4/1/2007 1:37:58 AM
Scarface: Money, Power, Respect PSP Review
By Rich Dixon
According to an old dandruff shampoo commercial, you never get a second chance to make a first impression. And it's true: that first impression only comes along once, and it goes a long way to defining what you expect from a person, or a thing. Think back to some girl or guy you had a thing for -- would your feelings have been half as intense if, the first time you saw them, they hadn't looked so damn hot? And how might your life been different if, at the point of that first impression, you had caught sight of them farting, picking their nose, or doing something else equally distasteful? First impressions are key, there's no way around it.
My first impression of "Scarface: Money, Power, Respect" was rather jarring. When you start up the game and initiate Campaign mode, the first choice before you is to play out movie scenarios and that's the way I went. I saw the old Al Pacino "Scarface" movie when it first came out, but that was twenty years ago and I didn't remember much except that Pacino played a Cuban refugee named Tony who, on reaching American soil, did whatever was necessary to become the next big thing in the drug industry. I didn't remember the scene where Tony, in a drug deal gone bad, is forced to watch while his brother is carved up with a chainsaw. I remember it now, though, because that's the first thing you see in this game -- an extended, bloody, brutal scene from the movie that I found disturbing and unpleasant, particularly when it's presented on its own and divorced from the context of a wider movie experience that might have made it more palatable. With that as your first impression of the game you're about to play, what would you expect? Lots of violence, certainly; probably you'd expect to play as Tony and get the chance to kill the mothers who just double-crossed you and murdered your brother. I was expecting a shooter, and was all set to do some shooting.
Imagine your surprise, then -- and mine -- when the game starts up and you find yourself playing a turn-based strategy game. There is violence in the game, sure, but it's committed by poorly-animated street thugs who you hire to do your dirty work. When a movie scene gets you all set to wreak bloody revenge, you don't really want to spend your time managing resources. You want to play the game GTA-style -- and, in fact, that's the style of the "Scarface" game you can play on your Xbox or PS2. When the developers turned to the task of exploiting their movie license on the PSP, though, they decided not to follow Rockstar in bringing a free-roaming crime game to the handheld. Instead they produced something that can really only be described as a companion piece to the console title, and unless they're simultaneously playing both, it's unlikely that the PSP version will scratch gamers' "Scarface" itch.
This game plays out on a map. When you start up, you're presented with a map showing territories controlled by rival gangs. You use the money at your disposal to buy the services of thugs or dealers, or to buy buildings that allow you to produce or market your drug merchandise. Thugs let you take out rival gang members or resist the attacks of those gangs, but they cost money. The money you make allows you to hire more thugs, buy more buildings, and equip everyone with what they need to win fights, sell drugs, and earn more money that you can invest in future operations. It's really pretty simple, and if a strategy game built around the drug trade floats your boat, then baby, your ship just came in. It's the rest of us who will be left pointing out the game's flaws.
First off, there's something about the game that just feels a little cheap. Apparently all the studio's money was spent on acquiring rights to the "Scarface" IP, because the animations look cheesy and the voice work is sometimes downright embarrassing. The game isn't particularly challenging, either. If you have some friends who own the game, you can get together for some ad-hoc multiplayer that might be more challenging, but forget about infrastructure mode and forget, too, about game-sharing. Finally, the idea that the game would "reward" you with scenes from the movie just seems nonsensical to me. "Scarface" wasn't a great movie in the first place, but if you happen to be a fan it's a good bet you own the DVD and don't need to play through a PSP game to watch it. The rest of us could possibly enjoy the movie scenes if they were meaningfully integrated into the gameplay, but for that to be the case, this game would have to be a game more in the style of GTA. And there is a game like that: namely, the "Scarface" console game. I can see why you'd want to play that game. This one? Not so much.
In the end, "Scarface" doesn't come off as a bad game. It's a reasonably successful strategy game for the PSP, it's just a property that leaves you with the odd sense that it would have been a lot better had it been completely different. If this game had come as a free download for players of the PS2 or Xbox version, that would have made some sense. But as a standalone title, I can't recommend it.
Graphics: 5. The maps are readable enough, but the animations come across as cheap.
Sound: 5. There are people out there with authentic ethnic accents. Some of them even work as actors and actresses and can be hired to do voice-over work. Some game studios have still not figured this out.
Gameplay: 7. Moments of fun hidden in a game that, overall, misses the mark.
Story: 7. Watch the movie instead.
Replayability: 5. Multiplayer is available only to those with friends who own the game.
Overall: 6. "Scarface" is a great property for a different kind of game--and it was, but not on the PSP.
Scarface: Money, Power, Respect PSP Review