It's not very often that a developer understands exactly what kind of game it's making; a developer that understands not only the console and its limitations, but also its gamers. Bigbig Studios gets it. And Pursuit Force is the proof that you don't have to add contrivance to a concept just to make it float. Just give the people what they want and make it as good as you can. It also helps that Pursuit Force packs a serious kick in the pants too.
Pursuit Force has its roots firmly entrenched in arcade gaming, but for the sake of the PSP, this translates extremely well. This is not a game with a deep story, long levels, intricate controls or gameplay that takes forever to get into. Form the first seconds you'll understand what PF is all about and when you're done, you'll be thankful that even though it has enough sense to stick to its own formula throughout. PF is a simple game, but one that feels like it's never really been done before and therein lies its greatest appeal. You'll find more satisfying games out there, but few that will have feel just as exiting months, if not years, down the road.
The premise is simple; you are a police officer trying to take back the streets of Capital City and yes, this is probably the most crime-ridden town you'll ever set foot in. The main career mode has you playing through various police rankings trying to close cases related to the five worse gangs out there. The Warlords are the elite mercenaries gone bad, the Killer66 are an Asian-influenced brat-pack, the Convicts are just that, convicts, the Capelli Family are mafioso and the Vixens are not only ex-Hollywood stunt girls gone horribly, horribly wrong, but the token eye-candy of Pursuit Force. What? Did you think the developer's had forgotten you already? All gangs feature their own quasi story-lines, cut-scenes (which are amazing), unlockables and galleries.
After completing any mission, you will be rated and you'll receive performance bonuses and unlockables which flesh out the other modes of PF: race and time trial modes. While these may seem obvious, PF force handles them in a refreshing way that actually makes the extra modes worth playing.
There are only a few things to note on the gameplay of PF, but don't let the simplicity of it all fool you; this game is hard to put down once you start playing it. In all cases, the levels are geared towards portable gaming play-sessions and are broken up nicely to be bite-sized with intermediate saves in-between. On the go, there aren't too many games that understand the need to get to the point ASAP as well as PF and this is again thanks to the Bigbig understand PSP gamers needs. The bulk of the game, and also the game's gimmick, is the ability to drive a vehicle, trail a bad guy and when you're close enough, jump onto his vehicle and take it over. Yes, this is arcade gameplay at its finest. From time to time you'll find yourself in cars and then boats, racing to catch up to a target and then taking him over. There is also an on-foot mode which is playable but doesn't handle quite as well as the car/boat gameplay and there's also an on-rails helicopter mode where you control a mini-gun during pursuit.
The levels, while all employing a mixture of these four modes, generally follow a logical progression that manage to incorporate all four modes in a clever way that feels fresh. If this wasn't enough, Pursuit Force also has a Justice Bar that fills when you take down gang members or when you're being especially violent towards them. Alternatively, when you place civilian lives in danger the Justice Bar depletes. The Justice Bar has quite a few abilities including regenerating your officer's health faster, increasing the damage you cause and shooting gang members mid-air as you leap from one vehicle to another. In the end, it may not represent much depth, but it adds to the arcade feel and is a large factor later on in the game when the difficulty starts to spike.
Graphically, Pursuit Force is no match for some of the other racing games on the PSP, but then again, PF isn't your average driving game. Make no mistake about it; it's not because of its visuals, because Pursuit Force looks amazing, it's simply that it doesn't move as fast as some other eye-candy games. The cars, water effects, gang members and backgrounds are all perfectly detailed, but since the game doesn't move as fast as others (this is not a fault) it's easier to notice the innocent bystanders' cars and see that they aren't as detailed as the gang cars. This is an insignificant nit-pick on my part since everything else about PF is perfect. The cutscenes are brilliant and worthy of watching over and over. PF also loads faster than a lot of other games out there which is to its credit.
In the audio department, the effects, cars and voice work are all well done and the soundtrack is fitting. During the cutscenes you'll notice the score a bit more and see just how appropriate it is.
If there is one major knock against Pursuit Force, it's simply its lack of any multiplayer modes. Sure, you can pass a PSP around and do the time trial and race modes (or simply play through the missions as a team) but it would have been cool to use the vehicle-jumping gameplay to create a race event where all cars are "jump-able" and you have to swap cars to get ahead of your opponent. Some cars could've been faster than other, etc, and you would've still been able to shoot at your opponent's vehicle and even take it over and send him packing. Such missed opportunities like that really disappoint since the gameplay almost begs for it, but we can only hope that this oversight is addressed in the inevitable sequel.
In the end, many could label Pursuit Force as a shallow, gimmicky, arcade game. And they'd be right. But Pursuit Force also breathes substance and style into its gameplay. Something which, oddly enough, is sorely lacking in most handheld games out there. Featuring sharp graphics, clever mechanics and tons of fun to be had, if you're looking for a game that gets to the point fast and satisfies, look no further than Pursuit Force.