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PSP  header logo

 PSP PREVIEW

Hands on with PSP exclusive M.A.C.H.

Is this the fastest game on Sony's handheld?

Product: M.A.C.H. | Developer: Kuju Entertainment | Publisher: Sierra Entertainment | Genre: Arcade, Racing, Shooter | Networking: wireless (adhoc), sharing one cartridge
For: PSP
 
M.A.C.H. PSP, thumbnail 1
Forget Keira Knightley, Eva Longoria or Johnny Depp – there is nothing as attractive as speed, as James Dean would tell you had he not pushed his relationship with the concept too far.

Get ready to fall in love, then, because if it's one thing M.A.C.H. delivers on, it's a sense of velocity. We found out as much when we were invited to Kuju's studios last week and a G-suit arrived in the post prior to the trip. (We made that last bit up, but it would have been an apt – if costly – PR stunt.)

Hardly surprising M.A.C.H. flies along, considering its vehicle repertoire consists entirely of fighter jets, you may argue, but you'd be surprised at the number of plane-based games in existence that focus on pretty visuals at the cost of speed.

Not here. Flying through the diligently designed courses – whether it's powering through sinuous canyon runs, blasting through industrial areas or testing your plane's agility by avoiding rock formations within a cave – feels suitably fast.

That's with the slowest plane, by the way. And without firing up the afterburner (which you power up by flying close to the ground, thereby further enhancing the sense of speed). Once you double tap X, you'll need Kasparov-levels of concentration combined with the reactions of a cougar.

Flying First Class

Having established M.A.C.H. is fast, does tradition therefore dictate it must be ugly? Far from it. Technically, it's actually one of the most impressive titles on PSP, matching its speed with graphical prowess.

And appropriately, it's also got some of the quickest loading times around.

That's because despite spending considerable effort in getting all of the game's elements right, the development team hasn't lost sight of the target platform.

It's one of the reasons why you'll find a Challenge mode, which encourages short, sharp bouts of gaming. As such, expect to choose from a selection of varying trials – such as Mach Dash, which requires you to pick up coins while lapping a level to keep a timer going, and capture the flag variant Dog Tag, come to mind – that you can both start and complete in between bus stops.

Also offering a quick fix is Arcade, enabling you to dive in and out of the main game's two modes of existence: racing and dogfighting.

Arcade pits you against seven AI competitors (or human, if you happen to be in ad hoc multiplayer - which works brilliantly, as Kuju demonstrated by kindly pitting us against members of the M.A.C.H. team), and working out that you should aim to finish the set number of laps ahead of the pack shouldn't cause you to black out through surprise. Flying fighter jets though, you also get to play with weapons, such as homing missiles, mines and cluster rockets, which you'll find dotted around tracks to keep things lively.

But if it's shooting you crave, Dogfight-focussed levels abound, too, with wide open areas (though not without ground-based structures with which to escape enemy fire) playing host to eight-plane mayhem. Again, weapon pick-ups litter the areas, although for this you also get the use of a handy machine gun.

For longer haul flights

Having established the pick-up-and-play nature of Challenge and Arcade (not forgetting Multiplayer), perhaps it's worth reassuring fans of longevity that a Career mode also exists.

Again, play is divided into races and dogfights, split into championships of increasing difficulty, but with the added dynamic of cash rewards which can then be spent customising your jet.

This personalisation can either be cosmetic – numerous flags, roundels, logos and other decals are offered – or performance-based. Some of the more expensive parts, which affect a plane's handling, power and fighting capacity, are deliberately outrageous performance and perfectly match the jet's newfound abilities.

We'll go into how well the Career mode stacks up over time once we get to review the game, but for now it, along with every other component of M.A.C.H., seems pleasingly tight.

In fact, there have few games on PSP that have felt this solid, which Kuju confirms is a result of the title receiving an uncommon amount of care and attention.

For instance, the control method displays evidence of the thorough development process, with buttons streamlined to offer the necessary functions: X accelerates, Square increases turning ability, Circle barrel rolls (for evading enemy missiles), the machine gun resides on R, while L unleashes your current pick-up. Crucially, they'll all feel familiar by the time you embark on your second sortie.

And after the considerable tour of duty we enjoyed for this preview, we haven't yet found them lacking, either; their simplicity appears to work well with the game's capable and responsive flight model, which combined with the game's other elements so far threatens to deliver a memorable arcade experience. All of the jets feel suitably different in flight but deliver the same enjoyment when blasting opponents out of the sky, or cutting past them on the inside of a treacherous bend while skimming a river bed before, say, pulling back on the analogue nub (or D-pad) in order to clear a dam that's suddenly appeared in the way.

Of course, that's no guarantee that M.A.C.H. won't crash and burn before it reaches its March 9th finish line. On current evidence, and after chatting with the developer, it's difficult to imagine such a scenario, but then it's impossible to know what's around the corner until you get there – just ask James Dean.

Click 'Track It!' to avoid a similar fate by being reminded of our forthcoming review.
 

Reviewer photo
Joao Diniz Sanches 27 February 2007
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