Late To The Party #3: Pursuit Force on PlayStation Portable.

My lips curl as I take aim at my pursuer and pull the trigger. "You ain't getting away so easily," I whisper to myself with all the aggression I can muster. White knuckled I close in on the damaged car. I stand up in my vehicle and try to maintain a steady forward motion, then I launch myself into the air. The time around me slows, and with a carefully placed round of machine gun fire I take out the driver of the vehicle I'm chasing. My feet smash against the boot of the car and I jump into the drivers seat. This isn't standard police force business, this is Pursuit Force.

Launching pretty early in the PSP's life-time, Pursuit Force was an action movie-inspired car combat game from the Sony-owned BigBig Studios. Clearly inspired by car chases and action flicks, Pursuit Force leaves an unbelievable first impression. Most notable is the visual clarity. For an early PSP title, Pursuit Force stacks up pretty competitively. It's a busy game, with scenery whipping past your car at an alarming rate. There are some frame-rate chugs, but on the whole the game runs surprisingly smoothly.

Pursuit Force was pitched to me as a car-combat game before I checked it out, but it's not really like anything I've ever played. The story is loose - you're part of a new governmental crime fighting up-start, created in order to combat the increasing number of traffic crimes. A group of gangs - based on complete action movie stereotypes - are running the roads, and your mission is to steal them back.

The plotline's loose and unneccessary. This game's all about its mechanics. The core gameplay is simple but endearing in a bombastic way. Car control handles much as you'd expect, with a hefty emphasis on drifting and weaving in and out of on-screen traffic. As a member of the police force, you need to limit the amount of damage issued to civillians, so you need to ensure you're careful on the road if you want to achieve the higher ranks. The first mission has me chasing six vehicles, each carrying nuclear toxins. I can't shoot the vehicles because the nuclear toxins might leak or explode, so I need to hijack the vehicles. To do this, I race up to them and get within their proximity. A prompt pops-up on the screen allowing me to hit the Circle button. This is Pursuit Force's unique hook — by hijacking the car I'm able to ride on either the boot or the body of the vehicle. But with the enemy NPCs still driving, I need to find a way to take control. Thus ensues a little mini-game of kinds. I can dodge the enemies attacks by hitting the square button and climbing around the vehicle out of view. This acts as cover. I can then wait for the enemy to reload, and pick him off with my own weapon. This allows me to gain entry to the vehicle and continue on my mission.

BigBig Studios hit the nail on the head when they named their game "Pursuit Force". Pursuit is such a brilliant word for the game because it never lets up that thrill of chasing throughout the whole campaign. And the hijacking mechanic never really gets old, even when the game's difficulty spikes so sharply it feels unfair.

The difficulty is perhaps Pursuit Forces biggest undoing. For a game that's very easy to pick-up and play, it feels remarkably challenging. Later levels punish the slightest mistake, and because you're often playing against extremely strict time-limits, the "Restart" button becomes a little too familiar. I've always been of the mind-set that games (portable ones especially) should be designed to make you feel good, and Pursuit Force manages to when you're flying through the air and using cars for cover. But sadly it also falls into frustrating traps. I don't mind if a portable game is easy, because I just want to blast through it on the train. Pursuit Force doesn't really take that into consideration.

It's still a stunning achievement though, both visually and mechanically. In fact, it's a franchise we wouldn't mind seeing make the jump to PlayStation 3. The thirty-seconds of fun that come from the hi-jacking mechanic are time-less, and would work just aswell on the console as on the move.

Pursuit Force doesn't deserve to be forgotten because, for all its difficulty flaws, it makes you feel more like an action hero better than any other game. And it's amazing it hasn't been ripped off yet. For every racing game that promises Hollywood car-chases, this one actually delivers. It's outstanding, therefore, that it's running on a PlayStation Portable.

Pursuit Force
Developer: BigBig Studios
Publisher: Sony Computer Entertainment
Release Date: 18th November 2005 [EU]; 7th March 2006 [US]

Late To The Party is PushSquare’s retro games column, where editor Sammy Barker returns to a classic PlayStation franchise with the luxury of hindsight.