If you happened to play Midway's L.A. Rush upon its console release late last year, you are hereby excused from reading this review. Just know that Rush for the PSP is the exact same game, tweaked ever so slightly to make it more handheld-friendly and to include a lousy new stunt mode. For those who missed out on L.A. Rush, it's worth mentioning that it had just about zilch to do with Midway's classic arcade racers that bore the Rush name. L.A. Rush was, for all intents and purposes, a cheap capitalization on the wave of street-racing games that repeatedly crashed against consoles in the last year or two. Although it had a bit of attitude, decent driving controls, and some nice licensed vehicles, the combination of no online play, a barely-there car-customization element, and a grind of a story mode dragged the game down quite a bit. Rush for the PSP does very little to counteract these issues. The few things that have been adjusted don't make the game better, but rather, duller.
The bulk of your time with Rush will be spent in the story mode. Here, you play as Trikz, a renowned racer in the LA underground scene who has the mansion and car collection to back up his sizable reputation. Trikz's seemingly lavish lifestyle is put to the test, however, when a local race promoter by the name of Lidell (played with flamboyant silliness by Def Jam's How to Be a Player star Bill Bellamy) is set to put on a major series of races. Lidell is not particularly fond of Trikz and tries to tip the scales against him by using his connections to rob Trikz of all his rides, which sets in motion a long-winded game of "find the missing cars," with quite a bit of racing in between.
The setup for this story mode is entirely decent. You'd think that going on this lengthy quest to reacquire all your stolen rides and stick it to the man who robbed you would at least elicit some measure of satisfaction. You'd be wrong, in this case. The story itself is lent very little screen time. You get bits of phone conversations from time to time from your sidekick Ty, as well as Lidell's lady, who is sucked in by your irresistible charms, and you'll get the occasional cutscene right as you enter a new territory and series of races, but apart from this, you don't get much out of it. Things play out very predictably and unimaginatively. But hey, that's fine. Most street racers aren't known for their heart-wrenching narratives. All that matters is that the driving is good, right? Well...
The good news is that Rush's driving model, by itself, is enjoyable. The game's sense of speed is right up there with the most recent entry in the Midnight Club franchise, and when you get going, you really feel the traffic whiz by you. It even uses that nice, subtle motion blur around the edges of the screen to great effect. The handling is a bit loose, but rarely so much that you can't control your car. It's effective for pulling off big drifts around corners and dodging in and out of traffic where needed, all while maintaining high speeds on busy city streets; and boy are they ever busy. The developers have managed to get an awful lot of traffic onto the streets of LA, and it's a constant nuisance. You'll have to be mindful when running red lights, as there's almost always cross traffic to avoid. If you don't, you're punished (or perhaps rewarded, if ever so slightly) with a spectacular wreck, complete with an extra-stylish camera angle and copious amounts of particle effects.
Interestingly enough, in this version of Rush, crashes don't have nearly as much of an effect on a race as they did in the game's console predecessors. You can run smack-dab into a semitruck at high speeds, get stopped for a bit, and be passed by your opponent racers. But unlike in the console games, it's incredibly easy to catch up and overtake them again. The rubber-band artificial intelligence that made races so frustrating on consoles has basically been reversed here. It's like the racers are just waiting for you to catch up and overtake them, no matter how far behind you get. Some of the later sections of the game are a bit more challenging, but for the most part, it's a breeze to blow through the races.
This reversal of difficulty permeates just about every aspect of the game. Like the racer AI, the cop AI has been toned down a lot. There are still ridiculous numbers of cop cars floating around the city of LA, but even when your requisite "wanted meter" raises and the cops start chasing you, they barely do anything to stop you. Even if they do find a way to stop you, all you get is a paltry fine, and you lose next to no time at all within a race. If you're pulled over in first place, odds are that you'll resume the race in first place as well. One of the biggest problems with L.A. Rush was that its method of earning cash was basically broken. You earn money in the game by winning races, but all races come with an entry fee. The problem with the original was that it was too easy to lose races cheaply and bankrupt yourself, but with that issue now out of the way, you never want for cash.
Even though you won't find yourself playing through the cheap entry fee races over and over again to earn cash, the story mode still feels like a total grind. Part of it has to do with the fact that the progression of events and story bits don't ever go anywhere. As you complete races, occasional side ventures, such as elimination races (where the last car on a lap is eliminated) and endurance races across the entire city, open up. But they're so expensive that it's unlikely you'll even bother with them until much later in the game. You can unlock new cars to drive by participating in seemingly free acquire missions, where you drive to a location, get your new car, and try to get it back to your home base before a gang of Lidell's thugs wreck you off the road. Amusing as it is to get these cars, it still feels like you're doing the same races again and again. With so little challenge and a by-the-numbers progression of events, you'll have basically tried everything the game has to offer after about an hour or so.
You don't even get to properly customize your cars once you reacquire them. Granted, Midway went out and licensed West Coast Customs and stuck the wisecracking mechanics in the game during cutscenes. And there are a number of WCC locations on the map, where you can drive your ride to get "pimped." But you have no say in said pimpage. You drive in, and what comes out is completely out of your hands. Certainly we understand that the whole reason for the West Coast Customs crew's fame is that on the MTV show, they take beat-up cars and pimp them out for the owner, without the owner's involvement. But this isn't a Pimp My Ride game (despite the inclusion of the Pimp My Ride theme for whenever your car is finished), and you don't play as a hyperactive 18-year-old Valley girl with a beat-up Ford Focus and a heart of gold either, so this methodology doesn't make sense.
Rush for the PSP does offer a bit more content than on consoles, but all of it seems tacked on to this version. Multiplayer modes include basic races; some really, truly terrible combat races (where you autotarget your rival racers, shoot them until they explode, and just keep doing it until the race is over or someone throws his PSP out a window); a just-about-as-lame cat-and-mouse mode, where you wreck into another racer and try to avoid getting wrecked into by him for a specific amount of time to win; and some stunt competitions; among other things. The stunt mode is actually its own thing; it's an arena packed with jumps, ramps, and bowls to drive in and around. While airborne, you can flip your car around by moving the analog stick in any direction. The old Rush games had a similar concept, but those were actually fun. The controls in this mode are so ramshackle and annoying that it's a stupidly annoying process to try and get a good landing. The layout of the stunt arena also makes it exceedingly tough to do anything worthwhile without clipping another section of the scenery. It's pretty clear that this and the multiplayer modes were tacked on for the sake of being able to say the game includes new, exclusive content; thus, very little thought went into any of them.
If Rush deserves credit for anything, it's for its rendition of the city of Los Angeles. The city is quite large, spanning many square miles and including all the major LA landmarks and freeways you'd expect to see. It's broken up into five territories, but traveling between areas is basically seamless. Other aspects of the game are less so. Load times frequently creep up, especially before races and cutscenes, and you have to reload the ad hoc multiplayer lobby every time you finish a game--perhaps because the developers don't expect anyone to play through more than one multiplayer game without giving up on the mode entirely. In translation from consoles to the PSP, many aspects of the visual engine have been toned down. Textures are noticeably blurrier, antialiasing basically doesn't exist, and the car models look much boxier. Still, the game runs at a pretty smooth clip, and the damage effects are still impressive compared to most of what else is available on the PSP.
The game has its impressive sound qualities too, specifically the sound effects. You'll get the sensation of air whipping past as you speed around the city, and the wrecks sound brutal. Engine noises, the hiss of nitrous being let loose, tires screeching around corners--it's all there, and it all sounds excellent. It's in the other areas where the audio presentation loses out. The voice acting is mostly hammy and suffers from awful writing. When you're driving around, cops will spout the same few phrases at you over and over again while they chase you. Also, for some reason, the guy who feeds you info during races sounds like Wink Martindale trying his best to sound street. The soundtrack is more limited than the one found on consoles, seemingly focusing more on the hip-hop tracks featured in the earlier game. If you really like hip-hop music from 2004 (the soundtrack was a little late, even in 2005), then you might dig some of this stuff, but it's mostly just background fodder.
And that's pretty much what Rush does as a whole. It fades into the background and never makes an attempt to stand out from the competition. It's the wallflower of street racing games, a completely innocuous and thoroughly unremarkable piece of work that doesn't have a lot to offer street racing fans beyond what they've seen and done before. The driving engine is certainly good, and the developers did a good job re-creating LA for nefarious racing purposes. However, the unrelenting grind of the story mode and the complete lack of base-level features that every other street racing game on the market has make it tough to recommend Rush to anyone. This is especially true if you ever bothered to pick up L.A. Rush on the PS2 or the Xbox. Rush is a late-to-the-party port of a game that was already late to the street racing party more than a year ago, and it's not worth playing.