On the road again...
Ah, the exhilaration of street races. Flying through familiar territory with your trusty metal steed powered to perfection is an experience like none other. Many console racers have tried to duplicate this adrenaline rush, but only a few have found the formula for racing excitement.
Last year's E3 unveiled one of the newest contenders for the street racing crown - Metropolis Street Racer. Taking place in three world class cities, London, Tokyo, and my hometown of San Francisco, MSR looks to create the perfect environment for its competition. Developed by Bizarre Creations and published by none other than Sega itself, MSR promised to give gamers what they were looking for in a speed filled romp through city streets. Did they succeed? Yes and no.
With any racing game, the first question always seems to be about the cars. MSR has a nice selection which tries to distance itself from many racers that only feature Japanese-made vehicles. Mercedes, Alfa Romeo, Peugeot, and even Renault are just a few of the models here. It's really nice to see a break from the norm. Rice racers have no fear, for there are also Honda, Mitsubishi, and Toyota cars lurking about. Just don't think about tuning anything, because "stock" is the word of the day.
If you've been looking at screenshots for the past year or so, you already know how nicely everything is rendered. The scenery from the three featured cities is top notch. It's unfortunate, then, that poor anti-aliasing upsets the near perfect locales. Jaggies in the distance are dizzying.
Cars are also nicely rendered and come complete with their own driver. You can actually see him shift gears (even when he's driving an automatic). Nicely done detail all around.
The main menu offers three race options. Time Attack allows you to practice any of the unlocked tracks and Quick Race provides an easy avenue for a speedy entry into race land. Street Racing mode is where most of the action takes place.
Interestingly enough, the Street Racing mode actually involves several types of challenges rather than flat out racing. From races against the clock to speed challenges, progressing in the game takes on a different mantle than your standard racing game. To go farther you'll just have to earn your Kudos.
Kudos? No, I'm not talking about milk chocolate and granola, I'm talking about the most interesting feature in MSR. It's really one of those things you'll either love or hate with a passion. The whole purpose in MSR is to earn Kudos (points). How do you do that? By completing all of the challenges set before you, of course.
In a neat twist, you can actually adjust the goals of each challenge, with more Kudos going to those who dare a loftier target. This turns out to be a really cool feature. Bizarre Creations gets the thumbs-up for that one.
Unfortunately, the goal is not the only barrier you must overcome. Players must also complete the challenge with skill and style, something that is definitely a lot easier than it sounds. Failing to complete the challenge will result in the loss of 25 Kudos, while quitting one will lose you 50. This system makes things pretty difficult, since you could probably complete all of the challenges and still not have enough Kudos to unlock the next level or a new car. It's even possible to complete your challenge and still have Kudos taken away from you!
So how in the world does that happen? It seems that both extremely bad drivers and extremely good drivers will run into this problem. Bad drivers will have points deducted each time they bump into something. Whether it is a car or a rail, deductions are given every time a player makes a mistake. Also, if no style (successful powerslides) is shown, no extra style Kudos will be awarded.
Not being able to touch other cars also makes it tough for good drivers. Generally speaking, I've found that skillful and aggressive drivers can often find a way to use their opponents' cars as an advantage, coming away with awesome results. For example, a player could slide into another car, making his turn even sharper and send his opponent into the rail. Quite the dirty trick, but one that gets the job done right. In MSR, only fair play is allowed...so fair that it gets a little unfair for players.
Since touching other car is a no-no, you also have to avoid any car that gets near you. Any touching of other cars, whether you initiated it or not, will bring out the penalty markers. Even getting really, really close to an object will sometimes draw the penalty. At least the AI isn't very aggressive, or there would be all kinds of trouble. [Lack of AI aggression is good? Ouch! - Ed.]
Another interesting feature is the real-time clock. Each time you play you tell the game what time it is and what time zone you're in. The game then sets the time of day within each city appropriately. While this is certainly an interesting feature (especially for those living in one of the three cities), it can become a hassle. I found that playing some of the San Francisco levels at night is a lot harder than playing them during the day. Apparently the current California power crisis has shut off street lights or reduced them to the power of a mere 60 watt bulb, since everything is way too dark.
Making matters even worse is MSR's radio. Rather than just listening to a standard soundtrack, players are given the lamest excuse for video game music I've ever been forced to listen to. Apparently, country music is all the rage in San Francisco. Talk about a shocker.
Lastly, there is a problem with Metropolis', uh… metropolis-ness. Although there is no doubt that players are racing through a city, the sectioned off corridors make it feel as if it were just any other track. I would have preferred to see open spaces where you could just drive through the city without running laps. Even with the sectioned off areas of the city, it could have been done. But alas, it was not to be. Not much of a street racer after all.
Metropolis Street Racer is one of those games that coulda, woulda, shoulda, but didn't. It introduces some great ideas and lets them fall flat. Maybe Bizarre will have another shot at making these ideas work in the future, but until then I'll just have to find a zarf for my finjan.