Neither quality fan service nor a good action game on its own merits, The Shield fails miserably to live up to its license's pedigree.
- Solid voice acting.
- Interrogations and other supposed moments of gritty violence are woefully underplayed
- Storyline is exceedingly lame
- Shooting isn't satisfying, and stealth missions border on inept
- Ugly graphics.
The Shield should probably have never been released. That might sound like an overly harsh statement for a game that isn't abysmally broken, but take this fact into account: Six months ago, The Shield was sitting comfortably on the shelf of game development purgatory, seemingly canned after original publisher Sammy decided to stop publishing games. For some reason, Aspyr then swooped in and rescued this beleaguered licensed action game and put it out for all to buy. Unless Aspyr picked up the rights to this game for less than a dollar and a dream, then the investment was for naught. The Shield is a completely uninteresting brawler/shooter that tries desperately to grasp at the kinds of brutal straws that just about every other mean-spirited action game of the last five years has already used up and spit out. Of course, the main draw here is that the game is based on the popular FX cops-with-bad-attitudes show The Shield, but apart from some competent voice talent and a script full of swears, this game has barely an inkling of what makes the show so much fun to watch.
Much the way that games like 24: The Game and Alias tried to squeeze themselves into the lexicon of the shows they were based on by providing a storyline that took place in between certain episodes or seasons of the show, The Shield plants itself firmly post-third season, but pre-Glenn Close and Forrest Whittaker. The fallout from the money train robbery has already taken place, and Detective Vic Mackey (played by Michael "Commish" Chiklis) and his strike team of dirty cops are on the verge of disbanding. The brass wants them reassigned, members of the team are unhappy with the way things are going, and the captain tells them it's going to take a major bust to salvage any hope of keeping the team alive. The big bust in question turns out to be an arms race between the Byz-Lat and One-Niner gangs. Mackey is tasked with breaking up the battle, finding the guns, and arresting as many of the thugs in charge as possible.
To the game's credit, certain aspects do play a bit like an episode of the show, but they play too much like an episode that has been hopelessly stretched well beyond reason. The case involving the gangbangers and their caches of weaponry is pretty dull after a short while--so dull, in fact, that the scriptwriters went out of their way to have the strike-team guys constantly remind the audience of why what they're doing matters. Variations of the line "We crack this case, and the team is saved!" appear so often that you have to wonder if the writers started forgetting what they'd written previously and were too lazy to go back and read through the script. While you get a few nice bits of foul-mouthed banter between the strike-team members and some of the criminal elements throughout the script, too much of the story is geared toward forcing the characters into situations that border on parody of the types of gritty scenarios you'd see on the show. It's as though someone at the developer felt the need to take every single possible opportunity to have Vic and crew do something dirty, even if it was completely inconsequential to the main story arc. And the dirty stuff hardly seems all that dirty.
The Shield is known for its brazen violence and unheroic characters, yet somehow the video game version of The Shield is oddly tame. It's not as though the game doesn't go out of its way to give you opportunities to rough up suspects, inflicting severe pain on them as you grill them for info. The trouble is that these interrogation bits seem like also-ran knockoffs of things you've already seen in games like The Punisher. Dragging a suspect over to a toilet to submerge his head or over to a hot stove to burn his face sounds like an amusing prospect, but these interrogation sequences are handled so dryly and joylessly that you quickly become bored with them. All you do to interrogate a suspect is press a series of buttons on the controller as quickly as possible, and all the action is handled onscreen for you. There's no sense that you're affecting the interrogation at all. On top of that, you often have to engage in some exceedingly clunky hand-to-hand combat before you can start interrogating a suspect. The fistfights in this game are asinine to the point of uselessness, due to some really unresponsive controls.
Another area where the game tries to ape the show is with your ability to acquire contraband. Anytime you're inside a house or a hideout, you can search various places for drugs, money, or weapons lying about. This is played out through a minigame where you have to move a circle around a badge icon to try to hit the sweet spot before time runs out. It's an arcane system, but at least on the PC, the circle icon moves fast enough to let you succeed in most situations (not the case on the PS2). Once you do find contraband, you can either use it to feed Vic's "retirement fund" or turn it in at the station's evidence locker to reduce your heat rating. Heat comes from shooting unarmed suspects, wantonly beating people, and generally being a proper villain. You can also take a bit of that heat off by planting the guns you pick up on the unarmed folk you gun down, though you rarely have to do this.
Outside of the illicit deeds and savage beatings, all you're left with is a series of short shooter and sneaking levels. The stealth missions are some of the most annoying stealth sequences you'll ever play (guards with X-ray vision, nothing for you to do while sneaking around except...sneak around), so it's perhaps a godsend that you can opt to shirk stealth in most cases and start gunning down gangbangers instead--though even that strategy comes with a caveat, in that the game seems to not quite know what to do when you choose this strategy. Several times we ran into bugs where missions would fail halfway through a level, even though we weren't dead. Sometimes we'd get all the way through, guns blazing, and sometimes we'd get messages that the target character we were after escaped before the level timer even ran out. Other times we'd find out he was dead, for some inexplicable reason.
Being able to shoot like an action hero doesn't make the game good, since the shooting happens to be pretty lousy. There's no weapon variety to speak of (there are only three guns you can use), and until you get to the heavy machinery, you'll find yourself having to pump way too many rounds into enemies than is realistic. Seriously, should it really take six bullets to the chest and head to kill a Kevlar-less gangster? Vic can use a couple of basic cover mechanics, which are great because they're placed so you'll never have to get out from a cover position to kill bad guys. Your enemies always stay just within your sight range, so all you have to do is peer out real quick, unload a couple of rounds, and repeat until they're dead. There are also some sequences that involve working with an artificially intelligent partner. These guys evidently weren't programmed with cover mechanics in mind, so they like to go running out into the field of gunfire and get shot to death very quickly, which ends the mission. Your best bet is to keep running ahead of them, shooting all the while and hoping you don't die.
One of the weirdest things about The Shield is its presentation. You can tell that developer Point of View desperately wanted to ape the show's sense of style, but its imitations of the show's scattered camera angles, brutal violence, and gritty environments aren't very impressive. If anything, the camera makes the cutscenes feel kind of vomit-inducing, and as mentioned earlier, most of the violence is off-kilter and not all that extreme. One particularly weird sequence is the opening level, which intersperses title cards with the actors' names at oddly-timed intervals that break up the pacing of the stage badly. The environments and levels do feel appropriately dingy, but dingy levels can take you only so far. The technical graphics aren't very impressive by themselves, either. Vic and the principal character models look kind of grody and misshapen, and some of the skin and facial textures are laughably bad. Animation is stiff, world textures are blurry, and there are some occasional glitches and ugly spots. The PC version is arguably a bit crisper than the PS2 version, but not by a particularly wide margin.
The lone bright spot is the voice acting. Nearly all the actors from the show reprise their roles (though CCH Pounder appears to have turned down the opportunity to be in this game--smart lady), and though you can definitely grasp a lack of enthusiasm by the actors, they don't totally dead-read everything. Chiklis chews the scenery as per usual, and other actors, such as Benito Martinez, Walton Goggins, and Jay Karnes, turn in decent performances, despite the shoddy dialogue. The rest of the audio is less enjoyable, however. The main theme song is in full effect in the game, and, in fact, the developer decided to cut the opening riff from it into every search sequence that you fail. So every time you fail to pick up contraband from a search, this same three-second-long, very loud guitar riff pops in to drive you bonkers. Speaking of repetitive audio work, the background dialogue is mind-numbingly repetitious. Characters repeat the same lines with insane frequency. This same problem plagued one of Point of View's last games, Narc. The problem here is that the lines that are being repeated aren't even unintentionally funny, so the repetition becomes obnoxious very quickly.
It is perhaps understandable that a publisher might pick up a game like The Shield dirt cheap from the cancellation pile simply on the strength of its license, but it ultimately would have been better for all of us if The Shield had stayed away from retail shelves. It's a conceptually flawed and poorly executed action game that has only the most base-level details in common with the license it's based on. The action isn't fun, the extreme violence isn't all that extreme, and the storyline is a dull, hacked-together snoozefest. The Shield is perfunctory in every imaginable way, and everyone, fan of the show or not, should avoid it.