Outside of a few puzzle games, there haven't been many original games on the PSP, which is why Pursuit Force, which is not based on a previously existing franchise has been on the radar of the many game-starved PSP owners since its strong showing last E3. There's no doubt about it – the game is highly polished and looks great, but its sometimes frustrating gameplay and lack of depth keep it from being a must-have game.
Pursuit Force places you in the role of a rookie cop, and it's your job to take care of the five gangs that are wreaking havoc on Capital City. The game features 30 levels, 55 vehicles, and ten different weapons. You'll try and take the bad guys down by car, boat, motorcycle, helicopter, and even on foot. Make no mistake, this isn't a Grand Theft Auto clone – think of it as an updated version of the arcade classic Chase H.Q.
You start off by picking from one of the five gangs and then picking a mission. Most of the missions take place with you in the car, trying to stop a group of bad guys. You have to swerve in and out of traffic, taking care not to hit or injure any civilians (this hurts your score). When you have a bad guy's vehicle in your sites an icon will appear letting you know that you can jump onto his car. Simply tap the circle button and you'll hop onto the moving vehicle, where you'll need to shoot the passenger(s) and then take out the driver. Needless to say, the crooks aren't happy that you're hitching a ride, so they'll do their best to get you off their ride. If you're getting shot at, you can dodge by hitting the square button, and if you're getting shaken off of the car, you can tap right on the d-pad to regain your grip. When you finish off the driver you'll slide in the driver's seat and take control of the vehicle. Also at your disposal is the "justice meter" which fills up when you take out criminals. When this meter is full you can either restore some of your health, or you can get a leg up on your foes by using bullet-time when you jump from car to car. This allows you to fire while you jump – a huge advantage because you can eradicate almost every passenger in the car before you land.
Other missions or parts of missions will place you in a speedboat – again chasing bad guys. Other than less responsive controls (you are controlling a boat after all) the action's basically the same as it is on land. You can also ride motorcycles, but other than being a pain to turn, they don't play much differently than the cars. A few levels ditch the whole car chase theme and force you to capture criminals while on foot. These missions aren't bad, but they feel a tad bit tacked on, like they were just thrown in at the last minute in an effort to mix-up the gameplay.
One of the game's strongest aspects is the boss encounters, which are enjoyable because they feature different styles of gameplay. For example, on encounter takes place with you in the air in a helicopter, and the boss on the ground. You're manning a machine gun, trying to take out the boss as he jumps from car to car. This isn't as easy at is sounds – he throws explosives at you, and your gun can overheat, leaving you vulnerable to attacks. When a level is completed you're given a score, which is based on how quickly you beat the level, how many baddies you killed, and how few civilians you harmed.
Pursuit Force has been available in Europe for quite some time, but the North American version received a few tweaks to make the game more enjoyable. Apparently the European version of the game was really hard – to the point where it wasn't fun to play. First, the good news – we yanks get mid-level checkpoints on the long levels. The bad news is that the game can still get quite frustrating. This is partially due to the repetitive nature of the gameplay, but also because some levels are inordinately long and difficult when compared to others. I wouldn't say the game ever gets frustrating to the point where you'll want to quit playing forever, but there were several occasions where I just couldn't get past a level and quit playing for the day.
To help add a little extra value to the game, Bigbig added a race mode and time attack option. They're both pretty boring and don't feel much different than the standard gameplay, save for the fact you're not jumping from car to car. After completing a standard mission, you're given a letter grade based on your performance. The higher the grade you earn, the more stuff, like artwork, new vehicles, and cheat codes, you'll unlock. This adds a little bit of replay value to the game, but not much.
The courses aren't free-roaming, but there are short cuts that you'll need to take because you've only got a limited amount of time to catch all of the bad guys or it's game over. The courses look pretty similar to the levels in Burnout Legends. There are lots of bright colors, and the game moves at a nice, steady framerate. There is a wide variety of vehicles in the game all of which have a unique look to them, and they all look quite nice. One minor gripe with the game's visuals is that it can often be difficult to see traffic up ahead. You get penalized for hitting civilian vehicles and they slow you down in your pursuit of the bad guys, so it's quite frustrating slamming into someone whose vehicle blended into the background.
Pursuit Force's audio is surprisingly robust for a handheld effort. The music isn't something you'll find yourself humming along to, but it fits in with the game's "action movie" feel, getting you into the action during the chase and ramping up in intensity when the action heats up. One of the supposed benefits to the game taking a long time to hit the US was that the game got all new voice acting. I'm not sure how bad it was before, but I'd be hard pressed to believe that the over the top acting here is significantly better than what was originally in the game. The game never takes itself seriously, so the campy voice acting doesn't ruin the experience, but it does get a little annoying after a while.
After getting my hands on the demo I wondered if the chase, kill, chase, kill – repeat as necessary gameplay would remain interesting over the course of an entire game. Now that I've played the finished product, I'm still not sure. It's fun for a good while, but ultimately it needs more variety or an engaging multi-player component to make it enjoyable for more than a few hours.