The numbers game.
The first question I asked myself upon grabbing Need for Speed: Most Wanted 5-1-0 from the overflowing GR game shelf was "What exactly is 5-1-0?" I know 5-0, but what's with the added 1? Maybe Google will have the 411 on 510. There seem to be quite a few fans of the Datsun 510, but that car isn't in the game. Government form 510 is for excise taxes, but, well, I don't actually know what excise taxes are. There was a Nazi u-boat 510 that had quite a good battle record before it (ironically) surrendered to the French. No help there.
510 also just happens to be the telephone area code at Game Revolution, which, oddly enough, is the best connection I could find between that number and this PSP outing. The connection between that game and its console counterparts is slightly stronger, but for all the extra digits and dashes, it doesn't come close to adding up to the horsepower or quality of its bigger brothers.
This micro-machine has been stripped down, de-tuned, and left up on cinder blocks in the front yard. It's not that we expected the PSP version to keep up with the Xbox 360, but 510 isn't just a different number, it's an entirely different game.
The first thing you'll notice is that 5-1-0 lacks the free-roaming city of Rockport. No excuses, EA – if the PSP is capable of containing Liberty City, it can handle much more than 5-1-0's closed-off tracks. Really the only thing 5-1-0 has in common with the console versions is the "blacklist," which is the ranking of the local street racing gang. Prove yourself on the asphalt, and they'll take you on one at a time. But on the PSP, your opponents are little more than menu options. What happened to all those hysterical little cutscenes? If my PSP can play feature length films, it can definitely handle a few cutscenes. There is no conceivable reason to leave those behind.
Speaking of left behind, you can also watch about half the console versions' featured cars disappear in your rear-view mirror, because 5-1-0 only has sixteen. Where'd the rest go? Probably drove back to the 360 where it's more fun.
Once you get behind the wheel of one of those cars, though, you'll discover the racing itself is decent, even if you can never leave the track. The control is tight and precise, the tracks are nice and long, usually with a shortcut or two, and your opponents are fairly smart and aggressive. They're certainly not afraid of trading a little paint in order to win.
The physics seem a little off, though. They work well enough at high speeds, but collisions result in some very strange bounces. And from a standstill, your car just doesn't respond the way it should. You can't peel out or do donuts like we know you wanna. Accelerating like grandma is the only option.
At least the cars look good, even if you can't show them off to their full potential with some snazzy tricks. The paint reflects nicely, and while there aren't as many car customizations as on the consoles, the options don't feel skimpy. With nice detail, a good draw distance and smooth framerates, the tracks look good, too.
A smattering of the same race modes are here. Sprints are your standard races, while Knockouts literally knock out the last place car each lap. Tollbooth time trials are oddly hard for solo races, and Heat Challenges just require you to piss off the cops in a short period of time.
Which is absurdly easy, because the police integration in 5-1-0 is, in a word, retarded. The cool "heat level" system from the console versions has been replaced with a heat level that works on a race-to-race basis. Here, each race starts off with a heat level of 0, which can increase to 10, determining how aggressive the police get.
The problem is that nearly everything increases your heat level. Speeding, for instance. Um, did the developers forget this is a racing game with the word "speed" in the title? Sure, colliding with innocent drivers should probably increase your heat, but missing them? A "near miss" also increases your heat level, making 5-1-0 the first racing game in history to punish you for driving fast and not hitting things. Everyone, it seems, is dialing 911.
This also means the cops show up at pretty much every single race and the heat level ramps to 10 very quickly each time. Fortunately, the heat at level 10 is nothing like the console versions. There is seldom more than one cop car trying to run you off the road and the roadblocks are - yes, you guessed it - retarded. The tiny little orange plastic fences they set up are easily avoided because they are so small and seem to be set up in random locations that are often not in your way at all. Good thing, too, because that thin orange mesh will stop you like you just hit the rock of Gibraltar. Maybe the cops enjoyed a little too much 420?
The other problem with the cops is that they throw an often unfair monkey wrench into a perfectly fine race. You can be far in the lead, only to get pitted right at the end of the race and lose. Likewise, you can be far behind and watch a cop take out the leading racer giving you an undeserved victory.
At least you get to be the cops in 5-1-0. In one of its rare victories, the game's Tuner Takedown mode lets you show those little punks just who the man is. It's fun and would have actually been a great addition to the console versions, too.
5-1-0 also trumps the PS2 and Gamecube games by having both Ad Hoc and Infrastructure support. Finding online opponents is easy, so you can say goodbye to Rockport and test your mettle against the world's street racing club.
Too bad it's just not quite compelling enough. Oddly, Need for Speed: Most Wanted 5-1-0 would have been a better game if they had just left the police back at the donut shop. The combination of badly integrated cops, too few cars, and trammeled car physics keep this game off our most wanted list.