Sometimes awesome games come from weird places. In this case, the videogame adaptation of a movie that remakes an '80s TV show. It reads like three layers of pure, uncut horrible, but Miami Vice: The Game somehow fails to be just another crappy licensed shooter.
Sure, the gameplay is linear and repetitive, but the execution is fun enough that you won't care. At its best, it's a slow, methodical stealth-shooter, with Det. Sonny Crockett or Det. Ricardo Tubbs (you have to pick one or the other for the single-player game, but they play identically) sneaking around, flattening against cover, peeking around corners and rapidly capping whatever thugs or cameras are in view before they can shoot back or sound an alarm. At times, the action is broken up by a high-speed boat trip, where you'll race through a watery maze and blow up drug-cartel motorboats.
The game gets around the PSP's infamous camera problems by giving players an over-the-shoulder view of their cop, who stands just to the left of center (think Resident Evil 4). The camera always follows from behind, and the only way to look around is to actually aim. It's a little weird, but it works surprisingly well.
One major irritation: the murky lighting and small screen make far-away enemies almost impossible to see. Thankfully, you can still tag them with the help of your map (which shows guard locations) and your gun's laser sight, which turns white when someone's in your crosshairs.
Aside from doomed bad guys, each of the linear levels are also filled with drugs that you'll need to confiscate. Aside from boosting your reputation - vital to cutting undercover deals - the narcotics you snag give you something to barter with. Before each mission, for example, you'll need to slip a few ounces to your informant to learn where drugs, enemies and other important objects will be located. You can also sell your contraband to around a dozen different street dealers, or - for really big money - you can unlock the location of a drug, meth or coke baron and engage in a horribly difficult "keep the arrow in the blue area" minigame to earn his trust. Do well, and you'll walk away with a ton of cash. Fail, and one of you is going to end up dead.
The actual cash can be spent on new guns, gun upgrades and even designer suits. And yeah, the suits actually factor into gameplay; aside from your detective's normally scruffy threads, you can buy a sleek, upgradeable designer suit (which gives you a hefty reputation bonus) or bulky police armor.
To unlock the really cool stuff between missions, you'll need to hack "flashrams" found in each level. Shockingly, the hacking minigame is actually an addictive little three-stage action-puzzler, where players have to set off charged bursts to ignite chain reactions and make floating cubes explode.
Miami Vice also features an ad-hoc co-op mode, which enables two players to storm through the game as Crockett and Tubbs. All of the between-mission stuff is taken out to keep things moving quickly, but all the levels are intact, and perforating thugs is always more fun with a friend along.
The source material's pretty lackluster, but Miami Vice: The Game winds up better than it has a right to be, if only because it's the closest the PSP has come to Resident Evil 4's stellar action. It's hard not to be frustrated by the poor visibility and abrupt, inconclusive ending (we suspect this is a prequel to the movie), but this still manages to emerge as one of the PSP's better shooters.