The Fast and the Furious Hands-On

The Fast and the Furious makes its way to the neon metropolis of Tokyo as we take a look at this street racing PS2 game.

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The Fast and the Furious film series featuring macho guys, hot chicks, and loads of awesomely fast street racers seems tailor-made for video game translation. Surprisingly, beyond a forgettable mobile game released in 2004, no console F&F game has made it to release day yet. That's about to change, however, as Namco Bandai is due to release The Fast and the Furious in late August. We took a spin with an updated build of the game, just ahead of the release of the third film in the high-speed franchise, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift.

Drifting: If your tires aren't smoking, you aren't doing it right.
Drifting: If your tires aren't smoking, you aren't doing it right.

Curiously, Namco dropped "Tokyo Drift" from the title of the game recently, which may or may not reveal the publisher's view of the film's chances at the box office. Nonetheless, it's hard to escape the Japanese influences in the game. For one thing, the open-ended driving sections in the game's career mode--which is at the very center of the F&F gameplay--take place in the neon wonderland that is Tokyo itself. From a sheer size standpoint, the game is quite impressive here; you're dropped onto the twisting highways and byways of Japan's capital at night and are given free rein to drive exactly where you want to. Better yet, the colorful lights of the city are brought to life respectably by the PlayStation 2 hardware, and there are no load times when simply traveling along the highways. Of course, this is only possible thanks to a relative dearth of traffic on the roads--you'll occasionally run into a semitruck or a few passenger vehicles, but for the most part, the roads of Tokyo are yours for the driving.

Essentially, the open-ended nature of F&F feels a lot like another Tokyo-based driving series, Genki's Tokyo Xtreme Racer series. The setting, of course, is a natural parallel, but there are also the occasional encounters with rival drivers on the Tokyo streets, which you can choose to run at any time. In our experience with the preview build, these encounters didn't come as often as we might have liked, but when they did, they were usually pretty exciting, especially if we were down on horsepower and had to outdrive our opponent, as opposed to simply outmuscling him. As you speed through the Tokyo night, you'll periodically have the opportunity to exit off the main thoroughfares and check out car dealerships, tune your ride at the local garage, or enter local hill races, where your specialized racing skills will be tested. Here, you can challenge a number of local hill-racing experts within several different race types. Grip battles are standard races to the finish line--the first one across the line wins. Touge battles require you to put distance between your opponent and yourself. The most interesting type of race, however, is the drift battles. Forget about finishing first; in a drift battle, your aim is to simply make your car look as cool as possible by pulling off a variety of different drift moves in the races. In a drift race, you score points for each drift you manage to pull off--the longer the drift, or the more steep the angle you take into the turn, the better. The car with the most points at the end of a run wins.

Remember, your manhood is defined by the spoilers on your car. The smaller the wing, the smaller the...you know.
Remember, your manhood is defined by the spoilers on your car. The smaller the wing, the smaller the...you know.

The Fast and the Furious takes its drifting seriously. There are no fewer than seven methods to induce the drifting turns so valued in the game, and they're all detailed in handy tutorial challenges found in the game's career mode. Run through all seven successfully, and you'll be able to pull off not only a standard power-over and handbrake drift, but also more advanced maneuvers, such as the feint, the accel-off drift, and the kanji drift. We're not even sure if that last one is a real term or not, but the side-to-side motion needed to pull off this specialized drift on a long straight of asphalt speaks to some seriously sick driving skills.

As you race events and take on highway battles, you'll be filling up your coffers with cash, which you can spend not only on new cars, but also on a host of new upgrades for whatever rides you currently own. And we're not just talking about new paint jobs (though you can get those if you want); F&F's array of upgradable parts is pretty impressive. From intakes and exhaust systems, to superchargers, turbochargers, nitrous systems, differentials, tires, and much more, you'll be able to turn even the most modest car into a street-legal terror with a few clicks of a button. But that's not all. Once you're done Frankensteining the guts of your car, you can go to work on the exterior--the aforementioned new paint job, spoilers, new skirts and bumpers, new headlights and neons, and more. There are even a few surprises, including drifter charms based on well-known Namco characters, such as Pac-Man, Dig Dug, the Prince from Katamari Damacy, and more. As for ourselves, we chose the Killik from Soul Calibur charm. Got to love the bo staff.

Speeding around the huge virtual Tokyo, we were initially confused by the open-ended nature of the game until we found the handy city map in the pause menu. From here we could access any of the dealerships, tuner garages, or hill climb races found in the game either by placing a marker on the map and then driving to it, or by warping directly to that location. Initially only two of the battle areas were open to us, but presumably more open up as you continue the game's career mode.

Nissan, Toyota, and even American muscle cars round out the game's auto roster.
Nissan, Toyota, and even American muscle cars round out the game's auto roster.

As for the controls in the game, the cars handled decently, with a respectable sense of speed and control. Because most of the cars in the game tend to be set up to slide around corners, only small turning motions were needed to navigate through tricky portions of the highway. When you're on a hill race, a handy drift meter located at the bottom portion of the screen lets you know exactly how you're performing in a drift and how close you are to completely spinning the car out. With a careful combination of braking and gas modulation, we coaxed our cars into some drifts that even Paul Walker (or whoever is starring in Tokyo Drift) would be proud of.

With LAN, online, and split-screen multiplayer capability, as well as the aforementioned career mode, The Fast and the Furious is taking full aim at the crowd who can't get enough of the virtual street racing scene. We'll be watching to see how this game turns out ahead of its August release, so be on the lookout for more.

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