Sunday, 17 February 2013

PlayStation Driving / Racing Games #2

Motorhead (1998)
By: Digital Illusions CE / Gremlin Interactive Genre: Racing Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sony PlayStation
Also Available For: PC 

It was a pain in the arse getting this screen grab :|
The 70's and 80's were surely the 'golden age' of hard rock and heavy metal and one of the most iconic bands to emerge during this grand period were Motörhead. They were founded way back in 1975, took the world by storm, and are still recording music together today. Their longevity can at least partially be attributed to Lemmy who is about as close to a living deity as can be found in the world today. Some even believe that he possesses magical powers of some type. How else can his enormous success with young ladies be explained? Then again, perhaps his high 'score' count can be attributed to his money and success more than his 'good looks', or indeed his reputed magical powers. Nonetheless, their legacy remains strong today - even one of the most successful wrestlers ever - Triple H - used a Motörhead song as his entrance music. It's ironic then, that Motorhead - the game has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Motörhead - the band.

That's right, I'm half a lap behind the two leaders :(
The game that bears the great name actually has very little to do with music at all - it's instead an arcade style driving game set in the near future which, in this case, doesn't really mean much, surprisingly. There's no gravity-defying hovercrafts, and no particle-cannons either. We are instead presented with a fairly standard into-the-screen racer for one or two players. The usual play modes are all present and correct - Quick Race, Single Race, Time Attack, Ghost Mode, and League for one player, Head to Head and Time Difference for two players. Most of them are fairly self-explanatory - choose from a small number of cars and courses (three and two respectively - more can be unlocked later) and race away. The League mode is where things get a bit more interesting however. This is split into several different 'levels' or divisions, each consisting of three computer-controlled vehicles, although this number can be increased to seven by sacrificing some graphical speed and detail (the frame-rate is reduced from 50fps to 25fps - the latter isn't too bad so I'd say it's worth it).

Guess where you start most races?
Predictably you start the game in the bottom division and must win enough points to progress to the next. These are obtained in varying amounts depending on your finishing position. There are eight courses all together and they are set around Europe in various Bladerunner-style cities, open tree-lined areas, and even places like abandoned mining facilities. Their features include suddenly-narrowing sections of road, obstacles in the middle of the course, multiple jumps, forks in the road which often result in a dead-end, and things of that nature, and they can make the races demanding, even on the lower difficulty settings! The action is already pretty fast with the default cars and they're rather skiddy to control too. Impacts with the sides of the course, the other racers, or any obstacles will at least cost you some precious time but often causes you to crash, spin, or even flip as well, and too much of that can make a race unwinnable, even for highly skilled racing gamers.

A helpfully-positioned traffic island...
This is more down to the 'skill' of the computer-controlled cars than anything else, which need little excuse to zoom off into the distance never to be seen again. To make matters more difficult, you can't even practise a course before racing on it as both they as well as new cars are only unlocked by beating them in the League mode. The various cars available, of which there are ten in total, all differ in their acceleration, max speed and grip. The later ones are obviously far more powerful and easier to control, but the first few cars need to be tolerated for a while in order to unlock the decent ones. Despite their somewhat lively nature though, they do handle very nicely once you get used to their skiddiness - they feel pretty weighty and convincing as you sling them round corners at 200mph, and if you corner sharply enough they will powerslide most satisfyingly - something that can be encouraged by use of the handbrake button which will send you around any corner sideways. It doesn't slow you down much though, so much practise is needed first!

Up to 4th but someone's smacked me sideways...
Technically, Motorhead kind of gives me the impression that it was originally intended as a demo of some flashy new PC graphics card and indeed, the game was released on the PC in addition to this PS version so it's impressive that there's not too much difference between the two versions. Kicking off the action is a decent if little clichéd intro film and the quality of the presentation remains of a high standard throughout. The in-game graphics, while a little dull and not very colourful for the most part, move impressively smoothly - up to fifty frames-per-second in fact, as mentioned earlier. The more distant parts of the courses can be quite foggy, and while this sets a fairly authentic 'industrial' atmosphere, it also helps to disguise the fact that the PlayStation is struggling to cope with the demanding technical requirements. The vehicles all look pretty mean and futuristic but unfortunately don't show any signs of damage (and accordingly are indestructible). Two-player mode is also superb - there is little loss of detail or speed when playing in split-screen.

Try staying on that left-hand road for a few seconds!
For the audio aspect of the game, you may be expecting news of an officially-endorsed Motörhead soundtrack! While that would've been a brain-implodingly splendid idea, it's sadly not the case. Instead, the soundtrack consists of nine dancey/trancey tracks which are generally quite good if you like that kind of thing, and they do actually suit the game very well. The sound effects are decent enough as well. The engine noises don't really vary much from one car to another but sound quite pleasing without being too loud, and the other effects are okay as well, includig a nice metal-on-metal scraping noise when you touch other cars. This is something that you'll probably hear rather often too, as the AI of your opponents is somewhat aggressive! They will usually do all they can to stop you from overtaking and if there is more than one in front of you they'll sometimes gang-up on you. Most of the cars you can control are meaty enough to barge them out of the way but more often than not trying to do so will still see you lose out.

A banked corner and some possible prey ahead...
This made me angry quite often. Just trying to overtake an opponent can be risky as they'll frequently take exception to your attempt, but if you dare to try and take them on it'll almost always be your car left crumpled at the side of the road as their tail-lights disappear into the distance. They almost never make any mistakes either, but if you clip a road-side object or spin or something, they've again zoomed off out of sight, and that's if you don't get 'stuck' to a damn wall or something! Each time something like this happens, it usually takes a lap or more of perfect driving before you can catch them up and winning the race is most likely beyond reach by then too, not that it's easy to begin with! The courses themselves can be mighty frustrating sometimes as well. Generally they're quite well designed and most are interesting enough with numerous memorable features, but sometimes the features are memorable for the wrong reasons.

Yeah, every racing game needs tunnel sections!
As mentioned, this is a fast game, but the courses don't always seem made for high-speed racing. Corners sometimes have small jumps right before them which is enough to send you flying into the wall, and one course even has a section where you have to suddenly veer off the road onto a narrow dirt track with trees along it, then across a courtyard with a fountain in the middle of it, then through a tiny archway and along a cobbley road with more trees. Navigating this section without incident at full speed is nearly impossible and at the very least requires as much luck as it does skill. No racing game features only straights and gentle curves of course, so slowing down for tight corners and tricky sections is to be expected, but slowing down too much here will make winning a race rather unrealistic. These features and some of the others are part of what makes the game interesting but, combined with the unforgiving AI, they also make it really tough.

This section is bloody stupid. Grrr!
It's not all bad though, of course, far from it. This isn't a game with the depth of Gran Turismo or something like that but there's more to it than many arcade-style racers of the same era. Its arcadey nature makes it accessible and its unlockable stuff should keep most gamers racing for a good while as well. The graphics and sound are good and make it quite 'moody' for a racing game too, and mastering the handling of the cars is enjoyable - some of the later ones are very fast. This makes crashes more likely but can also be very exciting! Indeed, Motorhead is a game which is thrilling and hugely satisfying when you do well, but it's also very, very annoying when you don't. The latter will probably occur far more often and you'll no doubt find yourself shouting and swearing at the bloody thing as a result, but you'll most likely try again anyway so it's probably worth the aggravation - just!

RKS Score: 7/10

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