Somewhere in the bowels of BigBig Studios, there was a cabal of game developers all hunched around a table. The air was thick with cigarette smoke and the unmistakable stench of Jack Daniels, as half the men lay comatose in their own arms, the rest burying their face in their hands. Finally, one jumps up and exclaims, “Eureka! I know! We’ll take a racing game and combine it with a shooter!” And there was much jubilation, and the drinking resumed.
So ends my hypothetical situation as to how this game was conceived. They must have wanted to make a good game a whole lot, and figured that by combining two genres into one stellar product, they would hit that golden mean for portable games. I mean, come on – a game where you can race cars, perform vehicle-to-vehicle jumps in the heat of gunfire, and pound a guy in the face with a nail gun? The very thought may be enough to make the most jaded gaming connoisseur drool with awe. Unfortunately, this great idea just got bogged down in so many ways that this unexpected amalgamation of ideas emerges less as a functional Frankenstein and more as a gooey mass of body parts, lurching away from the table while the good doctor shoots himself while standing in the corner.
Where to begin? Ah, yes, the tried and true city beyond hope. Apparently, as a cop, your beat has fallen onto hard times involving auto-related crime, and now, they need an elite force to “take back the streets.” This could only mean that they need a department free from the conventions of law enforcement, using any and all power to take down the grime that infests your city. And for this, they need the clichéd loose cannon cop on the edge, who shoots first and asks questions later! Sadly, Mel Gibson was off filming Apocalypto, so it looks like you’ll have to settle. So get in your car, pump up the gutbucket rock, and fight some crime! The police chief with the prototypical mustache is counting on you!
The game has a more than decent selections of modes, such as time trial and race, but the game takes place primarily in the career mode. In this mode, you can choose from a number of gangs to take down, and then select a scenario in which to face them. This can mean standard car chases, or even boat and on-foot pursuits.
But let’s get back to that later. The first thing that you will notice is that this game bleeds cheese. The character designs and voices are some of the most corny, hackneyed bits and pieces of game design I have ever witnessed in a title, portable or not. This is stuff that would make the Metal Gear Solid writers cringe. The characters themselves, right down to your own character, are clichéd and pigeonholed into the realm of stereotypes not seen since Grand Theft Auto (except that GTA did them well). The Italian mobsters are the same goombas you would come to expect from an episode of the Sopranos, and the chain gangs are rife with what some may call “urban flair”, though it simply boils down to dumb thugs. You will quickly grow weary of the groan-inducing voice acting, as well. It was about the 15th time that my boss told me to get on those crooks like “white on rice” that I began to seriously contemplate taking a screwdriver to my ear.
Not to say that the gameplay is good, either. As mentioned before, you have different kinds of pursuits. You simply start in a car, and need to complete an objective such as taking out all enemy vehicles or escorting a civilian. As you do this – and this is the gimmick, you see – your character can jump from car to car, and then proceed with something that resembles a minigame, but is more of an exercise in button mashing, in which you use whatever weapon you have (they are upgraded as you attack and take over vehicles) to do away with the current occupants and commandeer the vehicle for your own devices. Now, the jumping part is fine – the shooting is mindless and inconvenient. Small touches such as having to scale a vehicle before you get shaken off are interesting, but ultimately out of place. And besides, you can only jump to a vehicle once you are in the correct distance, which is yet another challenge. It takes a LONG time to catch up to enemy vehicles, and overshooting them means slowing down, which often results in the enemies shooting past you again thanks to broken speed sensitivity, so it can turn into a tug of war that makes the ridiculously short time limits even more frustrating. The levels are terribly linear, and the vehicles have few differences. The boats and cars are roughly the same in handling minus some basic differences (the boat bobs up and down in the water, AWESOME!!!). Oh, and whoever designed the tracks has a love for 90-degree angles, as some levels are plagued by them. We’re not talking wide turns, either – these are turns with, at most, a two-car width, and the controls are so horribly deficient that making the turns smoothly is practically an impossibility. In a game like this, it really doesn’t matter if hitting a wall is less of a hindrance than other racing games, because the other games allow you the option of not hitting the wall at all. This game basically pins a twenty-dollar bill to your shirt, wishes you good luck, and slingshots you head on into the nearest roadblock, bragging that at least you didn’t sustain full brain damage.
Of course, the game occasionally throws you into a new scenario, but these are often as bad as the other parts of the game. For instance, in one mission, you man a helicopter chain gun and try to take down an enemy leader who is jumping from car to car while under yet another unnecessarily restrictive time limit. The controls still need a lot of work, so not only is hitting him an ordeal, but you get to do this while listening to him shout the same two or three phrases over and over in an obnoxious tone of voice. Sounds fun! Oh, and you can also participate in on-foot sections, which really amount to doing nothing more than running to the closest baddie, executing and arresting move, and then moving to the next mindless henchman with the AI of a poached egg. I would call it the world’s greatest “running around like a headless chicken” simulator.
Then, there are some basic conventions, such as a “justice meter” that, as it fills, allows you heal yourself or jump in slow motion. The whole thing reeks of a chintzy Hollywood feel where any development of the controls or characters was brushed aside for more glitz and glam without substance. The drunken cabal of developers must have pictured plenty of Matrix-esque chase scenes and decided to string them together with filler, not to say that the chase scenes are even good. The lack of save points (or the misplacement thereof) in some of the multi-tier missions is almost inexcusable.
It all feels like the production values amounted to lunch money.
There are few words in the vernacular – nay, the human lexicon – to express my anger at the control scheme in this game. As a racing/shooter, the controls should be tight when it comes to controlling cars, but it feels more like controlling a shopping cart. You have no sense for gravity, weight, or friction, and the controls are so loose that turn collisions are unavoidable, and the slightest miscalculation could send objective enemies roaring past you, which is unpleasant, especially considering that the car speeds are so evenly matched that catching up with opponents can take eons. There’s really no skill outside of mashing the face buttons and trying not to crash, seeing as how shooting takes no skill at all and how some boss encounters can be deviously cheap.
There is really nothing to complain about when it comes to graphics. In fact, I will go so far as to say that the rendering and modeling is exceptional (some vehicle textures could use work, though). The graphics are really the best thing about the game, but that’s sort of tantamount to saying that the bread on the turd sandwich is fluffy – you’re still biting into something you’d rather not. It gets a passing grade, quite frankly – the flashing police lights and slow motion jumps are well done, as are the explosions and other SFX, but it really doesn’t compensate for the rest of the game. As Yoda (never) said, graphics do not a good game make.
The sound quality is exceptional, I will admit. Everything comes out crisp and clear, and there is little to no muddy sounds or filler noise. But there is a difference between sound quality and the quality of the sound. You can tell that they were shooting for something cheesy, yet endearing, in the vein of Metal Gear Solid (“The la-li-lu-le-lo?!”) or Sniper Scope (“My muscles are harder than STEEL!”), but it simply fails on every level. The voice acting is atrocious – Saturday morning cartoon atrocious. Mr. T talking alarm clock atrocious. Every line sounds as if it was ripped from the pages of a Uwe Boll movie. Almost all the voices are stereotypical, obnoxious, and unwelcome. It has all the symptoms of bad casting, and the writing ain’t hot either. I’m still reeling from the fact that the mobsters never made a crack about calzones. The only credit you can give is that they gave the impression of the speaker. The military renegades sounded like gruff drill sergeants, the hillbillies sounded like hillbillies, and the prisoners sounded like drunk extras from a rap video, but sometimes they just pile it on WAAAAAY too thick. It isn’t funny. It isn’t clever. It’s just stupid.
I’m sorry, but I simply can’t give this a good grade. It’s bad. It’s just… Really bad. There’s almost no redeeming value to it. What it does with shooting, Syphon Filter does better. What it does with driving, Midnight Club does better. And what it does with shooting while driving, hell, Pac Man does better. This kind of idea really has a lot of potential, and I would be the first to motion for a sequel, but they really need to overhaul the whole thing if they hope to make it playable the next time around. In the meantime, go buy some Hot Wheels and a super soaker. It’s a better use of your forty bucks.
Ratings (scale of 1 to 5):
Decent graphics are pretty much the only thing this game has to offer.
Bah. Quality earns it a little kudos, but listening to this game is like nails on a chalkboard.
There is something to be said of car jumping and shooting, but the frustration of broken controls, horrendous sound, bad level design, and restrictive time limits knock this down more than a couple of pegs
I got tired of it after the first level, and the rest is just filler. Couldn’t wait to put this down and drive nails into my legs to ease the pain.