In The Shield: The Game, you play Vic Mackey, the show’s main character and the Barn’s resident bad boy. As Vic, you and your cohorts on the Strike Team fight gang violence in the fictional Los Angeles neighborhood of Farmington. Oh, and you might just happen to pocket a little confiscated cash along the way for the “retirement fund.”
The opening sequence of the game is actual show footage that sums up the events so far. The intro puts the game timeline as somewhere between seasons 3 and 4 of the show. It might be hard to know what’s going on if you don’t watch The Shield, but I think the inclusion of real footage helps to pull you in to the game.
Once the game starts, it turns out that there’s a war brewing between two rival gangs that feature prominently in the show, the One-Niners and the Byz-Lats. The Strike Team is charged with calming things down before chaos erupts. To do this, you have to employ some of Vic’s classic techniques, such as planting drugs to shake down an informant, illegally searching people’s houses, interrogating suspects with a little more force than is strictly required, and shooting people who get in the way. Don’t forget to plant a throw-down weapon so there’s no doubt that they shot at you first and deserved their fate.
Throughout the game, you are being watched by Captain Asaveda because the Strike Team is on the chopping block. By taking down these gangs, you are justifying your existence, but you could screw it up by doing something illegal. That doesn’t mean you’ll play it straight – does Vic ever do that? – but you have to choose the right time to act. When you’re in trouble, you’ll have “heat” on you as measured by a gauge on the screen. Certain things you do can lower heat and others raise it. Shooting someone with an eyewitness present is probably a good way to upset the Captain.
The last motive you need to consider is Vic’s desire to build up the retirement fund. At this point in the Shield universe, Lem has already torched the majority of the Armenian money train cash. That has left each member with only $65,000. As Vic, you can stash contraband drugs and cash in the fund, and hope no one finds out.
So, you have to balance between getting dangerous criminals off the street, keeping your team together, and planning for the future. These conflicting priorities seem like they would be the basis for a good game. I wish it were so. In The Shield: The Game, Vic has been reduced to a one-dimensional thug. As you progress through the game, Vic comes across as violent and single-minded in his quest to profit from everything he does. That’s just not the Vic from the show, where he is obviously conflicted by many of his actions.
As if the dumbing-down of Vic weren’t enough, the gameplay itself is not good. Each objective you face has a solution, be it sneaking around a building, grappling with a suspect, or chasing someone and shooting them down. However, there seems to be only one solution to every problem. There is no creativity involved, no finesse. To sneak around that building, simply follow the barricades that have been placed for you. I tried it other ways and there really weren’t any alternatives. You also are controlled in the techniques you can use. You can only search where there’s something to find, only interrogate when the suspect wants to talk. Luckily, you can shoot your gun whenever you like.
Making matters worse are the mini-games that pop up when you search or interrogate someone. The searching mini-game involves searching with a mouse on a picture of a badge. Frequently, just shaking the mouse rapidly was enough to win that one. I don’t have a problem with mini-games, but make them fun.
Graphically, The Shield: The Game isn’t very exciting, but it’s not the pits either. Any game of this kind is going to feature blocky character models and poor animation, and this game does not let us down there, although it’s a step up from some other games I’ve seen. Strangely, when I loaded the game for the first time it started out in 640x480 resolution which really didn’t look good at all. Boosting it to 1024x768 helped matters tremendously.
In terms of sound, many of the show actors did their own voices in The Shield: The Game. Since you get to interact with many of the show characters over the course of the game, this adds quite a touch of realism. The sound effects and soundtrack, on the other hand, were really annoying. For one, they seemed very loud on my computer. Secondly, the gunshot sounds on every menu started to drive me nuts after awhile. I ended up turning off the sound.
So is The Shield: The Game a worthy follow up to a great show? Frankly, no. The game mechanics are clunky and linear, and it’s just not any fun. I think that the game is better integrated with the show than some other TV-based games that I’ve played, but really that just means that there’s less gameplay and more cutscenes and background. I also dislike that they’ve reduced Vic to a one-dimensional character. You’re better off waiting for Season 5 to start to get your Shield fix.
Even so, I'm really a casual gamer. I enjoy sim games because I get to build or make things, and on MMORPGs I usually have 10 or more characters going at one time so that I can experiment with every possible combination. I like thinking while I'm gaming, which explains my enduring love for text adventures, and my refusal to ever play an FPS.