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For: PSP

The best multiplayer action on PSP?

Product: M.A.C.H. | Developer: Kuju Entertainment | Publisher: Sierra Entertainment | Format: PSP | Genre: Arcade, Racing, Shooter | Players: 1-8 | Networking: wireless (adhoc), sharing one cartridge | Version: Europe
M.A.C.H. PSP, thumbnail 1
Most people have something they do better than anything else. You wouldn't expect Gordon Ramsay to build a nuclear reactor with the same ease he displays when handling food, for instance.

Similarly, M.A.C.H. doesn't try to be anything other than a quick thrills, dip-in-and-out, visually exhilarating arcade experience. And so sure is it of its remit that it boldly attempts the worrying feat of providing two distinct dynamics of play, dividing into jet plane racing and jet plane combat.

Those of a nervous disposition needn't reach for the eject button, however, because M.A.C.H. accomplishes its mission with aplomb.

Starting at around 500mph, the racing side of the equation eventually reaches very silly speeds, which remain manageable as a result of solidly designed courses (heavy on canyons and caves to further accentuate the sense of velocity, as well as obstacles to test your reactions) and a responsive handling model mapped to a simple yet effective control system incorporating the use of an afterburner function, the gauge for which is only refilled when flying low (again, helpful for heady speed sensations).

Tied to the afterburner gauge is a barrel roll function that can only be performed when a certain amount of boost remains. It's crucial, not for showing off your skills to the other seven racers but for evading any homing missiles they might have fired. Needless to say you'll also find these at your disposable through icons dotted around the courses (along with mines, cluster bombs, stealth, and boost refills), adding another dynamic to the racing.

With typical sibling rivalry, the combat sections pick up on the pick-ups but also add a nose-mounted machine gun with which to pepper enemy aluminium. Free from the constraints of a race course, dogfight levels are open-area affairs, though still implementing the necessary ground-based formations behind which the hounded may find momentary respite (and a new pick-up).

Even against the AI, combat can be wonderfully fierce, and early rounds allow plenty of opportunity to reach the five-in-a-row kills needed for 'Rampage', a very satisfying state that sees you momentarily equipped with a plane-disintegrating laser. Admittedly it also makes you the prime target, but as a pilot you take the rough with the smooth.

Those wanting to avoid turbulence in their first M.A.C.H. experience will target the game's Arcade mode. Yet while this lets you freely select between racing or dogfighting and sample the game's five varied environments (Caribbean island, Grand Canyon, Arctic, tropical and moody industrial settings) in any of the game's 11 aircraft available to you, the mettle of the game is the Career mode.

This sees the action split across five tiers of escalating difficulty, each containing an increasing number of rounds. They alternate between racing and combat, and operate as part of a championship which you'll need to win to unlock the subsequent tier (and better planes). And winning for most people should come easy until you reach the penultimate championship.

Winning also provides cash rewards, which you can spend customising your planes. The tweaking splits into cosmetic and performance-increasing solutions, with the former enabling a satisfying number of options for personalising your jet. But plastering roundels, flags and logos over a new distinctive colour scheme isn't the only way to affect your plane's appearance. Tinkering with the wings, canards, fins, engines, guns and so on also changes things, not least because by the time you've earned enough money to buy the top-of-the-range goodies (performance parts come in three-levels of customisation), things will start to look very different from the plane's original design.

Returning to the blueprint of the game itself, the customisation is clearly there to provide additional substance for players – and fast-track them to higher speeds – which is a role also employed by the Challenge mode.

This offers a quintet of specific situations. Mach Melee is dogfighting with lasers only; Mach Dash requires you to collect coins while racing in order to top up the strict timer; in Time Check the only boost available is by flying through rings dispersed along the course; Mach Lap tests your flying precision; and Dog Tag returns the focus on combat, offering aerial Capture the Flag.

In Challenge mode you get to decide the order in which you tackle these challenges (Career mode's championships, frustratingly, lock you into the linear progression of their contents) but there's no new planes or more money to buy new parts as an incentive to do so. In fact, aside from sheer entertainment, completing Challenge mode is simply about pride.

Which is also what will drive the uncommonly dedicated individuals most likely to finish Career mode, because ultimately with only five courses (albeit in dual length and reversed configurations) and five combat arenas, things can get a little repetitive, a little quickly.

That's not to belittle what the game does offer – skimming a river bed while snaking through a canyon, having just barrel rolled your way out of trouble before blasting a competitor metres from the finishing line to take their place is real Top Gun stuff, and such moments are abundant.

It's just that unless you're driven to completing games, the only way you'll ensure long-term thrills is through friends, because where M.A.C.H. undoubtedly shines is in multiplayer.

The gamesharing option may be a little limited (though absolutely welcomed) but eight-player ad hoc support guarantees consistently excellent, tactically rewarding gaming. And when you touch down, aside from a short-lived yet fun single-player campaign and its impressive technical merits, that is the one thing M.A.C.H. does best.
Reviewer photo
Joao Diniz Sanches | 13 March 2007
Many will find M.A.C.H.'s fuselage a little thin and the solo flight briefer than it deserves to be. But if they get together, they'll also discover it offers some of the finest multiplayer gaming on PSP
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