Extreme Justice is one of those slightly apologetic sequels, a sort of "sorry, this is the game you were supposed to get first time around". Thankfully, it retains the killer hook from the first Pursuit Force - that there's an elite police unit that believes the most efficient way to combat organised crime is to wait for crimes to take place, chase down the perpetrators at reckless speed and then jump onto their car, shoot them and grab the wheel. It's a brilliantly demented concept, but the game itself was let down by lacklustre execution and a horribly wonky learning curve. When Kristan reviewed it almost exactly two years ago, his enthusiasm was dampened by the "horrible driving experience and some tedious difficulty spikes".
Back for round two, it's a relief to see that some of the complaints have been addressed. The handling is noticeably better, which immediately nudges the whole experience closer to making good on the throbbing promise of its cool premise. There are now twelve vehicles to commandeer and, while the handling understandably varies from hovercraft to motorbike, you're never left feeling as out of control as the first game. This instant playability is helped enormously by some cracking visual touches, creating a crisp, colourful arcade-style world for you to blaze through. From the bright cartoon characters to the solid, inviting courses, the whole experience has the sort of engaging have-a-go sheen that Sega's 1990s arcade cabinets used to boast. Given that the game basically plays like an improved Crazy Taxi, that's hardly surprising.
Other handy reference points, while we're on the subject, are Spy Hunter's relentless thrill of the chase, Crackdown's playful sci-fi supercop ambience and the utterly obscure PSone driving game Ray Tracers which is ace and I really should get around to picking up a copy on Ebay.
As well as more vehicles, Extreme Justice has been filled out in other ways as well. There's now a full cast of Pursuit Force characters and a tongue-in-cheek action movie plot. These characters are included for more than just between-level exposition though. New recruits will join you in the field, bringing their own expertise to the mission. Preach, for instance, is black. Did you guess that he's huge? And gruff? And carries out heavy weapons work? What a surprise. Other members of the team help out by riding along with you, either lending an extra gun or leaping to enemy cars and hijacking them. For all the clichés present in the characters, in terms of gameplay it's a solid idea and one that helps keep things fresh as the missions tick by.
The boss battles are also improved, or at least beefed up. They now drive stupidly large customised combat machines, which require different tactics to disable or mount. These sequences usually take the form of our old friend Quick Time Event, as you guide your manga-haired hero along the speeding vehicle to take down the bad guys. It's a nice concept - and certainly more entertaining than the limp bosses from the last game - but it can also be a pain. For all the spectacle that these sequences provide, you're always aware that there's very little skill involved in beating them. Whether you're creeping along a souped-up fire truck or battling your way along the wing of a plane miles above the ground, it's simply a matter of pressing the right buttons at the right time. The result may be impressive to watch, but they're hardly inspiring.
The more you play, you come to realise that the clunky difficulty spikes from the previous game are unfortunately still here, lying in wait like cobras in the sock drawer. There are 50 "cases" to plough through, and even on the easiest setting the game starts to become a grinding frustrating somewhere around the tenth. Time limits are squeezed stupidly tight, enemies are just a little too quick to reappear, while the dreaded escort missions and on-foot shooting sections occur more frequently than you'd hope. That initial rush of arcade joy starts to evaporate all too soon in the glare of such annoyances. It may seem churlish to moan about a game having too much content, but when the size of the game becomes a daunting and repetitive chore, the balance has gone askew somewhere.
The addition of multiplayer modes helps to counteract this, meaning that you can still have fun with the game even if the missions have you banging your head against the wall. While three of the four modes follow the expected race and chase formula, the whiz-bang cops and robbers coating and slick presentation elevates them into something more worthwhile by mixing up co-operative and combative play in fun ways. Fancy battling with your friends? Then you can play as cops and robbers and chase each other silly. Fancy working together? Two players can opt for Survival mode where one drives, one mans the rear gun, and you have to fend off an onslaught of enemies. Rampage, on the other hand, is an on-foot deathmatch affair and therefore the weak link in the chain, given that the game engine is great at fast cars but still wobbly when it comes to bipedal action.
Extreme Justice is certainly a better game than its predecessor, and has a lot more variety in terms of play modes, but it can't help falling prey to some of the same complaints. So it's hooray for the stuff that's been fixed, fluffed up or otherwise filled out, but disappointed boos for the way the game builds up so much goodwill and then pizzles it away with fussy objectives, tough checkpoints and an awkward learning curve all over again. Pursuit Force remains a great idea in search of the right execution, and there's clearly a fantastic arcade game in here absolutely bursting to get out, but it's still not there yet. Not quite.