Yeh, yeh, yeh, talk to the hand: game makers wanna be like Peter Jackson and Jerry Bruckheimer. They want the accolades, the respect, the props. Everyone says, the game business is young; it will get the respect it deserves as it evolves. But approaching age 25, the industry ain’t so young anymore. And if you compare it to the movie industry, after 20 years of moviemaking the Oscars were events that everyone from kiddies to grannies cared about. No one but gamers care about the game award ceremonies on that insipid Spike network. For the last 10 or 12 years, the developers in the video game industry have yearned to be like their producer counterparts in Hollywood. With the advent of the PS2 and the Xbox 360, it’s true that some of the best games offer production values and special effects that rival Hollywood’s action films. But if games were really like movies, they’d have terrific stories. Nine out of ten don’t.
Having said that, there’s nothing wrong with trying to emulate Hollywood. PURSUIT FORCE takes its action cues, which are relentless and many, from Tinseltown action flicks, everything from The French Connection to The Fast and the Furious. What makes this PSP game new is how you, as a rookie cop, capture the criminals from five gangs who run amok in the fictional Capital City. To apprehend the baddies, you can leap from car to car with astonishing, frog-like power and accuracy. That small innovation makes Pursuit Force a thrill to play. With cars that go 150 mph, 55 vehicles to drive and 10 types of weapons, the 30 cases to solve are full of teeth-gritting skirmishes. You won’t wanna take your Ambien and play this one.
Your boss is the kind of no-nonsense tough guy that you played for in Halo 2 and in Mercenaries. He’s gruff and humorous, but one-dimensional. That’s my reservation regarding each of the characters, and the story, too. It’s as cliché as Uwe Bolls movies. Yet it’s the game play that will get you through Pursuit Force because it’s so fast and furious. If you stop to take a gander at the gorgeous artwork as you drive and leap, you’ll lose these timed challenges. And the crabby boss will belittle you—an attempt to get you to do better the next time: call it the Bill Parcells Effect.
While it certainly doesn’t have the Hollywood frenticism of Pursuit Force, I really like EXIT, a fascinating 2D puzzle game for the PSP with a mammoth 100 levels. Here, you play an heroic escapologist who must save people from dire situations like fires and floods. You are Mr. ESC, a wispy, caffeine gulping hero who needs to save just about everyone, from the young to the infirm. In the game’s early stages, everything’s easy enough as you learn to save people from burning buildings and the like. You’re something like a 9-11 hero meets Bruce Willis in Die Hard.
Once you’re at one with the mechanics, the puzzles can be trying and, occasionally, full of tribulation. In other words, they’re fun but maddening: especially when the room you’re in goes completely dark. Handy maps help you negotiate the levels, but there are constant obstacles along the way like live wires that will electrocute you. Beyond the game play, the character rendering is inspired and hand drawn, a few steps up from stick figures. And yet, you find them cute, powerful, and compelling as you always try to find the exit and become the hero. And you know what? With the right writer, it’d make a terrific movie.
Both Pursuit Force and Exit prove one thing: the games for the PSP are getting better and better. And that’s great news for handheld fans who suffered through the first year of the PSP as dozens of paltry offerings were released. They should not have seen the light of day. But that’s the game industry: You get the cutting edge hardware early. Then you have to wait for what seems like an interminable amount of time for the best game technology to catch up.
Fight Night Round 3
Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Chicago
I knew it wasn’t going to be as dark and myth-filled as Tosches’ The Devil In Sonny Liston. And I knew it wasn’t going to tell the whole story like Remnick’s King of the World. Still, when I was told of the opportunity to meet and play FIGHT NIGHT ROUND 3 with cover athlete Arturo Gatti, I jumped at the chance. Since I had to keep my game face on, I didn’t mention that I was nervous about meeting Arturo. Gatti’s kind of a real life Rocky, who’s known for his legendary fights against Micky Ward. He’s also been the WBC super welterweight champ and he punches so hard with such spirit, the Jersey City-based fighter often breaks his right hand.
In a large suite in a fancy midtown Manhattan hotel, Gatti admitted he hadn’t played the game until that morning. It was no comfort: I hadn’t played the game at all. “But I’m pretty good at it,” Gatti jabbed. Great, I thought, I’m going to get a virtual butt whomping which I will never live down.
Arturo chose to play as the legendary “fists of stone,” Roberto Duran. I picked the equally legendary Ray Robinson. Both fighters looked ready, massive, fine-tuned bodies full of rage and stamina. When the bell rang, Gatti began to brawl: he wasn’t blocking at all. I thought I’d be down in a minute: the swift punches came hard and the bone crunches echoed à la Raging Bull. I found the block button and got Duran with a series of rights. Duran appeared dazed. And then, Gatti as Duran fell, knocked down hard by Robinson. Gatti stood up and tried to use body English to get Duran off the mat. In the game, there’s a way to revive a knocked down fighter before the 10-count. But Arturo wasn’t able to move two dots into the center of the screen using the controller sticks. Duran stayed down. I had bested the great Arturo Gatti.
At first, there was disbelief on Gatti’s face, then a flash of anger, at which point I wanted to run down Fifth Avenue as quickly as I could. Moments later, there was good natured respect. “Congratulations,” he said. Even in loss, Arturo Gatti was a class act.
This ain’t no cheap arcade game. On the next generation 360 console, the faces look as close to human as I’ve ever seen in a game (although I still love its brawling predecessor, Knockout Kings). This version doesn’t make you use the annoying right stick to throw the punches if you don’t want to. I’d suggest that you try Controller Setup 3 in Options. That way, you can use buttons to throw punches. You can still punch using the right stick, if you so choose.
The perks here are as varied as Ali’s footwork. ESPN Classic mode lets you refight some of the best matches of all time. While the Career mode isn’t stellar, it (and the whole game) sports some of the finest dialogue I’ve ever heard in a boxing offering. New innovations include the Stun Punch, which puts you in a scary first person perspective, and Flash KO, one dynamite punch that yields a knockout. Finally, there’s a minigame which takes place at a press conference. After a few barbs are tossed, it turns into a brawl, just as some of promoter Don King’s press conferences did.
I do have some beefs with FNR3. The announcers often seem to recount the pugilistic blows long after the punches are thrown. And the faces in the crowd, although nicely rendered, should be more varied. The online mode sometimes suffers from lag time, which is no good when you’re boxing. Finally, I wish that the story within the game was as rich as Tosches’ or Remnick’s work. Then, I’d really be knocked out. Still, this game feels so real (and that goes for the Xbox, PS2 and PSP versions), you’ll be gritting your teeth as you fight, ever bobbing and weaving . . . in couch potato mode, of course.