Thug life is serious business. Exploiting it for fun and/or profit is big business - especially in the videogame industry. After the Grand Theft Auto series blew up upon moving to full 3D, virtual gangsterism became a license to print money for publishers and developers.
However, familiarity generally breeds contempt, and as people quickly began to grow tired of GTA clones and faux-street life, devs and publishers just as quickly regrouped and looked for new ways to present the so-called "urban lifestyle" in new and shiny packages. Some developers put GTA influences into weird things, like platformers (see: Jak series), and others into fighting games (see: Def Jam series). Ubisoft went a different route with their latest game for the PS2, 187: Ride or Die; in an attempt to capture the grittiness of the 'hood, they fused arcade-style driving with hardcore shoot-em-up action, and took care to cram in every sort of ghetto slang possible. On paper, this sounds...decidedly average. Sadly, the game doesn't do much of anything to disprove that notion.
The plot of the game is straight out of some sort of book for generic gangland plots - which, if I wrote said book, would likely be titled "John Singleton for Homiez". As reluctant "runner" Buck, it's your duty to defend your gang's threatened turf against the Mexican Mafia by taking to the streets in chromed-out rides and shooting anything and everything you can. Once you've accepted the gravity of your sacred mission, you can jump right into the action in one of several modes, including the self-explanatory Story, Multiplayer and Online Modes, tweak settings in the Option Mode, or play in short spurts in the Quick Hits Mode (lets you replay any stages you've already unlocked in Story Mode).
The Story Mode is where you'll spend the most time playing; since the story itself is pretty weak, we'll just skip to the gameplay. The game's mixture of racing and shooting action goes down in a variety of game types, including the regular circuit races, which happen in cramped urban tracks, deathmatches - which are, of course, battle races with rival rides to the death, escort missions, where you annoyingly attempt to keep a buddy car alive by wasting opponents and covering for your pal's car, and the wonderfully-titled "po-po chase", a herculean task in which you go hard in an effort to outwit, outdrive and outlast the merciless police. So yeah, there are a few game types, but the gameplay is generally the same; using the left stick, you'll do the driving as Buck, and using the right stick, you can instruct your homie to sling gunfire at opponents in any direction.
The sense of speed is fairly decent, and the driving is somewhat fun, if a bit loose. Should you enjoy playing, you can share the good times with a friend in split-screen multiplayer mode for some racing or deathmatch action. You can also team up and tackle rival gangs in co-op mode, which lets one player do all the driving and another player do all the, erm…mad heater blazin’, yo. If you’re looking to reach out and blast someone, you can take even the game online, which makes it real easy to incite a classic East Coast – West Coast rivalry from your own livingroom. Tupac might not approve, but hey…he won’t say anything about it. I promise.
The vestiges of goodwill created by 187: Ride or Die's gameplay initially might have the game growing on you...but the shameless and forced gangsta dialogue of the game fixes that nagging issue with the quickness. Reading through the unintentionally hilarious instruction manual should have already raised red flags about the dialogue, rife with random swearing and the most liberal use of the "N-word" (you know which one I mean) ever in a videogame; the screenshots in it already have some of the game's "greatest hits" displayed, so to speak. But the screenies in the manual only scratch the surface; the text you'll read in the game will have you rolling on the floor and dying of laughter - that is, of course, if you aren't a "straight G-rida gangsta-azz homie". If you were in fact a proponent of G-riding or gangsta-azz homieism, you might actually be miffed at the lack of authenticity in the dialogue, since it reads and sounds as if it came from one of those websites that automatically generates thugged-out text as opposed to real street lingo.
The gameplay and presentation is run of the mill at best, but at least the visuals are above average. The ghetto lifestyle presented here is brought to the small screen via very detailed cars, well-proportioned character models and a good framerate. Ubisoft also didn't skimp on special effects, using slow motion, motion blur, bloom lighting, particle effects and wild Burnout-esque explosions with reckless abandon - not to mention a glossy sheen on everything. The voice work, led by noteworthy Hollywood actor Larenz Tate, is decent despite the terrible script, and the sound effects don't hurt the game at all. Gunfire sounds like gunfire and explosions sound sufficiently explode-y; not much more you could ask for. The soundtrack is the best part of the audio package, with 15 unreleased tracks by West Coast rapper Guerilla Black lending a semblance of street credibility to a game that would otherwise be as true to the streets as say...Will Smith in a sweater-vest or something.
So when all is said and done, it looks like Ubisoft failed to bring the concrete jungle to the PS2. 187: Ride or Die is rare in that it's exactly the sum of its parts - sub-par gameplay and presentation combine with decent graphics and audio to form a veritable Voltron of mediocrity. Meh, it's not worth a purchase at all...but fans of pseudo-thuggery or arcade racing might find a little merit in a rental or two.