Game Description: Pursuit Force lets you become a police officer who'll take the fight to the criminals! You're tracking down some of the most violent gangs in the state. Patrol five different districts as you clean up the streets.
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.
I have to say that I expected to like Pursuit Force more than I did. I've been spending the majority of my gaming time on portables lately, and I don't like it when a handheld game tries to get too heavy. More often than not, I'm twiddling my thumbs between job assignments or I might be somewhere with only short bursts of free time. So, from the perspective that 'light equals good,', Pursuit Force should have fit the bill. The action is fast and focused, there's no real story to keep track of, and the presentation is great.
Although there's not a lot to Pursuit Force besides driving fast, jumping from vehicle to vehicle, and killing enemies, I do give props to the developers for adding little twists to the missions to keep them from being identical. Some levels were straight seek and destroy, but others threw curveballs like keeping a bus moving above 100 mph to avoid an explosion while trying to offload innocent civilians at the same time. It might have been a direct ripoff of Speed, but it was a fun variation for a game that establishes itself inside a very narrow set of parameters. Besides odd missions like this, the on-foot and aquatic segments kept things fresh. (The boats handle like floating bricks, though. Be warned.)
Where the game trips up is the difficulty level, as Andrew noted. Although I didn't try the European version for purposes of comparison, the North American version is still in need of further tweaking. I flew through the first three-quarters of the game's story mode in two or three hours, only to become completely frustrated by the last handful of missions. It's a shame because Pursuit Force is so mindlessly frenetic that it's easy to get caught up in the adrenaline and forget that it's such a simple affair—the thrill of leaping from a moving car through the air in slow motion and landing on an enemy vehicle with guns blazing never got old. But, when I started getting hit in the face with missions that took dozens of tries to complete, the enjoyment disappeared and I started wondering why there weren't any difficulty settings, power-ups, or statistics to improve to get me over the hump.
Pursuit Force is a great example of flash and style, but it needs more work to iron out the difficulty spikes and hold the whole experience together, especially for players of varying skill (and patience) levels. As a $20 experimental release, I'd be more forgiving and support it, but as a full-priced purchase it makes the mistake of being too shallow to justify how vexing it becomes at the end.
According to ESRB, this game contains: Blood and Gore, Language, Violence
Parents should be aware that the violence in Pursuit Force is actually quite strong. Though not at all bloody, the ability to blow someone's face off though his windshield or blast a driver through the roof of his car has tremendous impact. Unlike Grand Theft Auto, however, Pursuit Force gets away with some of its own crimes by aiming them at criminals only; although civilians can still be thrown out of their cars if the player so wishes. Furthermore, the game's overt machismo makes a number of politically incorrect faux pas with its sexist overtones and innuendo. Those weary of the industry's 'boy's club' attitude are advised to stay away from the mission set involving a group of hi-tech female thieves called the Vixens.
Fans of classic coin-op Chase HQ, the Die Hard Trilogy race section or more recently the Vigilante missions in the Grand Theft Auto games will be more than interested in Pursuit Force's remit to take that gameplay model to the next level. For the most part it succeeds without diluting the mini-genre's core, but anyone expecting a rousing third-person shooter should look elsewhere as Pursuit Force's thrills are almost exclusively vehicle-based. It is also an extremely challenging title and players should be prepared for having to repeat levels over and over again in order to progress.
Deaf and Hard of Hearing Gamers will find all crucial mission info and game dialogue accompanied by text as a default. However in the heat of the action it is rarely advisable to take your eyes off the road for too long, so a slight disadvantage should perhaps be expected on some missions.