It's no secret that the PSP could use some original franchises. Playing Burnout, Madden, Midnight Club, and Harry Potter is all well and good, but what about games that are designed from the ground up with the PSP in mind? One game that looks poised to fit the bill is Pursuit Force, which is being developed by Bigbig studios and will be published by SCEA. Pursuit Force was one of the more enjoyable titles for the PSP shown at E3, so I was quite excited when I saw that Sony had sent a preview build of the game last week.
Pursuit Force is already available in Europe, but don't be jealous; our patience is being rewarded with an improved version of the game. It seems the European release had some balancing issues with regards to the difficulty - some levels were too easy, while others were too hard. We'll be getting a more balanced experience, as well as a few other minor improvements.
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. The first level sees you in a sporty police car trying to stop some criminals from getting away with toxic chemicals. 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. 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 an entire car before you land.
The second level finds you behind the wheel of 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. The last level I got to play featured the standard car chases, but after you take out all the low-lifes, a boss fight kicks in. This 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.
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. The vehicles all have a unique look to them, and they all look quite nice. We're getting new voice-acting over here, but I was unable to tell if the build I played had the new dialog in it yet.
Pursuit Force is certainly entertaining as a demo, so it just remains to be seen if the chase, kill, chase, kill - repeat as necessary gameplay will remain interesting over the course of an entire game. Bigbig is taking their time with this one and the demo feels very polished, so hopes are high that this will be a great game to get you through the slow spring months.
1/30/2006 Aaron Thomas