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(Also appears at Freeola.com, and my University newspaper: The Rabbit)
Shawn Ryan's brainchild police serial "The Shield" is undoubtedly one of the grittiest and unflinchingly brutal television shows in recent history, viciously chronicling police corruption in California. Despite rarely being recognised at the Emmys, it's received heaps of critical acclaim for straying from the pack in terms of cop shows, delivering a truly unique and original programme to viewers each week.
Consequently, it seems to be de rigueur for every moderately successful television show to receive a sub-par game adaptation. One only needs to look at the disappointing 24 and abysmal Sopranos games for empirical proof of this, and, unfortunately, The Shield does nothing to buck the horrifying trend. What at the outset is a promising endeavour ultimately falls flat at most instances, delivering a product that, at its worst offence, will be a huge disappointment to fans of the series, and let's face it - this game, if nothing else, is one made for the fans.
As it pertains to aesthetics, The Shield isn't a total failure, and this is in fact the game's forte. The visual motifs are very much in the vein of the series, even displaying the innovative opening credits mid-mission as another means of immersing you in Vic Mackey's world. The likenesses of Michael Chiklis and company have been accurately captured for the game, and the overall visuals would seem somewhat more impressive were it not for the blocky, jagged textures of the surrounding environments.
Where the game takes a nosedive is with the gameplay, which is not only incredibly banal, but also hugely frustrating. Several missions require you to search a suspect's house for drugs and other contraband, and this employ an incredibly awkward game mechanic that relies more on blind luck than any finesse. You are presented with a badge, and you have to scroll over it with the analogue stick, looking for the "sweet spot", which will become more concentrated as you get closer to it. It seems to lack any real logic and was perhaps made just to make the game seem longer than it is through the sheer amount of times you'll have to reload the mission to find a compelling piece of evidence (failing these mini-games doesn't give you a game-over outright, but they make things tougher). An interesting element appended to this feature is the ability to keep the contraband for yourself (to add to your retirement fund), or turn it into the evidence locker at The Barn (the police station at which Mackey works). If the actual means of obtaining the contraband was somewhat more intuitive, then this feature of the game would be the selling point, without a doubt.
The stealth missions serve as nothing more than an irritation, adding virtually nil to the plot progression, and becoming boring almost instantaneously. This anger is amplified by the fact that several of the stealth missions dictate that you cannot be seen by anyone, and if you are, you fail the mission. At least if you're given the alternate method of killing everyone in sight if things go sour, then it wouldn't be so bad, and frankly, the latter method sounds more fun anyway, and more Mackey-esque.
Despite the flaws, the gameplay does have a few nice touches that truly allow you to step into the corrupt shoes of Vic Mackey. For example, you can beat suspects around with a vast array of weapons at your disposal. You can shove their face into a wall that delivers a satisfying bone-crunching sound, and you can even use the infamous grill, as Mackey himself did once in the series. You're also able to kill suspects and subsequently plant a gun on them if you so wish. These unique strokes, however, are catastrophically overshadowed by the severe flaws in the game. It's a shame, as the premise of playing a corrupt cop has rarely been explored in the computer game universe, and lent itself to a world of promise that was swiftly swept aside by The Shield's deep flaws.
Another of the few good points about the game is the story. It's well written, and whilst adding little to the universe of the Shield, provides a little more characterisation to the Strike Team, and also adds a little more of a personality to the various gangs featured (e.g. the Byz-Lats and the Niners).
The Shield is a game that had a modicum of potential, yet was met with a number of production issues, such as being shelved for several months, that were greatly to its detriment. The idea of playing the unrelentingly corrupt Vic Mackey was a superb idea on paper, yet a simple lack of application lead to a final product that is invariable weak. Fans of the series hoping to bridge the excruciating wait until the sixth season begins would be best advised to re-watch their season boxed-sets and avoid this.
Players take on the role of Mackey, the tough, street-savvy leader of the Elite Strike Team, a special police unit located deep within the crime-riddled trenches of Los Angeles. Vic lives by his own code of ethics, neither bad nor good, and is a different kind of a cop who is willing to do what it takes to clean up the streets. In The Shield game, players are able to dive into frenetic-paced gameplay and interact with the complex characters and unique locations that are key trademarks of the series. As Vic, the player will engage in perilous, true-to-life police work (busting crack dens, thwarting bank robberies, taking down gang bangers, apprehending serial killers). In order to succeed, they will need to operate outside the rules by intimidating suspects with brute force, accepting bribes, and holding incriminating information over other cops who don't agree with Vic's ?ends justify the means? approach to fighting crime.