The Fast and the Furious

Along with chocolate fireguards and sponge hand-grenades, a portable game with tediously long loading times must rank high as one of the world's most useless artefacts. And, not to take too long in getting to the point, that in essence is the critical flaw in this latest PSP racer, previously known as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (because it's based on the film of the same name).

Of course, it would be remiss of us not to list the game's other faults (more on those later) but it's the poorly thought out structure of The Fast and the Furious, linked with loading screens accompanying every decision you take that make it so painful to play. So how bad is it? Imagine surfing the internet using a potato-powered dial-up modem and you'll be getting close.

Being the scientific (and slightly creepily compulsive) chaps we are, we decided to time some of the waits you'll have to experience. Just to give you some idea, then: from switching the PSP on to getting into your first race takes three minutes and five seconds. This may not seem long on paper but it's an eternity when all you want to do is play the damn game, not look at licensing agreements and logos for the hundredth time.

The game's disjointed structure merely emphasises these technical problems. As a young-blood street racer, you're looking to increase your status by taking part in a number of point-to-point, speed battles and drift events around Tokyo's highway system. Unfortunately, practically every turnoff you take, whether it's to enter a race series, tune up your vehicle or access a car showroom, brings up the hideous visage of the Fast and the Furious loading screen. We must have seen it more than the BBC's test card.

Forgive us for ranting about this but if you see a hairy mole the size of a plum on the nose of a Miss World contestant, it's probably best to call attention to it. Still, let's move on, shall we?

In terms of handling, sense of speed and options, The Fast and the Furious fares much better. An impressive array of licences was secured so you can expect marques including Subaru, Nissan, Dodge, Ford, Mitsubishi and Toyota. The vehicles feel suitably weighty on the roads and avoid the floaty feeling exhibited by some portable racers. It's also pleasing to find that any major changes to suspension, grip or mechanical tuning in the garage makes a noticeable difference back out on the street.

Cosmetically there's also enough to keep you fiddling around for hours, with over 500 body kits from real world Japanese automotive specialists. In truth, there's always going to be an issue with vinyl and body kit customisation in a portable racer – no matter how hard you squint, it's difficult to really see your handiwork when you're drifting around a Tokyo highway at 150 mph in the middle of the night. But developer Eutechnyx should still be credited with putting together a fine assemblage of parts and kits.

If you have the patience of a glacier then there's some entertainment to be extracted from the varied race disciplines. Point-to-point battles are particularly good as you can often beat a speedier opponent by boosting in front then driving defensively, and often thrillingly, to the finish line. Top speed challenges are less enthralling, mainly because you can boost up to top speed before the first corner, rendering the rest of the race a boring formality.

Most likely as a result of the game's inspiration (the Tokyo-based third film of the Fast and the Furious Hollywood franchise) vehicle handling has been tuned particularly towards drift events; something Eutechnyx has termed the Revolutionary Drift Model. While that description is obviously a little on the pompous side, the drift events are great fun with traction slipping out from the back in an exaggerated though eminently controllable fashion. The fact assists can be switched off, thus adding further nuance to the handling, is a delightful and welcome touch.

But we don't want to over rev what is in essence a pretty average underground street racing game, crippled by a badly thought out structure and dire loading issues. That you have to go out and find a tune-up garage by racing around Tokyo's highways, then endure a long pause before you can even spend some money means you'll soon get fed up with the drudgery. Why not just access the garage from the main menu?

Another major problem is that the game's features and garages unlock far too slowly, with race events only assigned to a very small area to begin with. It's a lovely idea that you can race around Tokyo's highway network but in practice the game never feels free-roaming. Besides, the game's mix of greys and neons also gives everything a bland, uniform appearance.

Additional extras like unlockable movie images, artwork and a four-player tag multiplayer mode would normally boost a game in our eyes but, again, it's all undone by the loading issues. Trying to get into a multiplayer race then waiting incessantly for everything to get going is too much to bear.

And so we end the review on the point we started. If nothing else, that should give you some indication of how crippling a problem it proves. When there are so many superior urban street racers available on PSP, this shouldn't even be a consideration. Our suggestion would be to steer well clear, unless you're a member of the National Watching Paint Dry Society.

The Fast and the Furious

Impressive handling and a decent package of race events completely undermined by technical issues and clumsy execution