Sunday, 24 November 2019

Overhead Racers #16

Speedster a.k.a. Rush Hour (1997)
By: Clockwork Entertainment / Psygnosis Genre: Overhead Racing Players: 1-2 Difficulty: Medium
Featured Version: Sony PlayStation
Also Available For: Nothing

Racing games were a huge deal on the first few 32-bit consoles. The latest fancy 3D titles could help make or break a system, so why would you choose that time to make a crusty overhead-viewed example? They were relics from the ancient days, surely? Well, if you were going to do it, you should probably try and make it a 3D polygonal affair as well, right? That's what it looks like we have here anyway, although you could be forgiven when going through the various options screens that you were about to play a normal 3D 'behind the car' racing game. There is a split-screen two-player game, but solo players have the choice of Quick Race, Championship, or Time Trial modes. Then you can choose a car from two classes - High Performance or Heavy Metal - then choose a track, and away you go. Only, instead of being behind your car, the 'camera' seems more like it's attached to a helicopter above.

The first circuit eases you in nicely...
There's nothing wrong with this in principle though, of course - it actually makes a refreshing change considering how many millions of racing games the PS1 is blessed with. If you choose Quick Race, as you're likely to first time out, it literally is that. Each race features eight cars and you start furthest back, so your job is simply to advance as far through the field as possible over the two laps of the race. Once you're finished, enter your initials in the hot laps board and either go again or choose a different car and/or course. There are eight courses to choose from altogether (plus another secret one which must be unlocked), each with a nice name like Yukon Pass or Pacific Dream, and they have varying themes and difficulties (the Yukon course is all icy and therefore a right pain, for example). Once you've practised them all for a while, though, you're likely to head for the Championship instead.

The pesky Yukon course with its slippy snow and ice...
Here, things aren't much different to the single races - you just race each course in order, advancing if you place high enough. There's no points system or anything and no differences in the courses or races. although the time limit does seem to be harsher. This will probably hinder your progress more than anything - each course has multiple checkpoints and there's no leniency whatsoever. I've gone through a checkpoint at near full speed while running comfortably in second place and still missed out, presumably by about 2 femtoseconds. Some courses aren't too bad but the trickier ones will probably prove mighty frustrating. Apart from this, the main difficulty with races comes from the other cars. They will frequently jostle you around which can not only cause you to spin or veer off course, possibly getting stuck behind some scenery, but too much contact will also damage or destroy your car.

One of the few actual racing circuits in the game...
The performance of the other cars is highly inconsistent too. Sadly, there are no official cars on the roster here but the four initially available in the High Performance mode will be easily recognisable as a Volvo, Supra, Porsche 911, and Ferrari Testarossa - a nice mix, I'm sure you'll agree - but despite this their performance and handling don't seem to differ much, and it doesn't seem to matter which you choose in terms of race positions either. In one race you might get into first position within a couple of corners and stay there the whole race without challenge, the next race you might perform near-flawlessly with the same car and still never manage to catch the others. This also seems to be the case with the Heavy Metal class of vehicles which includes jeeps, pick-ups, monster trucks, and all that kind of thing. If you are lucky enough to do well, though, there are a number of other cars that can be unlocked.

Round some roundabouts on this course...
These inconsistencies aside, the actual racing is pretty enjoyable for the most part. The handling of the cars and responsiveness of the controls is good, and the graphics aren't half bad either. Some courses seem a bit barren but the overhead 3D effect works well. Whether you will like the music or not depends on your fondness for wailing electric guitars but the choons suit the action pretty well. I just wish there was a bit more variety here, in terms of the cars and play modes. I don't really get the point of having two vehicle classes when the only difference is the type of car. There could've been off-road courses for the trucks, for example. Oh well, it's not a game-breaking issue; none of the game's faults are really. It's a bit rough around the edges and the presentation isn't great, but if you aren't bothered by this or the inconsistent difficultly, there's a fun and addictive racer waiting for you here.

RKS Score: 7/10

Gameplay Video: here's a sample video of the game showing ten minutes of action, courtesy of a splendid French fellow.


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