IGN Review of Pursuit Force
Videogames have tried to mimic action films for years. It's the industry Holy Grail that developers have tried to find since the mid-80s. It makes perfect sense when you think about it. There's little else cooler than starring in your own balls-to-the-wall action spectacular. And yes, there has obviously been success along the way. Look at Max Payne, for instance. It captured the essence of gunfights better than most games before and after its initial release. And look at God of War. It took a basic premise and hammered it into one of the coolest action epics in videogame history. It felt like starring in your own mythical action flick.
With Pursuit Force, developer BigBig Studios blends two action staples - car chases and gunfights - to create an interactive action flick. One that just happens to be portable. But the big question is: did the company succeed? Has it blasted through the clich?s to make something memorable? The answer is yes. At least for the most part. It's not a perfect ride, but it offers something irrefutably unique, fast and very cool. It succeeds at making you feel like an action star, something few games can claim. It's also entirely portable, making it even more impressive.
So here's the premise: you're a cop in a new branch of the police department known as the Pursuit Force. The unit specializes in high speed chases and sports experimental vehicles, guns and the like. The city created this new unit to tackle five gangs, each of which has done a fine job of crippling things for innocent civilians. Each gang has its own unique shtick. The Warlords gang is made up of crazy military folk, for instance, while the Vixens are a group of high-tech thieves. Each has its own vehicles, weapons and goals, so it helps keep things fresh throughout the game.
The game divides 30 missions by gang type, so each individual gang boasts six missions. You can't just hop in and try any you want, though. You have to earn that right. At the beginning, you can try four missions split between two unlocked gangs. You can tackle them in any order you want, since Pursuit Force is very episodic - there's no overarching narrative. But you can't try missions that exceed your starting rank of major. Complete your assignments with a good ranking (A, B not C) and you'll be promoted to lieutenant, at which point new missions open up. Eventually, you'll gain access to new gangs and their missions as well.
Most of the action, regardless of gang, revolves around Hollywood-style chase scenarios. Developers did a fine job with the actual driving mechanics. Tearing through streets at 110 mph is fast, fluid and highly responsive. The twist, though, is that you need to leap from car to car in order to complete your objective. So, where most action racers confine you to one vehicle, Pursuit Force has you commandeering as many vehicles as you can literally get your hands on. This applies to enemy sports cars as well as civilian minivans. When you're within jumping distance of a vehicle, (a yellow "jump" icon notifies you) then a tap of the circle button sends you soaring through the air and onto the hood of your target. The effect looks wicked-cool; far better than watching CG agents jump cars in the second Matrix film, anyway.
Fortunately, the actual hijack mechanic works well most of the time. There's no denying that it's awesome fun, especially during the more intense chases. Not only that, it's also pretty darn unique. Of course, not all is well. The system can be a little finicky at times, so you'll inevitably miss a few jumps. For whatever reason, the jump icon simply won't show up even when you're well within range of your target car, forcing you to blast right past it, slow down and try it again. This doesn't happen all the time and definitely not enough to warrant concern, but it'll probably screw you over at some point.
See, Pursuit Force times just about everything. There are very few lulls in the action and every second literally counts. As such, missing jumps costs precious time; time you'll really want back after losing the same mission four times in a row due to seemingly random hiccups in the game's hijack system. You'll also lose seconds whenever a civilian rams you, or you ram a civilian. And since random cars often populate the highways and back roads of every mission, this will probably happen more than you like. It's all part of the challenge, of course, and a good driver won't have as many problems as someone who sucks behind the wheel. Having said that, Pursuit Force is not a forgiving game.
Yes, developers have tweaked it a bit to make certain missions a little friendlier, but it's still a decidedly "hardcore" game. Anyone who tinkered with the European release knows exactly how irritatingly difficult this game can get. And it does so early on too, so there's little adjustment time. The US release benefits from an all-new checkpoint system, not to mention slightly friendlier opposition. Problem is that some of the later stages are still pretty long, and for whatever reason some of them still don't have any checkpoints. Most of the earlier missions have them, at least the lengthy ones do, but that's not the case later on. It's an intentional omission, but one that certain editors, err, gamers won't like much.
So what makes it difficult? For starters, there's very little room for error since you're constantly fighting against strict time limits. Should you mess up once, say crash into a car or miss a jump, during specific missions it's all over. You may as well just give up and restart the mission since there's no way you'll make it. Dodging enemy fire while trying to jack a car seems a little random, too, making it difficult to avoid a bulk of the damage in later stages of the game when enemies are packing serious heat. Not only that, dodging fire means you're not shooting yourself, but cowering over the side of the car, forcing you to lose precious time.
Having said that, most missions still pack a massive amount of fun. You'll often jump from sports cars, to motorcycles, to jeeps and even speed boats. They all handle differently, too, so there's a definite strategy involved in stealing the right vehicle. Beyond this, helicopters will sometimes swoop in and drop bombs on you, making things that much more hectic. You'll have to swerve out of the way while dodging peripheral vehicles, all while protecting nearby civilians. It can get damn crazy at times, but that's half the appeal. Also, missions rarely stay on the road for long. The action switches from land, to sea, to air, helping keep things engaging.
Beyond this, you can only achieve certain objectives by leaving vehicles behind and proceeding on foot. For a game focused on car chases, Pursuit Force does an admirable job during these third-person shooter sequences. They're simple, no doubt - all you ever need to do is run around blasting people. But they're nonetheless enjoyable and they add another layer of depth and variety to an already varied experience. Control is, admittedly, slightly wonky. But thanks to a lock-on mechanism, it's easy to handle crowds of gun-toting gang members. Also, certain on-rails sequences have you controlling a mini-gun for blasting boats, cars and other targets. Very fun indeed.
One of the most impressive aspects, though, is definitely the game's presentation. Here's an example of a seriously polished title - one of the most polished on the system, if not the most. Each gang has its own cool aesthetic, with unique clothing, vehicles and insignia. All the menus boast groovy styling as well. Also, to say Pursuit Force doesn't disappoint with its in-game visuals would be a ridiculous understatement. If only all PSP titles looked this good. It's not only amazing to look at from an aesthetic point of a view, but it also runs very damn well. Even when the screen erupts with cars, explosions and helicopters the action remains fluid. Add in great voice work, cool mission scenarios and a slew of funny characters and you've got one amazing package.
And then there's the bonus material. Every time you complete a stage, you unlock character art, wallpaper and videos for viewing through an in-game gallery. You can even save the wallpaper from within the game for use on your PSP. How convenient! Also, you can unlock tracks for use in two different bonus modes, Time Trial and Race. Time Trial is about what you'd expect, which isn't shabby by any means. Race, on the other hand, actually lets you play gang members and complete missions. They're all race-oriented, obviously, and the objective never really changes, but it's great to see a developer make the most of it anyway.
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