PSP Review: Pursuit Force

Since the beginning of the medium, video games have done one thing predominantly well: action. Fists, bats, guns, cars, explosions, etc. If you can create action around it, a game has done it. Pursuit Force may be built around a simple action concept, but the game is nothing short of intense.

In one of those video game cities run by crime, the Pursuit Force is formed, and their training must consist of nothing but performing acrobatic jumps, insanely stupid driving, and shooting. The concept is basic: drive a car, jump to an enemy's car, blow them away, and repeat. It's car jacking in Grand Theft Auto on the most massive steroids nowhere even close to being allowed by law.

The mechanic is a little loose, and it's not always possible to make the jump you want, or even take it at all. There's no worry about missing the target (a wise gameplay call) since it's automated once the circle button is pressed, but in a melee involving multiple cars, it's tough to make the move to the proper vehicle. Also, if you're not in the right spot, the coding doesn't allow for the jump either.

These instances are rare however. Once the leap of faith is made, it's a matter of hanging on, dodging, and shooting. Every encounter, whether on the front or the back of the car, is thrilling. A few more defensive moves wouldn't have hurt (the provided dodge is woefully ineffective at times), though you're usually concentrating on shooting to quickly hijack a vehicle to make the destination.

Wisely breaking the monotony of the back-and-forth jump mechanic, Pursuit Force offers on-foot levels and a few brief helicopter shooting galleries (that play out like light gun shooters). On-foot levels fare the worst of the lot, with a tough targeting system that requires a lock on before a shot can be fired. Granted, it's an admirable attempt to avoid the plague that is the lack of a second analog stick, but these brief segments could have been cut and there would be little complaint.

There are a few levels that feel like they were part of a bigger plan too. One of the game's brightest moments is a rip off of action movie classic Speed, putting the player at the wheel of a bus, trying to maintain a constant speed to avoid a bomb explosion, and attempting to save the hostages. It's a brilliant bit of action gaming, tied in flawlessly with a soundtrack that provides a nice sense of production values (even more so given the PSP). There should have been more like this.

The rough edges to this pure action title don't stop the player from continuing even after the brutal difficulty ramp sets in. Pursuit Force is hard, and it's flat out wrong to say otherwise. Even when the mechanics are firmly in grasp, you'll be doing quite a bit of repeating. The boss fights are especially tricky.

The key career mode is where the story plays out. It's slightly aggravating that you'll need to earn certain ranks to even attempt some missions, though it's a way to force the player to tackle different stages and enemies. It prevents the repetition better than the missions not involving vehicles. Outside of that, a wonderfully enjoyable race mode and time attack continues to unlock more features in the gallery. All the cinematics and some wonderful production artwork ends up here, and it's definitely worth playing to see each new one.

On a system starving for quality software, Pursuit Force makes up for the long wait. There's unquestionably a franchise here, and if the intensity is this strong on the PSPs screen, you'd almost wish to see it on more powerful hardware on a TV. This is superb, innovative, and well rounded gaming.

Note: Pursuit Force has a rather baffling design choice inserted into it. You cannot turn off or put the PSP into sleep mode when navigating menus. You must be in a stage and playing. The only way out of the menus is to head out to the PSP's main screen and turn if off from there. It has to be a first game to ever prevent the player from turning off the system when it's playing.

(**** out of *****)

Comments (2)

LKM:

The game starts out great, but it quickly becomes depressingly hard. I just can't figure out how to finish some of the levels, especially those where you have to protect other cars.

pity.

Agreed. There's one boss fight I've tried off and on for months. Other ones I pulled off in a few tries. As long as I don't force myself to keep going, it avoids the frustration and I can still enjoy it.

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