The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift PSP Review
Loosely based on the movie The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift, this is another attempt to capture the ‘Street Racing’ market of which about 60% of all current console racing games are based around. There’s various examples of the genre and the mostly widely known in Europe and the US are the games in EA’s Need for Speed series. Then we have the rather bland effort Juiced, which isn’t based on any IP as such. Genki’s Shutokou Battle or Wagan Midnight Portable on the PSP are another attempts and, in Japan at least, is the largest series of any dedicated Street Racing game; although rather sadly, much of the series hasn’t made it to Europe. The best of the current bunch is Rockstar’s US based Midnight Run 3 although on the PSP it does suffer a little from frame rate issues but that aside it is set in 3 different and rather large cities. Of all these games, Tokyo Drift is most like Shutokou Battle and that’s good because none of the other games feature Japan and so there’s clearly a gap in the market for a Japanese Street racing title. Another plus are its programmers Eutechnyx, who have worked with Codemasters on Micro Machines, and produced the fantastic Total Drivin’ for the PS1, Le Mans 24 hours, and Big Mutha Truckers for various formats. Conversely they’ve also done some dire games as well including another Namco effort – Street Racing Syndicate, which again was set in Japan, but was sadly rather pants. So they’re certainly not new to this genre but this is their first venture onto the PSP.
The game starts on the hugely straight neon lit Aqua-line bridge, which connects the cities of Kawasaki and Kisarazu, although neither are fully featured in the game. In this introduction the player is racing against Hanzo. Win this very simple race and you’ll get enough money to buy your first car. The first thing you’ll really notice and I mean really notice are the loading times. They’re frankly appalling. It takes around 10 seconds to load each section of the game – the intro movie, then the race, then the win, then the trip to buy your first car, then the trip back out to Tokyo’s highways. After the intro it’ll take somewhere between 5-10 minutes just to start your first cruise!! Sadly this gripe immediately puts a sour taste in your mouth and occurs throughout the game. I’d guess its because the game has to load an entire area but then I’ve played Test Drive Unlimited on the PSP and this is not an issue. Anyway, once you’ve chosen your first car you can buy the usual upgrades for all sides of your vehicle, add spoilers and wheels or decide instead to tune it to make it drive better and faster. There’s also a fairly comprehensive multi-layered decal editor. Unfortunately the load times are such that any decision you make regarding any of the upgrades ends up grating – and bear in mind you’ll obviously have to do it a lot.
Once the car is decked out, you’ll be finally ready to head out and find some races. Initially there’s only 4 and each race consists of you taking on a crew of around 5 AI. A plus point is that there is a fair selection of races – you get the usual drifting, top speed and destination events which are usually raced on the Shuto Expressways/ Wagans (Motorways) around Tokyo but you also get Touge Racing which features on tracks you can’t see on the maps. Touge racing basically feature on local mountain roads. They’re not really about drift events but these do feature as does your typical downhill and uphill racing. These bring a nice change to the urban environment and usually feature a whole mass of curvature set around a the sides of a foothill and so require a little bit more skill. Graphically these are also the best tracks as they feature various Japanese mountain landmarks such as bridges, dams, lakes and other scenery. Each event brings you up against a crew of around 4-5 people plus a boss. You don’t have to defeat them in order and you can return to the event later although newer events only open up once the you’ve fully completed an existing one. There’s also single racers to find on the Wagans and a quick flash of the lights will initiate a race with them but it must be said that driver AI isn’t fantastic and is nearly always beaten on a corner where they slow down to a crawl, despite being rapid on straighter routes. The Drifting events themselves are very easy as there’s no time limit, and you don’t lose score for crashing into walls, so you’ll sail through these in no time. Because you have to drive back to a robo-garage to change your car, they’ve added a warp feature but sadly its use becomes somewhat voided by those horrid load times. Very frustrating.
The handling of the cars is odd to say the least. Its not immediate, and you’ll need to devote some time in mastering it as it feels very pivoted and extremely slidey. Firstly – its not like NFS where the handling of your same car differs per event. You have to buy or win the right car for the event, which can mean even more trips to the garage and therefore even more loading. Buy a car that’s a good all-rounder and you’ll find certain racing events harder then with a dedicated car, obviously. There are settings in the options for changing the drive assists on and off, which is a nice inclusion, given the cars are pretty much impossible to drive without it. There’s also no option to select a certain car at a certain event – you have to return to the garage, choose the car, and return to the relevant event. And yes, that’s with the dumbass loading. Another factor affecting the handling of each car is speed of the game – it gets very fast at times and with the top-up can make corners hard to judge, plus its always set at night, and this alone makes it harder to see. So combine all that and you have some poor handling. The car’s tyres can also weave away under the power of acceleration, although I personally like this effect as it emphasises the car’s power. That said, the frame rate stays stable. Another nice feature is the replay, which features external static racing cams – this would usually get an extra point in my book for completeness, but yet again to replay an event takes around 5-8 seconds to load so you won’t usually bother.
Graphically the game starts garishly yellow with blurry neon lights shooting off along the Aqua-line bridge and for the most part the elevated express ways feature this tangy bloom. Being Tokyo, it’s punctuated with colourful neon city blocks along the sides, but these are areas you’ll never go into. Sadly pop-up is evident on certain roads with entire elements of track side graphics appearing from nowhere, although the road itself is visible for the most part. It’s not too bad on the express ways but on the mountains it gets horrid at times – a shame as the graphics feature some nice incidentals like dams, bridges and sometimes you can glimpse the road below and the AI tearing up behind you. To me it appears as if the game code has simply not been optimised enough – Test Drive Unlimited is massive, has better graphics and features minimal load times so in this day an age this should not be an issue.
And there I shall stop. It’s sad to see Eutechnyx not only churn out another ‘urban racing game’ but leave it seemingly unoptimised as well. The dire load times may well ruin what’s effectively an average racing game and this would be palatable if it wasn’t for the pop-up graphics that occur. The handling is not as immediate as some would like and people will really struggle, but with perseverance it does gel. Most of that perseverance comes from the game loading mind – so that could kill you instead. Despite my negative comments I found myself enjoying this game somewhat eventually. Whether this will prove satisfying to you is hard to say.
It’s very fast, but may drive you furious.