortified your territories, you can move on to the dealing phase. In the dealing phase, you choose a territory that you own and assign pushers to sell the drugs that your labs have produced. Each territory has different demands for different drugs, so you can make a lot more money if you sell the right drugs in the right neighborhoods. After the dealing phase, you move on to the combat phase. You can have anywhere from 1 to 10 thugs in any given territory, and during the combat phase of your turn, you can either choose to send thugs into an enemy territory to try to take that territory over or you can defend and move your thugs around your own territories to fortify any weak or vulnerable areas.
When combat is initiated, you have a street-level view of the turf. The opposing thugs will start shooting it out and the combat ends when there's only one cartel left. You don't have direct control over the combat, but after each round of combat, you can issue orders to your thugs. You can tell your thugs to target certain enemies, you can purchase new thugs to replace fallen ones, or you can play power moves.
Power moves are special abilities that you have to purchase. They are distributed randomly, so you never know what you're going to get when you make the purchase. The combat moves give you major advantages in battle. For instance, if you use a grenade launcher or a scatter bomb, you can kill several enemy thugs at once rather than chipping away at them with gunfire. There are also power moves for drugs and law enforcement. You can purchase these moves and use them during the buying and dealing phases of your turn to, for instance, increase the street price of a certain drug or get law enforcement to crack down on a specific drug market to lower its value and cut into your opponents' profits. The power moves have a significant impact on the game, especially in later rounds. The only problem is that there's only a handful of each type of power move in the game, and many of them aren't especially useful. As a result, you'll end up buying and discarding a lot of power moves just to get the few that you'll actually want to use, and then you'll end up using the same few moves over and over again.
The strategy of Scarface isn't the least bit complex or sophisticated, but it's still fun and satisfying. The opposing kingpins you face all have unique personalities and styles of play, and they can pose a respectable threat when they team up against you. But you can easily figure out a workable strategy and start making enough money to steamroll your competition by hiring more thugs and purchasing more power moves. In fact, you'll often have so much money that you can't possibly spend it all in one turn, effectively making you impervious to attack. The simplicity of the game makes it a bit too easy, but it's also conducive to playing in short bursts because you won't get bogged down in excessive resource management or needlessly complex battle stratagems.
The challenge is ramped up significantly when you play against a human opponent instead of the artificial intelligence. Scarface supports up to four players via an ad hoc connection, and each player needs to have a copy of the game. You can play all of the game modes from the cartel challenge, and there are a number of options to set. You can set a time limit for each turn, starting money, and the number of rounds or money required to win. It's fun to pit your strategy against other players, and it can get tricky when you have to defend your turf on multiple fronts. You can set up (and break) alliances, use power moves to cripple your enemies, and battle it out for control of Miami. If you play with fewer than four players a portion of the map will be locked, and there's no option to add computer-controlled opponents. As a result, if you play a one-on-one game you'll be stuck on a relatively small map, and it becomes very difficult to come back from a disadvantage when you can't form alliances to team up against the more powerful players.
The presentation in Scarface is functional for the most part. The color-coded map is easy to read and navigate, and the menus are simple and easy to use. However, you'll still spend the vast majority of your time looking at a map, which doesn't quite dazzle the eyes. During combat you get a street-level view of the action, but the lack of camera control is frustrating. The camera just sweeps between the battling thugs, and often you'll be looking at the empty stretches of street in between opposing mobs for no good reason. The thugs themselves are very rudimentary models. There are only a few different models, and they're all blocky and poorly animated. Weapon effects aren't impressive, either, so when you toss an explosive at your enemy's thugs, they'll just fly into the air like goofy-looking ragdolls, with some very weak fire effects. The sound effects aren't very evocative of the subject matter, either. The tinny gunfire sounds weak and repetitive, and beyond that, the only sound you'll hear is the extremely profane voices of thugs and kingpins. Some of the accents used are terrible to the point of becoming parody, and the dialogue sounds like something you'd hear in a junior high school locker room. You might learn some new swears from this game, but they're all awkward and forced rather than menacing or edgy.
Scarface: Money. Power. Respect. is an enjoyable strategy game that is surprisingly addictive, given its simplistic nature and over-the-top themes. You can play through all of the movie scenarios in just a few hours, but you'll want to spend much more time than that playing the cartel challenge and multiplayer modes. There are also unlockable wallpapers, movie clips, and cartels to keep you coming back for more. If you're expecting a pint-sized version of the console game, you'll be disappointed with this game. But if you give the game some time, you'll find it to be a worthwhile strategy game that is well suited to the PSP.