Pursuit Force Review

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I didn’t own many games for PlayStation Portable when it was in its prime. Mine was basically dedicated to the three Grand Theft Auto titles that were released for it but many great games were released for the system during its lifespan including exclusives like the two Pursuit Force titles. I forget how I discovered them but it was well after the sequel was released because I remember buying both around the same time. Pursuit Force is a game that centers on high speed chases and gun battles and I remember thinking it was a cool enough concept for me to look for a copy almost immediately upon discovery. Developed by Bigbig Studios and published by Sony Computer Entertainment, Pursuit Force was released for PlayStation Portable in March, 2006. For this review, I played a ripped copy of my own game using the PPSSPP emulator.

Set in the fictional Capital State, the player assumes the role of a Pursuit Force offer, tasked with stopping multiple gangs that are wreaking havoc across the state. These gangs include a Mafia family, rogue mercenaries, escaped convicts, an all-female gang of professional thieves, and a gang of vehicle smugglers. The story mode plays out in cases which you might call “missions”. There’s not much in the way of character development but each gang comes with six cases and each case centers on a different threat or criminal activity. The voice acting is hammy and over-the-top which matches the game’s somewhat cartoony style and high octane explosive action.

Pursuit Force is a single player experience and comes with multiple game modes including a Story mode, Race mode, and Time Trial mode. The real meat of the game is the Story mode and it’s what you should jump into first because solving cases is how you unlock things for the other modes including routes and vehicles for Time Trial, races, images and videos in the Gallery, and cheats. You are scored and rated based on your performance during a case and higher ratings means more unlocks.

When you first jump into the Story, you can only take on cases associated with two gangs. As you solve cases, more gangs with their own cases unlock. You’ll also rank up and each rank comes with an upgrade. Some cases can only be accepted after reaching certain ranks and the upgrades offer an incentive to revisit previous cases to try for better scores and ratings. The upgrades do provide gameplay benefits which only seem to make previous cases easier. I’m guessing this is because harder cases require you to be a certain rank to even attempt them. For example, you can’t attempt a Lieutenant case without reaching the Lieutenant rank and having the upgrade associated with it. There are no traditional difficulties to select from but there is a cheat you can unlock that makes things even more challenging.

Now I’ll get into the nitty gritty. Pursuit Force is a fast-paced and over-the-top action game. Cases will put you in a vehicle or boat where you drive along the roads or water at high speeds and must engage or outrun attacking vehicles. You can target enemy vehicles and shoot at them while driving and even jump to vehicles, including civilian, and capture or commandeer them. There are several on-foot sequences in the game where you get to run around and shoot and arrest enemies. These feel very basic and don’t last long but they do make for fun little breaks from the frequent high speed action. During these sequences, your goal is neutralize all the enemies in the area. If you get close enough to one, you can arrest them and take their weapon.

Your character is always equipped with a handgun that comes with infinite ammo but capturing vehicles and arresting foes will grant you additional weapons which are more powerful but do come with limited ammo. The game offers a good variety of weapons including handguns, a shotgun, machine guns, submachine gun, and a nail hammer among some others. There’s no weapon inventory system of sorts and you can’t switch weapons. You can only use one weapon at a time so once you capture a vehicle or arrest a foe, your weapon is automatically replaced.

When you jump to an enemy vehicle, you’ll have to shoot and kill the individuals inside before you can capture it. But you do have to be careful because enemies can lean out of windows to shoot at you and you can lose your balance and fall, resulting in you being dragged until you can get back up. While on a vehicle, you can press a button to dodge enemy gunfire and survival becomes a game of knowing when to dodge and shoot. If you lose all your health or your vehicle is destroyed, you die. You’ll often have to chase enemy vehicles and there is always a destination they will try to reach and you can see how close you are to the destination on the radar or minimap on the HUD. If they reach their destination before you can complete the objective, you fail to solve the case. Some cases include checkpoints so if you die or fail, you can always restart from the last checkpoint, otherwise you have to start from the beginning.

An important aspect of the gameplay is Justice. There’s a Justice bar on the HUD that fills by destroying, capturing and ramming criminals. You lose Justice by crashing into or shooting civilians. When the Justice bar is full, you inflict more damage and can target enemies while jumping. You can also restore health bars at the expense of the Justice bar. Justice will sometimes be the component required to solve some cases so being careful and learning how to maintain a full Justice bar will often be the key to success.

My biggest complaint with this game is that certain cases are more frustrating than fun because they give you little to no breathing room. For example, one boss basically requires you to maintain a full Justice bar otherwise you simply won’t be able to drain through his health before he reaches his destination. Another example is you may have to capture or destroy a set amount of vehicles travelling along a short route so you not only have to do it quickly but also in a very specific way. The most efficient way and probably the only way which you’ll have to figure out. It’s not like you can approach it any other way or take your time, either. It’s these kinds of situations that can be infuriating. You’ll have to figure out the appropriate mix of utilizing the Justice bar, capturing and destroying vehicles and not die in the process. Despite one upgrade reducing the amount of damage you can take, gunfire can drain through your character’s health pretty quickly if you’re not careful, especially in the later cases. And you may not be able to afford replenishing health at the expense of Justice because you need it to complete the objectives. Pursuit Force can be punishing. Sometimes all it takes is one mistake to fail.

I really wouldn’t mind some of the more punishing gameplay elements if they were more associated with the rating. With a scoring system like this, I don’t mind working hard and overcoming challenges to achieve the best ratings but some of the cases here are just downright infuriating to solve in general. That’s the problem. I guess what I’m saying is I wish the cases were made a little more forgiving but better ratings were harder to achieve. I’m not saying all the cases need to be a cakewalk but a little more room for error and creativity in some would have been nice. This way no case would be overly frustrating to solve but you would have work hard and figure out the most efficient approach to achieve the best rating. For the most part, the game is fun and even the most challenging cases have their moments of excellence but I have no doubt the gameplay could use some tweaking here and there.

Each gang drives their own unique vehicles and uses specific weapons or guns. You’ll engage them in vehicles, on-foot and sometimes you’ll have to shoot down enemy helicopters. I will admit the gameplay can become repetitive at times but cases are usually pretty short. You can solve most them within ten minutes, assuming you don’t die or fail and there is a decent variety of objectives. You’ll not only have to destroy and capture vehicles but also follow and outrun foes, protect vehicles and transport people. Several cases let you man a turret in a helicopter, requiring you to gun down foes from the sky in an on-rails shooter sequence. One case in particular is a nod to the film Speed. Your objective is to capture a bus strapped with a bomb and must keep it above a certain speed limit, otherwise a timer ticks down and the bomb explodes when it reaches zero.

Pursuit Force does include a decent variety of environments including urban, rural, and desert and each case is linear which does help keep the action focused and contained. Some roads do branch off or split, and I guess you could say there are shortcuts but it’s always clear where you need to go. It would be impossible to get lost. For the most part, the game controls well with motorcycles being the most problematic, at least for me. Making sharp turns with these often resulted in grinding against barriers and rails which can be annoying. The environments contain a mix of straightaways, curved roads and sharp turns that you can power slide around. Barriers and arrows will keep you on the right path and going in the right direction and you’ll want to avoid crashing into the many civilian vehicles that populate the roads as you and enemies are engaged in chaotic action.

Playing this on an emulator definitely makes the game’s dated presentation and visual flaws more noticeable like the rampant pop-in and somewhat blurry textures but I was honestly impressed with how good the game actually looks, at least for the time it released and the hardware it was designed for. The presentation is colorful, the visual effects look cool, and the vehicle and character models along with their animations actually look pretty good. The audio work is also great. The gameplay is filled with the sounds of sirens, roaring engines, loud gunfire, and explosions and all the action is backed by a mix of intense and dramatic-sounding tunes that perfectly fit the chaotic and intense action on display. On the technical side, Pursuit Force is a pretty solid performer. The frame rate remained stable more often than not, a few dips here and there, and I encountered no major issues.

I’ve been wanting to revisit Pursuit Force for some time now and I had an absolute blast with it. It’s just as good as I remembered. For one thing, the concept is awesome. The game very much centers on high speed chases and action and the action always moves along at a brisk pace. It never seems to let up. Nothing ever brings it down. It only gets more intense and chaotic as you progress. I do wish more game modes were included – maybe some kind of gang or enemy takedown mode – because Race and Time Trial are nowhere near as enjoyable as the Story mode. The fun comes from the crazy action. The driving, the shooting, jumping from vehicle to vehicle at high speeds – that’s the awesome stuff. I do think some cases are a bit too frustrating but there’s more good here than bad. The game just takes you from one crazy action-packed sequence to another and the result is a thrilling ride from beginning to end.

I would absolutely recommend Pursuit Force. I think it’s one of the best games for the PSP and it’s really a shame the developer is no more. I would have loved to see this turn into a bigger franchise. At the very least, I would love to see this and its sequel remastered and released for modern hardware. The concept is just straight up fun and it’s executed very well here with few hiccups. Definitely check it out.

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