After Hardware Online Arena on the PS2, we weren't all that fired up about Fired Up, but this really surprised us; in fact it's an early favourite amongst the Euro PSP efforts we've tried. Between the single-player story mode (eight hours of collecting tokens, killing enemy vehicles, and scouring every nook and cranny of three two-kilometre-square free-roaming environments for bonuses) and the eight-player wireless multiplayer (a mixture of Hardware-style deathmatch and team-based vehicle combat modes and straight checkpoint racing affairs), it's a game that always has something to keep you occupied.
The single-player mode, first of all, is much more than just a training session for wireless deathmatching. Instead, you roam around city and countryside environments tackling a number of story missions (six serious ones per level) from the perspectives of three different characters - which involve collecting disparate items within a time limit, destroying convoys creeping around various bits of the environment and so on - and completing a plethora of smaller sub-missions and tasks that mean you can rarely turn down a street without finding something to do. The dev-team chaps at our disposal boasted that you could turn it on for 30 seconds between Tube stops, search out a couple of tokens hidden in alleyways or on hard-to-reach rooftops, switch off and have made genuine progress. It's that sort of GTA-style "chip away" approach that millions of us evidently find so appealing.
The bits we saw involved collecting tokens (10 of which unlock a particular weapon, Hidden Package-style), and getting involved in "Fired Up" sub-missions where you're given 60 seconds to kill five enemies, a bit like GTA's Rampage missions. The derivative approach doesn't seem to hurt the game's appeal though; the vehicle types all handled nicely with varying weaponry and the environments were detailed and evidently expansive, while the bland texturing was made up for by that sense of scope and some lovely vehicle detail. With rooftop jump networks to negotiate, loads of missions and various ratings to get in each mission it's the sort of thing we can imagine happily occupying our time between Tube stops - and as we lie in bed paying lip-service to the notion of an "early night".
Even the multiplayer surprised us. We didn't think much of Hardware, with apologies to the dev-folks, but this revamped effort certainly worked nicely with eight players buzzing around trying to take control of a heli-pad in King of the Hill - thanks to some sensible level design and vicious weaponry. We're particularly fond of the "bounce missile", or whatever the proper name for it is, which sends your enemies flying into the air and tumbling back down with a few bounces along the way. Other game modes will include standard Deathmatch and Capture the Flag, Bomb The Base and Assimilation, which is said to be a bit like playground fave "It". There's also the possibility - although we should stress it's just that at the moment - of downloadable multiplayer maps later in the day.
At the end of our day, though, it was the multiplayer checkpoint racing that stuck out. With weapons at your disposal, some bumpy track design to negotiate and a variety of vehicles to tackle it all in, it was a surprise success with the assembled hacks - and overall the combination of modes and their uniform accessibility ought to see Fired Up do a darn sight better for the PSP than Hardware did for the PS2. It may even live up to the team's tongue-in-cheek proclamation that it's "the PSP's big action title". Don't mock it; you just might be singing its praises in a few months time.
[You're certainly Fired Up about it now. -Ed]
Yes. Good night.