You may often hear people lament about the kinds of games coming out these days and how "they don't make 'em like they used to." Tell that to Bigbig Studios, makers of Pursuit Force for the PlayStation Portable. Apparently, the developers of this game never got tired of playing their favorite late-'80s arcade games, because Pursuit Force is practically a working tribute to the kinds of crazy-driving action games that ruled arcades during that era. Like some kind of unholy crossbreed between OutRun, APB, and that old Saturday-morning cartoon C.O.P.S., Pursuit Force puts you in the role of a rookie cop in a titular police squad that's out to stop the roving gangs of Capital City by driving crazy, shooting even crazier, and jumping like an absolute lunatic from moving car to moving car. It's silly, it's challenging, and it's kind of awesome. And while Pursuit Force does get repetitive in spots, and it's thinner on content than you might hope for, the game plays well enough to the PSP's strengths to make it worth your while.
There's not much story in Pursuit Force beyond the basic setup of you, the aforementioned rookie cop, being inducted into a new sect of Capital City's police force--the irony of this being that you're apparently the only cop on this force. The grizzled, old police chief is the one who introduces all of this to you, and he is the primary driving force behind the plot, narrating each new case scenario before you go out into the field and hitting you up with commendations and castigations during and after your missions. The chief isn't the only character you'll run into along your journey, however. Each of the game's five primary gangs is made up of a thoroughly ridiculous collection of goofy villains, which are all so over the top. There are the Convicts, for instance, who are a group of recently escaped cons led by a gargantuan man known as "Hard Balls." Then there are the Vixens, who are a crack team of former stunt actresses turned elite thieves. There are five gangs in all, and each gang has its own unique vehicles, characters, and areas to roll through. It's all very weird, but the game's sense of humor is such that it's pretty clear that it's not trying to take anything the least bit seriously.
That fancy-free attitude jibes with Pursuit Force's gameplay style pretty well. Pursuit Force is primarily a car-combat game, with a sprinkling of third-person shooter. Depending on the situation, you'll most often find yourself starting a mission in a car, a motorcycle, or a boat, and then go on the hunt for a number of gang members, who are scattered across a set course. Whether it is the state border or somewhere a local government official is currently at, there is always an endpoint on the track, and you're typically charged with killing off all of the gang members before any of them can reach the end. You begin the game armed with a simple pistol, but as you play through and take down more gang members, you'll get significantly better--and sometimes weirder--weapons.
You'll get these weapons not just by blowing up enemy vehicles. You can take enemies down by destroying their cars, but you'll find it to be more useful to jump from your car to theirs, shoot the individual gang members to death, and then take over their ride to move onto the next gang car. The jump mechanic is really what turns Pursuit Force into more than just OutRun with guns. When you get within the proper distance of a jumpable car, an icon will appear overhead. Tap the circle button once that icon appears, and you'll jump either to the hood or the roof of the car. From there, it's a firefight. You're much more vulnerable while latched to the outside of a car, since while you're inside a car, bullets only do damage to the car and not you. While on the outside of a car, you can lock onto a target and start blasting away, and you can quickly dodge incoming bullets by pressing the square button. Enemy cars will also swerve around quite a bit, trying to shake you off. If you're about to fall, all you need to do is tap repeatedly on the D pad to get your cop to pull himself back up.
The gameplay is mostly a great deal of fun, thanks largely to its fast, chaotic nature. There is a definite action-movie slant to Pursuit Force's action, and being able to leap around moving cars and shoot guys in the face while tenuously latched onto the hood of their car is pretty awesome. There's more variety to Pursuit Force's missions than constant shooting. There are occasional rail-shooting missions, where you man a chain gun mounted inside a helicopter and blast away at enemy vehicles. There are some not-so-subtle references to popular action cinema, such as the mission where you have to take control of a civilian bus that has a bomb on it and keep the bus above 100mph or the bomb will explode. There's no shortage of challenge in Pursuit Force. By no means is this an easy game, and at times, you might be taken aback by how utterly punishing some of the missions can be. At times, it's downright infuriating. Only in select cases does the difficulty ever feel cheap, however. Plus, the gameplay is fun, and the missions are generally short enough to where you won't necessarily mind playing through them multiple times.
For all that's good about Pursuit Force's gameplay, it does have its weaknesses. For one, not all of the vehicles are as much fun to drive as the main cars. Motorcycles are fun in short bursts--that is, until you have to start taking sharp turns, at which point you may find yourself grinding against the side rails more than you'd prefer. The boat sections aren't quite as cool as the car sections, either, mainly because the boats feel slower and don't have much of a turn radius. As for the occasional on-foot scenarios, these rarely involve much beyond you ducking behind occasional pieces of scenery, popping up to shoot guys, and occasionally getting up close and personal to arrest them with one of a couple nifty-looking apprehension animations. As cool as that is though, there are only a small number of arrest animations to watch.
While there is a good bit of variety to the missions, the action itself can get repetitive in spots. Once you get a good, solid handle on when you should be jumping from car to car and when you should be blowing up bad guys from afar, it all becomes a bit routine. The boss fights and occasional variances in the mission structure do a good job to counteract that routine, and that's not to suggest that you won't want to go back and play any of these missions again, since you'll certainly want to earn higher grades and more unlockables. But there is a degree of sameness that starts to overtake the gameplay once you get into the far end of the career mode.
Unfortunately, there's not an awful lot to Pursuit Force's package beyond the career missions. The game includes a race mode and a time trial mode, but neither of these is anywhere near as engaging as the career missions. The race mode puts you in one of several gang vehicles, presents a basic scenario--such as you driving a delivery truck for the mob, and you have to get to the end before all the other delivery trucks, or you're behind the wheel of a car leaking poisonous gas, and you have to win the race for some reason or another--and lets you race across one of the game's various stage areas. There's a bunch of these races, but none of them are terribly exciting beyond a single play-through. The time trial mode is precisely what it sounds like, without any major wrinkles or unique components.
It's criminal that a game like this one includes no multiplayer support whatsoever. It could have been pretty awesome to race against friends, jumping to their cars and blasting away at them to gain positions. Even without multiplayer, there's enough content between the career missions, ancillary modes, and unlockables to present a solid value.
Where Pursuit Force really excels is in its presentation. Technically, Pursuit Force makes excellent use of the PSP's technology. Save for the rare bouts of frame rate slow down, the game moves at a very speedy clip, giving you a sense of speed and thrill as you jump from car to car. The animations are universally excellent. Everything is done with the kind of ridiculous bravado that you'd expect from an action thriller. Your cop doesn't just jump around--he jumps in slow motion while firing his weapon the whole way across, and when he wants into your car, he'll jump over and bust right through the driver's side window. It's all very fluid, smooth animation and all done with wonderful grandiosity. The character designs are very cartoonish but appropriately so. The wackiness of the gangs is completely in line with the game's sense of humor, and the aesthetics of the characters and their cars mesh well together. All told, this is definitely one of the best-looking PSP games out there.
The audio is very well done. Pursuit Force features voice acting from all of its principal characters, so you don't just have to envision the angry police chief chewing you out and saying things like "Don't die! Or you're fired!" because you actually get to hear him say it. The voices for the characters are pretty hysterical, too. Citizens in trouble will shriek with a cowardly wobble in their voice, while saltier gang members sound totally over the edge with their hard-boiled attitude, and the mobsters sound like, well, ridiculous caricatures of mobsters. The soundtrack is really great, too. It sounds fully orchestrated, and it's exactly the kind of stuff you'd expect to hear ramping up the tension in a Richard Donner movie.
Pursuit Force isn't quite a slam dunk--the repetition of the gameplay is guaranteed to creep up on you at some point, and it could have benefited from more content. But the thing about Pursuit Force that ultimately makes it a great game is that its action is quite a bit of fun, and it's paced and built in such a way that it feels like it's meant to be a handheld game. You can play Pursuit Force in short bursts just as easily as you can play it for long stretches. In a time when people seem to be getting tired of console games being squeezed for dear life onto a Universal Media Disc, only to have them not quite feel like they belong on a handheld system, Pursuit Force feels like it belongs on this system. It's a fun game with a great sense of humor and superb production values, and if you own a PSP, it's definitely worth playing.