A game that won't be vanishing from my Dreamcast anytime soon - Review By zerothreat
Thanks to the Dreamcast, I'm one hell of a spoiled racing game fan. Sega Rally, Sega GT, Hydro Thunder, 4 Wheel Thunder, Test Drive Le Mans, and, oh yeah, there's that Yu Suzuki Ferrari thing that kicks my ass and makes me feel stupid. Beautiful cars, realistic physics models, spankin' good frame rates, and a healthy variety of driving experiences -- whether you're dealing in oil-slicked racetracks, cityscapes, dirty back roads, or water parks.
Taken as a whole, there should be enough great titles on the Dreamcast to satisfy even the most rabid console racing fan. But still, for me, something is missing. As much as sim-racer fans devoured the painstaking challenge of Gran Turismo on the PlayStation, I completely geeked out on Namco's upscale arcade-style entry, R4: Ridge Racer Type 4. For me, R4 had everything, and in just the right combination: challenging (but not overwhelming) arcade-style gameplay, some of the most interesting and memorable tracks ever, some of the greatest... umm... okay, I'd better not get started. After all, the world has enough R4 reviews. But in the spirit of Robby Krieger, who spent most of his career trying to write the next "Light My Fire," I've been waiting and hoping for the next Ridge Racer Type 4, the yardstick by which I like to measure most other console racers.
Developed by Clockwork Games and distributed by Acclaim, Vanishing Point's premise is both unique and compelling, as the game pits you not against other drivers (at least, not directly) but against the clock. At all times, the player's goal is to make the fastest time around the track while dodging both aggressive rivals and sheepish civilians. The game combines all the environmental coolness of (you guessed it) R4 with a somewhat watered-down version of Gran Turismo's real-car acquisition scheme. The cars look great, the tracks look great, the physics coding is quite nice, and the whole thing just screams at a nearly constant 60 frames per second. Were it not for one major blemish, Vanishing Point would be a near-perfect arcade racer, and a worthy follow-up to my personal favorite. Let's get down to the nitty-gritty.
Ah, the driving experience! At first, players might be put off by the wacky handling of VP's early cars. If you were to play Wacky Races for a half hour or so, and then attempt to break in the first couple of unlocked cars in Vanishing Point, you'd realize the Wacky Races cars aren't so wacky after all. My first attempts to scoot around even the most basic VP track saw me weaving and staggering, and crashing into a brick wall every five hundred feet or so. But unlock a few more cars and a couple of tune-up features, and things begin to make sense.
The graphics are nice, and impressively smooth.
Vanishing Point's driving model relies on skid turns combined with limited, tactical braking and sensitively-timed downshifting. Also, every car is different. Whereas you might need to downshift from sixth gear to third in your Audi TT, but only rarely, you might find yourself downshifting from fifth to fourth in your Ford Explorer, and quite often. At one point I unlocked a Volkswagen Golf, and, while I own a totally different VW model, I found myself exclaiming, "Wow! This thing drives just like my Volkswagen." And by that I mean, I could only grind any real power out of the first and second gears. Anyway, this is just how my driving experience is shaping up. Yours can be totally different depending on how you like to tune your cars. For example, people who love arcade-style racers will probably adjust their tire pressure the way I do, dropping the forward pressure to -80% and the rear pressure to -50%. This holds the road, and helps you skid into turns without spinning out of control.
Players who prefer more precise, more sensitive control might take an opposite approach, cranking their tire pressure way up above the default values. It all depends. And in this regard, in terms of delivering infinite customization possibilities, Vanishing Point shines just as brightly as any of the best console sim-type racers, including Gran Turismo and Sega GT.
In VP, this is what you live for.
If simply rolling around the racetracks isn't enough to help you get a feel for the game, you can unlock a sweet stunt-driving mode, where players are tested in a variety of timed stunt maneuvers. To complete each maneuver within the allotted time, you'll find yourself quickly developing the skills needed to drive more assertively overall. Of course, that'll help you win more races, which will help you unlock more cars and more tracks and more features. Which leads me to the unlocking of... things. Many, many things. Vanishing Point forces the player to unlock so many items, big and small, that it borders on the absurd. Sure, it feels great to win a tough three-race tournament and unlock a zippy BMW, but it sucks to win an equally tough tournament only to unlock "a new slide show." Huh? I drove that hard, and flipped over that many VW buses only to win a slide show?!
Unlocking in VP is so nitpicky that players are actually forced to unlock every individual aspect of the tune-up shop! Not the tune-up shop itself, mind you, but every little thing you might do in a tune-up shop. For a while, you'll only be able to work on your tires. If you want to modify any other parts of your car, you'll need to do insanely well in a lot of tournaments. I know I'm being critical, but, despite its flaws, I still see VP's unlocking scheme as largely a good thing because it becomes addictive very, very quickly. I'm actually surprised by how many hours I'll spend simply trying to unlock one more new car or track. I would urge Clockwork to tone things down a bit on their next effort, but, as it stands, I do indeed keep going back to the game for more at regular intervals.
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