E3 2000 Wrap-Up
A look at Sega's showing at E3 - By BenT and Fragmaster
Gathering of Developers
Ugh, yet another Dreamcast game with the word "Evolution" in the title. Anyway, 4x4 is an offroad racing game with some issues. It offers 16 courses to tear around, but the two I played had a most unusual problem: it was hard to tell where the course was! In fact, I'd have been totally screwed if it weren't for the map at the top of the screen. I supposed this fits the offroad theme of the title, but it was somewhat disconcerting. Graphically there was not a lot to get excited about. It seems to run at 30 fps, and the fogline could definitely stand to be moved further away. Controls were ok, anyway. Probably the best feature of the title is its online play, which will let you play against other DC, PC, or even Mac users. Additionally, the game will be "powered by GameSpy", so you know it'll be easy to get online and in a game. Hopefully the game itself will do a bit more to distinguish itself from the crowd, so we'll have a reason to get online and in a game. The version shown at E3 was only 20% complete, so there's still lots of time to pull this together into a worthwhile title.
KISS Psycho Circus: The Nightmare Child
While many people are turned off by the odd KISS license, the game could actually be quite good. I say "could", because while the developers have some good ideas, the game as it stands is pretty terrible. The framerate seldom stayed above 20 for long, and the maps and monsters were static and boring. I have to be honest, though: the framerate is what really killed it for me. Come on... we know Lithtech sucks, but it's so old it should be pushing 60 fps here. Blah. Keep trying.
Oh boy, another snowboarding game! Looks moderately interesting, even though the gameplay isn't anything new. Graphics looked nice enough, but the framerate was a bit choppy and there was noticeable pop-up.
This is a racing game with a twist: your goal is not only to finish the race, but to beat the living crap out of your competitors. Of course, doing so causes damage to your car as well, so you have to walk the fine line between smashing your competitors and being able to finish the race. Car damage is modeled realistically, so you can tell when your opponent is hurtin'. There are also powerups scattered around the tracks, such as turbo and health boosts. Killing your opponents is where the fun's at, though. Towards this end there are two instant-death "fatalities" you can pull off: land directly on top of an opponent after a jump (death from above), or smash directly into their side to create a deadly "T-bone" collision. At the end of the race points are awarded for frags, and then you get a point multiplier based on how you placed. This means that to win you not only have to race a fast race, but an evil, deadly one as well. I like! The graphics are a little too gray for my tastes, but the framerate is smooth and the cars nicely modeled. There can often quite a few cars onscreen simultaneously, so the continual smoothness is quite impressive. The game's worst problem is probably the control, which feels kind of floaty. It was still perfectly playable, though, so this is probably my favorite racing title of E3.
Looney Tunes Space Race
The version on display was a bit buggy, with the framerates dropping to 1 or 2 frames per second before freezing up and causing our racer to clip through the floor and fall out of the track. However, when the game did work properly, it looked nifty thanks to nice use of cel shading (as seen in Jet Grind Radio), and the sounds were straight out of the cartoons. This one is still a ways off, so they have plenty of time to fix the framerate and clipping problems. Looney Tunes Space Race definitely has potential, and may be the first of a new line of wonderfully accurate cartoon-to-game adaptations.
This was a bit of a pleasant surprise. Silver is an action/RPG in the vein of Crystalis, but with polygonal characters and pre-rendered backgrounds ala Final Fantasy VII. You play the role of David, a knight whose wife has been kidnapped by the evil sorceror Silver. Sounds kind of trite, but the writing was generally charismatic, and the pseudo-realtime combat system seemed very playable. I had heard some bad things about this title, so I'm taken aback by the overall quality of what we saw. I must say I'm looking forward to Silver's June release.
The very colorful Stunt GP was another interesting title on display in Infrogrames' massive booth. My first thought was "Tony Hawk for kids, with cars!", and although that's a gross generalization, it's not too far off. You drive a little RC car around a variety of environments, and are rewarded for pulling off tricks such as mid-air flips and spins. Along with a relatively straightforward race course (complete with ramps), I also tried out a halfpipe-like environment which allowed for ample mid-air trickery. The graphics are bright and colorful, but exhibited a few problems. The worst was the framerate, which tended to constantly fluctuate been a pleasant smoothness and some noticable jerkiness. Unfortunately, the jerkiness tended to dominate. The car's shadow was also poorly done, looking like so many broken gray polygons. The control could use help too, as it wasn't quite precise. Still, Stunt GP has potential. Let's hope they're able to tighten it up before its fall release date. It looks to be a very unique addition to the Dreamcast's racing lineup.
Test Drive V-Rally
Infogrames had not one, but two Test Drive games on display for the Dreamcast. (They're also working on a third, Test Drive Cycle, but I didn't see that displayed on the show floor.) Test Drive V-Rally was the first, and was looking fairly decent. The first thing I look for in a racing game is a high framerate, and V-Rally looks to deliver a consistantly smooth 60 fps. A nice rain effect was going on over a fairly detailed landscape, so the overall graphical impression was quite positive. There was a medium level of pop-up in the distance, but nothing too distracting. V-Rally looks to play very much like Sega Rally, only with a heck of a lot more tracks: the final version promises to have eighty-six! If Infrogrames can continue cranking away on this one, Test Drive V-Rally could turn out to be one of the better Dreamcast racing titles. V-Rally is due in the summer.
Test Drive Le Mans
The other Dreamcast Test Drive game, Le Mans is looking similarly promising. Again, the game throws up a solid 60 fps, the textures are gorgeous, and the sensation of speed is dead-on. As you'd expect from the title, the courses of Le Mans are more akin to oval racetracks than the muddy roads of V-Rally. There are ten unique tracks and around thirty different vehicles to drive. The coolest (or freakiest) part about the title is that it actually replicates the 24 hour Le Mans event, meaning you can potentially spend a whole day racing on your Dreamcast. Of course, your progress can be saved at certain points, but the prospect of a 24 hour video game race is still rather daunting. Up to four people can play via a split screen (not tested), but the game will not support online play. Test Drive Le Mans is set for a Q4 release.
Infogrames's other cartoon racer, Wacky Races also makes use of the cel shading technique to produce exceptionally cartoonish visuals. I never watched the cartoon, but can still place most of the characters that inhabit this game. They race (surprise) through surreal landscapes that are right out of a Hanna-Barbera sketchbook. The lush visuals have their downside, though, as the framerate skipped around a bit. Still, the gameplay is pretty decent, and I'd bet you can add another point or two if you're familiar with the characters. To sum, this looks to be yet another solid Dreamcast racer. So uh... how about some RPGs now, guys?
Next: Konami, Mattel Interactive, and Metro 3D