Pursuit Force – Review

I warmed towards Pursuit Force right from the start, its concept seeming almost custom-designed to sate my current gaming needs. It serves up short and satisfying bursts of intense gaming in which the thrill of the chase perfectly reflects my feverish need to wrench every last ounce of videogame goodness from the few minutes I've managed to set aside to play. It also helps that, like Bigbig Studios, I thought Chase HQ was cool too.

Pursuit Force's automotive action cocktail is simple, but absolutely well-pitched and ripe for good gaming: chase and then either destroy or commandeer enemy vehicles.

The action figure fantasy of leaping from vehicle to vehicle in high speed car chases is mixed with solid vehicle controls and basic gunplay to create a cartoonish but undeniably exciting experience. The trick is that the game, despite its pick up and play simplicity, always keeps gamers on their toes. Jumping onto a new vehicle in slow-mo gifts the player a few delicious moments of movie-cool invulnerability to get a couple of shots in at the drivers before landing; fall from a truck and as you dangle by one hand you can pull yourself back up with some rapid taps on the D-pad; land on an enemy car with little health left and you'll have recourse to a judicious dodge move to evade enemy fire from point blank range. On the whole, it's stirring, compulsive stuff.

Driving and motorcycling, whilst lacking the touch of subtlety that would have made them as precise and satisfyingly skilful as in a dedicated racer, are accomplished enough for the game's high-speed action to flow as smoothly as necessary. It's just a shame that the world adheres to some perverse laws of physics that simply will not, for instance, allow a car over the small bump that separates 2 lanes of traffic, or a truck through a flimsy picket fence; the resultant crashes aren't just annoying in themselves, but they severely undercut the Hollywood car chase fantasy that the game otherwise delivers with surprising assuredness.

On-foot sections cameo in certain missions for the sake of variation and involve simply blasting away at enemies whilst occasionally having to take cover for health regeneration. They are, somewhat predictably, a blight on the core game. Though not such a spectacular fall from grace as they initially seem, they nevertheless feel rather shambolic as the player is forced to sprint around openly in the line of fire to combat the restrictive shooting and movement systems as well as the ever-harrying time limits. Like much of the game, however, they serve their purpose well enough and briefly enough for flaws to be overlooked, and they even turn faintly enjoyable once you start mixing up the gunplay with some of the satisfying 'arrest' melee moves and appreciating what a starkly easy breather they provide next to the often demanding vehicular sections.

The on-foot sections, range of vehicles and promise of commandeering pretty much any mode of transport the player can see perhaps set the game up as some kind of free-form action title, but this couldn't be further from the truth. Pursuit Force is a lean, custom-built engine based on the time-honoured tradition of hectic but focused motor-based action and strict time limits. For better or worse, the game's defining characteristic is arguably its punishing difficulty and progress structure.

There's no doubt the palpable intensity of the chases, buoyed by the consistently tight time limits, do make up much of their inherent do-or-die appeal, but only the dedicated and the skilled will stick around to appreciate it and rationalise the challenge. Bigbig dangerously demand that the player readjust to an era of games where difficulty spikes were the stuff of cult legend and hardcore cache, not commercial suicide. Once you have realised this is a game that doesn't know the meaning of the word leeway and does not expect every player to see the end credits (maybe that's why they put them on the front-end these days?), you can approach Pursuit Force in a more wary frame of mind; one that perhaps lessens its pick up and play attraction but makes regular failure easier to accept, so long as the time-consuming 'baby steps' method of game progression doesn't utterly repel you.

It's no surprise to hear that the US version will now count mission checkpoints and tweaked handling among its enhancements. Other differences include a script re-write, re-recorded voice acting and a wise reduction in anachronistic front cover cheese.

At present, Bigbig's casual disregard for the casual gamer has undermined a game that, in almost every other respect, is so perfectly suited to its host platform as to truly be a showcase title. But for those whose should-know-better stubbornness can go round for round with that of the game's level designers, amazingly and in spite of its crudities and failings, Pursuit Force's pull factor never really wanes. Its kinetic and demanding action rarely fails to grab the player, perhaps because a merely competent execution of its amiably over-the-top ambition would be enough to make it shine. That Pursuit Force is undeniably more than competent in its execution is something that all PSP action fans and Chase HQ lovers should be more than happy about. [Rating: 7.5 out of 10]

Disclaimer: This review is based on the EU version of the game released November 2005.