The Fast and the Furious
There must be a formula for reviews like this, something along the lines of : Need for Speed Carbon + Police Chases + Graphical Sheen = The Fast and the Furious. Bingo, job done we can all go home early. Still here? You mean you want more? Hmph, Oh, OKAY then.
Arriving light years too late onto a now firmly last-generation platform and sporting a licence from a movie franchise that's now plundering the depths of direct-to-video you'd be forgiven for thinking The Fast and the Furious had missed its window of opportunity. Had it been released in 2001 when the first film in the series came out (it was a 'hit' back then remember) and it's competition in the illegal urban street racing with added car moding genre almost non existent we'd have probably been talking about a bright new entry into the racing genre that offered something new to gamers turned on by the car-porn on display in the film. As it is, in 2007, it all feels very much like a sub standard version of games we've already been playing for years.
TFatH really does offer very little in the way of new features, predictably the general thrust of the game sees you free roaming around the streets of Tokyo using your in car satellite navigation to locate different racing hotspots, upgrade shops and car showrooms. The more money you earn by racing the more money you can spend on new cars from the impressive list of licensed vehicles or, more satisfyingly, upgrading your current four wheeled friend. The upgrade shop is one area where TFatF excels, readers of Max Power and the like will find the level of customisation on offer is deep enough for them to happily lose hours in, although such is its impressive depth that anyone not familiar with the nitty-gritty of such things may find it brain achingly complex fairly quickly.
Those of you who like a nice slice of drifting with your racing games will be pleased too, while never threatening to become Ridge Racer the cars are generally much happier to drift around corners than those in Need for Speed Carbon although the racing engine while solid enough to serve its purpose doesn't quite have the same comforting sense of weight as either of those titles with cars feeling a little twitchy at times. Finding upgrades that match your driving style helps matters and once you're settled with your car and how it performs you'll find that there is some fun to be had on the streets of Tokyo after all. Arriving at a race hotspot will see you given a choice of rival gang members to challenge each with their own racing styles. The races themselves unfortunately tend to be mostly your basic A to B sprints with only the occasional top speed challenge thrown in to mix things up a little, which is a shame as there's so much more scope for street racers as the much more inventive Need for Speed games have proved. Thankfully There's a little more variety in the locations (emphasis on the word little) with races taking place either on Tokyo's freeway system, called The Wangon, or on the twisty-turny hillsides of Touge outside the city where mastery of the drift system is the key. Unfortunately, in a decision that reeks of thoughtlessness, beating an opponent doesn't remove the option to race him again in an identical race with the same prize money on offer. Any gamer with an ounce of common sense will soon realise that repeatedly taking on the same easily winnable early race will eventually rack up big enough monetary rewards to snag you an impressive car with all the trimmings thereby removing most of the challenge from the rest of the game.
Not helping in TFatF's quest for market share are the frankly miserable graphics, the city you spend most of the game whistling through is so drab and lifeless you might as well be in Grimsby for all the wonders of the orient on show in the title's rendition of Tokyo. The PS2 is still clearly still capable of impressing in the graphics department as games like Okami and God of War 2 have proved, TFatF by comparison looks like it's from a different generation entirely, one where blurry low detail was the norm. There's also a continual shaking of the camera during races which I assume was intended to add to the sensation of speed, unfortunately it doesn't, at first I thought it was the world's worst frame rate and then having realised it must be deliberate decided is was simply headache inducing. To make matters worse the murky graphics and camera judder combined with the games night time setting all too often makes seeing an upcoming bend far harder work than it should be leaving you driving from the mini map far more than is healthy for any racing game.
If you've got a birthday coming up and having ripped off the shiny wrapping paper on a promisingly game-shaped package you find The Fast and the Furious underneath then be comforted by the fact that it's not actually unplayable by any means and you'll no doubt pass a few hours with it fairly pleasantly before part exchanging it for something else. But, if you're a fan of this kind of racing game then you doubtless already own far better examples of its kind and if you've not played a racer like it before but want to then there are much better ones out there to try first. See, I really could have just left it at that simple formula at the top and we'd all have been home by now.