Developer: Bigbig Studios
Release Date: January 29, 2008
There are many things to be said for going very, very fast. Speed is a natural stimulant of sorts, a nearly guaranteed way to get your adrenaline going and your heart kick-started enough to start a four-by-four vehicle without the risk of less licit materials. Pursuit Force sat down and proved that more speed is what you need, providing a satisfyingly crunchy combination of putting the pedal so close to the metal that it was scraping the road under the car while trading lead and paint with the bad guys. Does the sequel, Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice, come off as extreme as it'd like you to think? Mostly.
PF: EJ has a story, but it's so lightweight you'll probably forget it during the first few dashes down the Capitol City freeways and byways. As the commander of the elite Pursuit Force, your job is to track down and eliminate, by any means necessary, various vehicular criminals who have taken it upon themselves to terrorize the local citizens. By and large, this involves getting in your standard-issue car and driving after them, spraying bullets and doing your best Mad Max impression while attempting to keep the civilian masses safe from the flying projectile metal.
It sounds very simple, and it really is. This go-round, the designers chose to introduce a more involved support team for the commander to work with, including a helicopter pilot (and strong romantic interest), a heavy gunner, a small craft specialist, and a few others. They mostly serve as background noise and support fire; while the cast is useful to buffer out the background a little bit and to help you in very tight missions, the story is still so thin that I'm afraid I'll break it if I poke too hard, with simple clichés like a prison escape and a rival Pursuit Force team, Viper Squad, that don't seem completely legit.
It's all a veneer, really, for the vehicular mayhem that Bigbig has ready for you in the actual game. Each level is extremely straightforward: In the car of choice for that particular mission, you tear off after the bad guys in, well, hot pursuit. With the exception of a periodic rail-shooter level where you man the minigun on a support helicopter, the level diversity is very minimal. The objectives are not particularly robust, either, as levels either involve taking down a set of drivers before they get away at the end of the designated roadway (more on that later), getting to the end of a sequence and dealing with a boss, or protecting a convoy or two. It's hardly heart-stopping design, and the fact that no level is anything more than straightforward sort of makes the whole thing feel like one glorious racing game — almost a slot car simulation, if you will.
Your Pursuit Force car is, by and large, competent, if unspectacular. It's fast and can take a fairly serious beating before exploding and leaving you lying on the asphalt. Should you lose your love of the blue 'n' white beastie (or if the game tells you it's time to move on), switching to another car is as simple as pulling up next to it and hitting the right button when you see the "transfer" icon. The commander will happily jump out into midair, fly to the other car in a daring act of aerobatics that'll make the Circque du Soleil look on in awe — and land on the car in question, with the protests of metal and plastic. At that point, it's a simple task to kill, arrest, or otherwise remove the driver and his passengers, and then zingo-zango, it's a new car, and you didn't have to fill out the paperwork or take a test drive.
This applies to everything on the road that's driven by a criminal — no commandeering civilian vehicles, lads — so you'll be tossing your body mass from cop cars to trucks to motorcycles and back again, changing between fast rigs and heavy cars, dodging traffic and firing heavy weaponry the whole time. It's very simple but very visceral, emphasizing the fast and frenetic gunplay and car-hopping, putting all the focus where it's needed most: the action. Each car comes with its own kind of firearm, giving you the power with which to kill people — when he's not beating them to death or plowing them down with his cars.
It's a wonder, then, that PF: EJ is rather cruel in a lot of levels, working so hard against you that it's a struggle just to stay standing upright. Many levels are races after the bad guys, all within a tightly restricted section of track. If you should happen to reach the end of the run before the terrorists reach their flaming ends, you are screwed and must replay the level; despite your almost-huggable proximity to the guys you're trying to kill, the commander will turn off his engine, curse his horrible fate, and let them get away.
This means that slipping behind for whatever reason, like getting into an accident (and they will happen), effectively ends the level and means you'll lose no matter what you do. On the other hand, some levels are so pathetically simple that losing requires you to put effort into losing. Your character generates a power called Justice Force as he kills and maims, and using this ability lets you do awesome things such as slow down time as you fly through the air to another car, picking off other baddies like it's a buffet, but more importantly, Justice Power lets you heal the car you're in, giving you pretty much infinite health. As long as you're shooting effectively, you can heal or repair yourself and keep on going. It's not much, but it takes away some of the challenge, most of which is replaced by simply making the game unfair to you by putting artificial restrictions or way too many thugs with infinite ammo in front of or behind your vehicle.
That's one of the root problems that ultimately damages PF: EJ: It never goes anywhere that you don't see in the first three or four levels. Yes, the vehicular exchange system is neat and well-executed, and the gunplay is fast and furious. Some levels try to shake it up a bit by doing things such as making you travel on foot with a machine gun or letting you man the turret of a chopper; although replayability of the material is inarguably covered, the ever-feared sense of ennui sets in really quickly. Just how many cars can one person blow up before exploding cars aren't interesting anymore? That's a question this game demands, and the answer is high, but not infinite by any means. The developers did their level best to make things more extensive by adding in challenge modes, unlockable bonus skills, and a background story, but it can only do so much. By the end of the first act, it was very difficult to go on.
Ultimately, Pursuit Force: Extreme Justice does exactly what it sets out to do. It's a high-speed action title where pedals are put firmly onto metals, and the lead flies about like mosquitoes at a Southern picnic. That really only goes so far, though, and the efforts to extend and modify the title come off as half-hearted and weak. I wouldn't call it a bad game by any stretch — technically it's sound, with an engine that trucks beautiful scenery at solid frame rates, and the controls are so simple that they wrap back around again and land on elegant and intelligent. However, it feels as if, somewhere during development, the overall idea suddenly got truncated and was left as a concept stretched out into a full game, so it eventually wears out nearly every idea it's got. PF: EJ is a lot of fun while it lasts, though, and is at least worth a spin around the garage. It's not a must-own title, so buyers should be aware that they're not getting anything monumental.
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