Version tested: PSP
The things we liked about Pursuit Force: parts 1 to 5.
The ability to leap from one moving vehicle to the other like a crazy, danger-loving stuntman with Salmon-envy. No other game in the history of 'other games' has explored this, and not only does it look great, it's at the very fulcrum of a Chase-HQ-with-a-twist experience that goes something like this: drive your car like a nutter, sidle up alongside your intended target and stab the circle button when the little yellow 'leap' icon flashes up. At that point you'll abandon your car/motorbike/speedboat/jeep/whatever and perform the unlikeliest leap since James Bond dived into a moving aircraft in GoldenEye. Landing with precision (on either the boot or bonnet, depending on where you made the leap from), you'll then proceed to shoot up the occupants, cling on for dear life (and occasionally nearly fall off), and then wrestle control of the vehicle in one slick motion. Marvellous, frivolous gaming excitement.
The bite-sized gameplay. Now that we're entering the second wave of PSP games, and the penny has dropped that we need games we can dip in and out of, it's great to see a crazed driving-based action shooter that's been designed with instant gratification in mind. The load times are relatively swift (especially on restarts) and the cut-scenes are skippable, meaning you're (for once) playing a PSP title where most of your focus is on the gameplay and not the spinning loading icon. Praise be.
It's an addictive little sod, and relates firmly to the refreshingly simple premise of leaping vehicle-to-vehicle and shooting the crap out of all those who deserve such a fate. as part of the titular and worryingly under-resourced pursuit force, you've basically got to single-handedly take down an entire army of escaped convicts, mobsters, mercenaries, triads and (of course) bikini-clad uber babes. all in a day's work, you'll hit the road trying to protect convoys, as well as take down the criminally insane - all of whom manage to come fully equipped with some of the heaviest weaponry ever invented. it's a delightfully unhinged idea that, on occasion, works a charm.
The Justice Shot is great. Okay, it's a small thing, but when you go about your business of killing perps, a meter fills up bit by bit. It's a little like how you earn boost in Burnout. When it's full up, the next time you make a dramatic leap onto a vehicle, time slows down and enables you to cap enemies in half the time it would normally take you. It's satisfying as hell, and generally hands you the advantage just when you need it.
It's slick and looks the part. Although it's bereft of a visual style to call its own, the presentation is spot on for the most part. It's like a more rounded Time Crisis, and moves at a fair old whack too (though you'll detect a few frame-rate dips when your firing rate suddenly drops when the going gets tough).
The things we vehemently disliked about Pursuit Farce, parts 1 to whenever we sate our need to point these things out.
It's bastard hard. For a game with 30 levels, you'd assume that Bigbig Studios might have heard of the concept of a learning curve. Apparently not. The game repeatedly slaps you around the face with a glass-encrusted wet kipper in the name of fun. Or, in other words, right from the very first level. It's unflinchingly tough, requiring an iron will and deep reservoirs of patience in order to inch your way through.
But why, exactly? Well, during a typical driving encounter, Pursuit Force will give you a few basic tasks to undertake. It could be as simple as protecting a convoy up to a given location, taking down set number of targets within a time limit, or maybe a mixture of the two. With a rocket-launching chopper thrown in. You get the idea.
The main problem is that the level-balancing is all over the place. One minute you're driving along, happy as Larry, escorting a convoy to safety, minding your own business. Then some gun-toting gits will spawn on cue, suddenly you'll find your vehicle's previously adequate acceleration goes to pot, you can barely catch anyone without a real struggle, and physically engineering the right moment to jump onto your aggressors boot or bonnet becomes a lottery.
So, armed with this knowledge, you'll try and get around this issue by making sure you're in amongst your convoy, so that when the goons appear, you can take them down nice and quickly. Except the game arbitrarily seems to prevent you from being able to leap onto other vehicles until prescribed moments. It's infuriating, as you watch perfectly good leaping opportunities go begging for no good reason at all (even though you were lined-up, and easily close enough to make the leap).
The handling is inexcusably awful. There's no let-off for this one. Whether you're behind the wheel of a nippy police car, a clunky jeep or an unwieldy speedboat, the basic problem is that none of them understand the concept of being able to turn. Lumbered with such painfully crippled steering, you're forever crashing head on into those transparent chevrons (you know, the sort Burnout is fond of) and shaking your head at how the game effectively does the steering for you, as crashing apparently has no discernibly major effect on your damage bar.
So, as a result of this sludgy handling, you'll regularly find yourself snagging the vehicle on obstacles, and either getting stuck on the scenery or being unwittingly dragged into doing a game-ruining 180 degree turn. But seeing as your powers of acceleration seem to have gone to pot, the chance of catching up with your convoy (or making the time limit) pretty much go up in smoke thanks to one little error. Grrr.
The on-foot sections are utterly without redemption. With certain missions split up into several parts, you'll often be thrust into a generic third-person shooting interlude, where the idea is to take out a certain number of enemies. There's no time limit to adhere to, and each enemy spawns from the same place at the same time, giving you an ample opportunity to recharge your health, Halo-style. Equipped with an over-generous lock-on, you simply run around with the right shoulder button clamped down, and take them all down with the greatest of ease. So easy, in fact, you wonder why they even bothered. And to make it even worse, the camerawork operates semi-automatically, and adopts the approach whereby if you decide to move left on the dpad, the whole view lurches around with it. It's messy, inelegant and just doesn't really work on any level. Yuck.
The 'chief': as the generic mouthy boss of the Pursuit Force, he makes it his business to slag you off at every opportunity. At first, this is all very kitsch and loveable, but when you've endured the same stock phrases after the 20th failure of the third part of a badly-balanced mission, you'll want to throw the PSP out of the window. It's not the time for quips, seriously.
It ought to be pretty clear by now that we approached Pursuit Force with an open mind, and did our level best to let it impress us. We went above and beyond the call of duty to try and deal with certain ball-busting levels, and found that other missions weren't that bad. We even felt we were getting good at it. And then it would throw in another ill-considered minefield of a level and ruin the fun.
Such is the limiting structure of the career mode (and the unforgivable lack of a check point after each part of a mission), more often than not you'll be stuck until you've solved one specific mission, even though there are five semi-concurrent campaigns on the go at once. Progression structures that hinge on you solving one minor but overly exacting part of a mission kill your interest. No amount of time trials or races really provide enough on their own to make up for the sins committed in the career mode, and as such you'll be left with little choice but to keep bashing your head against the brick wall of attrition. There are better things to do in life than play really frustrating games. Who needs stress in their leisure time?
It's a shame, though, because on balance Pursuit Force has some really great ideas implemented reasonably well. Leaping from vehicle to vehicle like some sort of crazy offspring of Evil Kinevil and The Six Million Dollar Man is a lot of fun for a while. But then a combination of a horrible driving experience and some tedious difficulty spikes drain all the fun out of it, and you're left scowling about missed opportunities. Ah well.
6 / 10