Once again, the content versus gameplay argument rears its ugly head. 187: Ride or Die is the pinnacle of everything that people complain about in 'gangsta' culture—the celebration of criminality, the devaluation of human life, the mute bikini girls firing automatic weapons, and, of course, the omnipresent ridiculous slang. The content ranges from the puerile to the idiotic to the genuinely off-putting, yet at the same time, it's probably the finest car combat game ever released. Is it worth bearing the awkward and ridiculous setting to experience the stellar gameplay? In this case, yes.
187 is an arcade-style racer at its core. Players are asked to drive as fast as possible around urban tracks, dodging traffic and sliding around tight corners. Computer cheating is prevalent, with AI opponents who always manage to be just a little bit ahead of the player, or who catch up suspiciously fast. In addition to the many shortcuts built into each level, the game's gunplay acts as the great equalizer in the game—though the AI may all be great drivers, they tend not to be very good shots.
The shooting controls are demanding but intuitive. Each car has a driver and a gunner. With the default weapon, the gunner can only shoot straight ahead or to the right, but once the player drives over one of the floating powerups that are scattered around the course, the gunner climbs out of the sunroof Chase HQ-style for a little 360-degree shooting action. While continuing to steer with the left control stick, the player is expected to use the right analog stick to fire at the opposition. This setup was challenging at first, as the game offers surprisingly little aiming assistance, but the control scheme quickly became second nature, making blowing apart enemy cars the best part of the game.
Gunplay is an excellent tool for deterring tailgaters, in addition to blowing apart the leaing car. Whenever they're nearby (but offscreen) an indicator appears at the edge of the screen telling the player where to shoot. The game even offers more precise targeting options like clicking the left control stick to reverse the camera, a vital tactic for the more combat-intensive missions.
In a neat idea that isn't quite as well-implemented as it ought to have been, whenever I reversed the camera to aim more carefully at the cars behind me, the computer took over driving my car, weaving through traffic and making all the right turns. This is a wonderful feature that should have allowed me to fire backwards without losing the flow of the race, if it weren't for one problem—the computer doesn't seem to know how to accelerate. If I spent more than a few seconds looking backwards my car would gradually coast to a stop. It's possible this maneuver was intended as a disincentive to keep people from just playing the entire game as the gunner, but simply making the AI driver unable to use shortcuts or nitro speed boosts would have had the same effect without completely compromising the usefulness of the reverse shooting option.
All of this fun racing and shooting is framed by a frankly ludicrous plot that has two warring drug cartels settling all of their scores through combat racing. The best way to deal with the plot is to simply ignore it, and imagine a reason for all of this car combat to be going on. I have little doubt that any average player couldn't come up with a better justification than the game's developers did. Although, to its credit, the game does manage to have a more realistic and appropriate ending than any of the other violent crime-themed games that have been released recently, even if it is locked away behind an almost ridiculously difficult final level.
Is the plot content absurd and borderline racist? Sure. Does that make this a bad game? Not really, no. The sparseness of the plot and its basic irrelevance to the gameplay keep it from being a dealbreaker. The game offers entertaining car combat with enough car, weapon, and track variations to keep players from getting bored. Car combat isn't exactly a popular genre these days, so it's a surprise to see developers putting this much effort in to refine and improve the mechanics to such a great extent. There's room for improvement, but 187 does a great job at what it sets out to do, and will no doubt satisfy fans of the genre.
Disclaimer: This review is based on the Xbox version of the game.