A bit short of Mag-nificent - Review By Mad Carl
Back when the PlayStation first hit the market, Psygnosis released a little game called WipeOut, which was the 32-bit era's answer to the classic Super Nintendo launch title F-Zero. Chock full of fast hovercraft racing on highly-stylized race tracks of the future, techno music and some of the best graphics the PlayStation had to offer, WipeOut was a bona-fide hit, and went on to spawn a highly successful series of sequels.
Now, the Dreamcast has a WipeOut of its own... at least in theory. I'll be brutally honest right up front and say that if you're a fan of the WipeOut series, you're not going to be too excited by what MagForce Racing has to offer. It's all been done before, and done better. If, however, you only know of the WipeOut games second-hand, or you played them on a friend's PlayStation and never had a copy of your own, then you might just be in for a treat. Maybe.
Eye candy is always a good thing. Sure, you want your girlfriend (or boyfriend as the case may be) to have intelligence, a sense of humor and a really sweet demeanor. But you also want them to be Damned Good Looking (capitals required). If MagForce Racing is anything, it's Damned Good Looking. Great textures, wonderful lighting effects, an utter lack of fog, and a framerate that hovers around sixty (even during multiplayer games) all add up to one beautiful game. This is what Dreamcast racing games are supposed to look like: crisp and pretty. Sure, there's a small amount of slowdown, but for the most part this game's graphics are ace.
The locales are sometimes quite impressive.
The track layouts are nice, too. With different themes from Moscow to Mars, the tracks all have good, distinct, personalities. One of my favorites is the Hawaii track. The lush green mountainsides and winding surface recall the thrill of Sonic Adventure's better moments. And in the Himalayas track, you'll suddenly find yourself plummeting over the edge of a cliff, headed towards the rest of the track a mile or so down. With each new track, the surprises keep coming.
The "Mag" in MagForce is short for "magnet". As you race through the canals of Mars, or down the Needle Rock of Saturn, gravity will be your worst enemy. Tracks twist and turn and go upside down at every opportunity. Even on the tracks that stay mostly upright, there are extra power ups to be collected by driving on the ceiling. There is a selection in the options screen for "Magnet Help". This defaults to on, and is the best way to race for the first day or two. With Magnet Help activated, your craft will automatically turn on its magnets whenever the world does a flip flop. While it's a good way to learn the game, you're really cheating yourself if you don't turn Magnet Help off after a bit. That extra touch of skill required to use your magnets at just the right time and keep from plummeting to your doom really adds to the action.
Ooooh what a feeling, I'm racing on the... walls.
There's not much to be said about the controls, aside from the fact that they're good and solid. That's rather quick and to the point, but there just isn't much to say on the subject.
The multiplayer options come in two flavors: Classic and Arcade. Both have the same selection of tracks and cars (based on what you have managed to unlock in single player), but have two different sets of rules regarding powerups. In Classic, everything behaves as it does in single player. In Arcade, however, every few seconds the nature of power ups changes. One time you might get a powerup that is fully charged, so what would have been a simple missile is now a triple missile. Another time you may have limitless ammo for your laser beam, or your weapon may change every time it is used. You might even get a "cease fire" in which no power ups can be used at all. This really adds to the flavor of a multi-player race, since you never quite know what's coming next. It's an innovative little feature that would be interesting to see in other racing games.
I actually feel bad speaking poorly of MagForce Racing. It's so close to being a good game, but feels as if it was pushed out the door just a few weeks too early. Every time I would start to really enjoy myself with it, some tiny little thing that could have been easily fixed with some more development time would pop up and deflate my excitement.
First and most noticeable is the game's odd championship structure. To a beginning player, it's just confusing. After selecting your track from a main menu that's a bit too stylized for its own good, you then race that track. After the race you are offered two choices: Quit and Restart. My initial reaction upon seeing these choices was "but I thought I got first place!" I raced again and got first place by a mile, was sure of my victory and again saw the same two choices. Upon selecting Quit and returning to the main menu, I discovered that I had indeed claimed first place in the race. I now had to manually switch to the next track. This seemed silly to me. I should at least have been given confirmation in-game that I had won the race. A simple "You got 1st! Now try another track!" text message would have cleared this all up.
Next: More Bad, and The Final Word