The Fast and the Furious Hands-On

Street racing makes its way from the PS2 to the PSP in this arcade racing game from Namco.

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Last year's The Fast and the Furious for the PlayStation 2 had the distinction of being a movie-licensed game that actually had very little to do with the movie on which it was based, The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift. Beyond the urban Japanese setting, and the fact that drifting events play a part in the gameplay, there was little tying the two products together. Nonetheless, that hasn't stopped publisher Namco Bandai and developer Eutechnyx from bringing the game to the PlayStation Portable. We had a chance to play the PSP game recently and found it very similar to the PS2 game.

Get that car sideways for maximum points in The Fast and the Furious' drift battles.
Get that car sideways for maximum points in The Fast and the Furious' drift battles.

Your goal in The Fast and the Furious is to rule the highways and byways of a virtual Tokyo in a variety of different street race events designed to test your driving skills. As you battle racing teams, you'll earn cash that you can use to unlock new cars and, perhaps more importantly, new upgrades for your car. Though you spend the majority of your time in your car racing along the streets and mountain passes, you'll also need to spend some time in the tuning shops to maximize the power and efficiency of your ride (or at least make it look cool).

In career mode, the game's single-player centerpiece, you drive through a virtual representation of Tokyo that's straight from the PS2 version of the game. With long straights and more than its fair share of curves, this open-ended asphalt is a great place to get a feel for your current ride or challenge pretenders to your throne in any number of "roll up" races. As you drive, you'll periodically come up against rival team members whom you can challenge by flashing your headlights (by pressing up on the D pad). Once the challenge screen comes up, you can accept it by flashing your beams once more to start the race. The goal is to get a few hundred meters ahead of your foe, which is easy enough if you've got a fully souped-up ride, but it's more of a challenge if your cars are on equal terms.

Beyond the straight-ahead speed battles, the game includes a number of different hot spots where you can engage in different race events. For example, on the mountainous courses, you can engage in grip or drift battles. Grip battles are straight-ahead dashes to the finish line through the twisting turns of the mountain courses. Drift battles are one of the cornerstones of The Fast and the Furious' approach to racing games. Here, the idea isn't to necessarily put your car across the finish line first, but rather to rack up the most points drifting (that is, sliding) your car around the course's various curves. A handy drift meter appears underneath your car as you take each turn, indicating the degree of your drift and warning you if you get too close to spinning your car out. At the end of the run, the car with the most drift points is declared the winner. Other race events in the game include destination battles, which are short point-to-point races between rival racers, and top speed battles, which is where your sole aim is to put up the highest top speed before the end of the race.

With all these different race events, you'll need to be flexible with your car setups to score wins. You start out with a meager amount of cash, which is enough to afford a low-end ride. The car you choose will also depend on the kind of races you wish to enter. For example, if you want to focus on drift events, you'll likely want to start with a rear-wheel-drive car. But if you want to focus on grip battles, you will require a front- or all-wheel-drive car. From there, it's a matter of earning enough cash to earn new upgrades for your car. As in the PS2 version of The Fast and the Furious, practically every major part associated with your car can be upgraded, which includes everything from intercoolers and flywheels to brakes and turbochargers.

Though buying parts is nothing new to racing games, in The Fast and the Furious, it's important to note that the most expensive part is not always the best part for your needs. In fact, fitting parts to complement the kinds of races you want to run is one of the essential ingredients to success in the game. For instance, the level-4 transmission upgrade features ultraclose gear ratios, which are perfect for drift races where acceleration is at a premium. However, for destination or top-speed races, you're better off going with the level-3 transmission, which features longer gears that are more appropriate to high-speed racing. Luckily the game does a good job of explaining each part and what benefits it will provide you. Once you've completed the performance upgrades, you can also purchase some cosmetic enhancements. These include everything from underbody neons and new body kits, to paint jobs galore and even drift charms featuring characters from such popular Namco games as Tekken, Soul Calibur, and Pac-Man.

Getting around the virtual Tokyo is a cinch--either drive to your destination or warp to it from the in-game map.
Getting around the virtual Tokyo is a cinch--either drive to your destination or warp to it from the in-game map.

In addition to the single-player career mode, you'll be able to race using the PSP's ad hoc wireless multiplayer, against up to three other friends. If you're tired of racing, you can check out the swap meet where you can swap cars from your garage with those of your friends. The PSP version of the game more or less features the same look and feel of the PS2 game but at the cost of some detail. Though the frame rate seems consistent throughout, you'll notice background pop-up periodically. That said, the cars show some decent detail, and the game has a decent sense of speed to it.

The Fast and the Furious seems like a movie series tailor-made for racing games, and it's a bit surprising that it took until 2006 for a publisher to finally get a console game made around the license. The PSP version of the game looks like a fairly literal translation of last year's console game and might be a good option for fans of the extreme racing scene who also happen to be on the go a lot. Expect to see a full review of the game once it's released in late April.

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