A crash course in carjacking.
It's a little hard to believe the PSP was released a year ago this month, partly because it hasn't been a very memorable ride. Though Liberty City
gave it some holiday life, the system is still dying for a crop of original games to contend with the growing library of DS must-haves. The nigh endless port parade just isn't cutting it, and frankly, Lumines
shouldn't still be the best game on the market.
So we approached Pursuit Force with high hopes. An action/racing hybrid exclusive to the system? Sure, why not? At least it's unique, right?
Right, but that doesn't make it great. Eschewing gameplay depth in favor of immediate high-speed thrills, this racing game with a twist delivers an initial blast of fun followed by the slow, steady hum of an engine stuck in neutral.
The story is stuck there, too. This much is clear – Capital City is in turmoil as various gangs terrorize the town. Things have gotten so out of hand that a new task division, dubbed the Pursuit Force, has been created to deal with such criminals. Niggling details like your name, background and motives are left to the imagination; in truth, the paper-thin premise is just an excuse to get your ass into a fast vehicle and chase people.
You'll mostly do that in Career mode, which requires you to take on cases covering each of the five gangs. Beating missions unlocks more, about 30 in all. Though you're given a cartoonish briefing by a jar-headed dispatcher, it almost always boils down to the same thing: one of the gangs has stolen something naughty or is en route to do something naughty, and it's up to you to catch them and take them out before they reach their destination.
This usually means you're behind the wheel of an absurdly fast car for most of the game's linear courses. There's no larger, connected overworld; in true arcade fashion, it's just one unrelated level after another. Any real-world physics have also been left at Captain Video's, as Porsche, van and motorcycle alike are hardly affected by smashing through other vehicles. The control is mostly good, making whipping through traffic pretty rewarding…unless you're in the water, as the game's boats all control like slabs of concrete.
Though you can blow up enemy cars by shooting them, the far more effective way to get the job done is to leap from car to car like a vengeful Frogger. This is Pursuit Force's big twist, and it has its moments. An icon indicates you're close enough to try a jump, which is done by simply pressing Circle. While clinging to the hood, hugging the roof or gripping the trunk, you have to get rid of the passengers by force-feeding them bullets. You can also dodge their shots by pressing Square, which momentarily dumps you out of their view. Occasionally you'll need to balance yourself with the D-Pad as the drivers swerve to shake you off.
At first, the mechanic is terrific. Hanging onto a hood and trading shots with the passenger while careening down the freeway at breakneck speeds carries an intrinsic pleasure. A 'Justice' meter fills up as you kill guys and capture cars; when filled, you can either trigger it to heal yourself and your current ride, or hold onto it and watch as your leaps run in slow-motion, giving you ample time to shoot most of the passengers before even landing. It's the kind of thing you probably wished was in a console game, and now here it is in the palm of your hand.
But given such a clever device, you'd hope there was more to it. You'll get over the novelty after your first ten leaps, kills and jacks, and since there's no skill required in making a jump, there's no real sense of accomplishment. You simply kill everyone in the car and commandeer it, a process you'll repeat over and over again throughout the tightly-scripted missions. Each is also fairly brief, at best a few minutes long, making it more a game of trial and error than anything else. The difficulty ramps up so brutally in the later missions, in fact, that there's no way you'll beat 'em on the first pass…or the twelfth, even. Expect to be frustrated.
And expect to laugh out loud whenever your poor cop gets out of the car. Several missions make you do just that, clambering through nondescript warehouse settings mindlessly shooting at bad guys. The control is awful, only allowing you to crouch or run fast as you auto-target all the brainless bad guys. Someone really should have intervened and explained to the dev team that Driv3r already plowed this diseased land.
Due to its repetitive nature, Career mode won't keep you glued to that gorgeous screen for long. There's a great deal of unlockable content here, including gallery stills and maps for Time Trials and plain Racing modes, but none of it is very compelling.
Whether you're behind the wheel or pulling a trigger, Pursuit Force looks and sounds great. The framerate is mostly steady and the action stays fast and frantic throughout. It's not flashy, but puts its power in the right spots. The cut-scenes are particularly good, vibrant and well directed despite the anemic story. Kooky, over-the-top voice-acting helps establish the comical mood, while tight sound effects and an action-movie soundtrack keep it exciting.
It's just too bad there isn't more excitement in the actual gameplay or design. Pursuit Force's sweet delivery belies its repetitive action and limited scope, leading to a game best enjoyed in small doses. That might have its place, but we're more interested in the next big thing than merely a mediocre new one.