||Suzuki Alstare Extreme Racing
Get your motor running - Review By Fragmaster
Only dorks ride bikes. Way back in like the 1800's, old-time geeks rode along cobbled roads on these wack-ass "one big wheel, one tiny wheel" monstrosities while sitting in a tiny seat approximately fifty feet above the ground. Today, if you think of someone riding a bicycle, you think of some weirdo pedaling along a busy road, snorting frantically in shiny shorts, ringing a stupid bell and making gawky hand signals all the while. Well, at least I do.
But motorcycles are a completely different bag of potatoes. Sure, there's the stereotypical biker with long dirty hair, dark sunglasses, a Harley, and about fifty extra pounds sticking out of his stomach, but then there's the psychos who barrel down tight turns at speeds that would make the most ardent roller coaster rider puke all over his Scooby Doo t-shirt. One mistake, one misjudgment, or one careless decision by a fellow rider, and you're done for.
Suzuki Alstare Extreme Racing (SAER) gives you the chance to race along with the Suzuki Alstare Racing team. SAER is actually a rehauled version of Redline Racer, so if you're familiar with that you should have a pretty good idea of what this game is about.
You'll get a chance to try out all the official team bikes thanks to the Suzuki license, and best of all, you probably won't seriously hurt yourself in the process.
SAER's graphics are excellent, sporting crisp textures and excellent environments whizzing by at a smooth 60 frames per second. This game looks good. Sometimes it's tempting to stare at your surroundings, but when you're going 250 miles per hour through tight turns, taking your eyes off the road probably isn't a great idea. There are four camera modes to view the action from, the default third person chase-cam, two more zoomed out views, and a dizzying first person view. The track designs are, on the whole, pretty straightforward, but they all look great and each one has their own share of quirks and tricky turns. You can also race all tracks in reverse.
One second after this screenshot was snapped, this unfortunate rider found himself airborn and thrown violently against that checkpoint sign on yonder. No joke.
SAER's controls are some of the best seen on the Dreamcast yet. While the button configuration is nothing out of the ordinary and instantly familiar, the responsiveness of the steering really makes you feel as if you have complete control over your bike. There's almost no learning curve at all, and when you do screw up a turn you'll never blame the controls, because it's always your fault. The tight control, combined with the great sense of speed the game provides makes SAER really fun, and at times, incredibly intense.
The gameplay is rather simple and very arcade like. There are only three main modes of play, "main game," single race, and 2 player versus. The later two are self-explanatory. In the main game mode, you must progress through the ranks of championship racing in order to join the Suzuki Alstare Racing team. There are nine championships divided into novice, reserve, and team difficulty, consisting of three to six races. Points are awarded according to how you place in each individual race. First place gets 10 points, second gets 6, third gets 4, fourth gets 3 and so on. You have to place first in each championship to move on to the next, and must progress in order. As you move along you'll unlock additional tracks (for a total of 12) and more powerful bikes.
If you're expecting SAER to be a realistic simulation, well… it's not. The gameplay is very arcade like, with the physics being especially forgiving. You can pull off some really cool stuff, but for some reason I think hitting a canyon wall, careening thirty feet in the air and continuing to race on at a steady 250 MPH all while bouncing off other racers isn't exactly feasible. But just because the gameplay isn't realistic doesn't mean it's not fun, because it is. The crashes are especially cool, and you'll probably end up crashing on purpose just to see your guy fly hundreds of feet through the air. Whee!
First person mode is not for the faint of heart. You'll earn a whole new respect for the guys who do this stuff in real-life, though.
The computer AI is pretty good. CPU players aren't insanely good like Hydro Thunder, but they will give you a run for your money. One nice thing about SAER is that you can screw up and crash a couple times and still win the race through good use of your limited amount of turbo, taking risks, and racing like a madman to the front of the pack. The number of people you race against is configurable as well. If you don't like the way your bike handles, you can modify its steering, power, and breaking, as well as your type of transmission.
Two-player mode is standard fare. There's some pretty significant graphical clipping (probably to keep the frame rate fast), but it plays fine and there's a handy progress bar separating the two screens.
The game's audio features are more than adequate. The sound effects are nothing special, but the music is pretty keen. SAER's interface is pretty good. It's a bit clunky in spots (see below), but it looks great and won't cause you any frustration.
While I personally like the arcade-like gameplay, it may be a turn-off to those that expect a little more realism. Options to adjust the difficulty or realism of the game would have been nice. It'd be nice if the game had more options period, because there aren't many settings to fiddle with.
SAER's biggest problem is its overall lack of depth and flawed "main mode." To advance in each of the nine championships, you have to place first in each one. The problem is that if you fail to come in first, you have to do the championship all over again. Failing to advance just because you came in second, trailing by 2 points can be incredibly frustrating. Re-racing the championship all over again can quickly grow repetitive. You can only race around a track so many times until it gets boring. If you do manage to solve the game (I didn't quite make it), you probably will never want to play it again.
Two-player mode is nice, but like the rest of the game, there isn't that much to it.
Besides those significant flaws, there are a few other minor ones. The most annoying being the lack of autosave. If you want to save your progress in the main gameplay mode, you must go all the way back to the main menu and save. I didn't know this when I started, and lost all my initial progress. Doh. At least they could have put the save option on the main gameplay screen, where it would have been more prominent.
Finally, there really isn't that much difference between the bikes and there are a few places you can get stuck and become unable to do anything until your position is reset. There's also some minor clipping bugs, but nothing significant.
The Final Word
Ooooh. Nice try, but the lack of depth and just not very good main gameplay will leave SAER to languish in the land of the mediocre. And that's a shame since the control is excellent and it can be a fun little game. I'd definitely recommend renting Suzuki Alstare Extreme Racing, but unless you're into motorcycles or aren't satisfied with any of the other racers currently on the Dreamcast, it's probably not worth $50. Thank you, ride through.
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Highs: Great graphics, control, pretty fun.
Lows: Lack of depth and frustrating main gameplay mode.
Other: 1-2 players, VMU Compatible, VGA Cord Compatible
(out of a possible 10)
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