But why can't I drive over hippies on Haight Street?
The greatest car chase scene ever to grace celluloid was from a 60's Steve McQueen flick called Bullit. In fact, this is generally the only reason people even remember the movie, though it's reason enough. With engines roaring and tires skidding, the chase takes us all over San Francisco.
Perhaps taking a cue from the movie (a very, very, very belated cue), Midway has ported the arcade racer San Francisco Rush to the N64. And while the game can't hold a candle to the movie, it does manage to stir up a good bit of fun for those racing game starved N64 owners.
In Bullit, they actually tried to justify a high speed romp through the streets of SF (something about a killer, a cop, a plot...or something). In San Francisco Rush, there is no vague attempt to describe how the race came to be, who the racers are, or why we race at all. Instead, just strap yourself in and prepare to witness the glory that is arcade style racing. Don't expect too much in the way of simulation; this one is a crash-bang-crash-again-fest from start to finish.
There are several ways to play. There are 8 different cars to choose from, though this is misleading. There are 4 difficulty levels with 2 cars to choose from each, and these aren't noticeably different in performance, so it really works out to only 4 different vehicles (oh just click here for more stuff, you big cheater). You can try a single race or a 24 track circuit, or hone your skills by practicing by yourself. There aren't actually 24 separate tracks; rather, there are 6 main tracks with variations (normal, mirrored, backward, and mirrored & backward). This actually works out - you find differences in the tracks based on which direction you're driving. There's also a split screen mode to race against your friends, though the framerate drops noticeably.
By now we've seen some truly spectacular graphics on the N64, from the seamless Goldeneye, to the dizzying Extreme-G. In the case of SF Rush, you get the feeling that they just cut a few corners trying to pump the game out on time. The cars don't really look like they're on a track. They don't buck and rumble along - they somehow just sort of glide (unless you run over a bump...duh.). Most of the objects are polygonal, though a few scattered sprites show some shoddy work. Furthermore, the plentiful explosions look silly, very undynamic. On the other hand, the cars themselves look pretty good and the pop-up is minor, and the framerate in 1 player mode is great - you really haul some ass. Additionally, the backgrounds and blur effects lend a lot to the atmosphere; nice touches like varying amounts of fog and well-known landmarks help establish the San Francisco environment. Overall, though, this is a mixed graphical bag.
Easily the best thing about SF Rush is the freedom of movement. Unlike games such as Rage Racer that insist on keeping your car stuck on a track, there are multiple paths and shortcuts to discover. You are encouraged to break typical driving rules, like plowing through danger cones and careening into oncoming traffic. This makes for some really fun track exploration, particularly in Practice mode (no time limit...).
Another nifty addition is a 2 player 'Tag' mode. You basically race with a friend around any of the tracks in a self-explainable game of tag. While there are some problems with this (namely, either too easy or too hard to tag), it shows great ingenuity on the part of the designers. Unfortunately, as I mentioned before, it gets fairly choppy due to a loss of framerate.
Like that great McQueen chase scene, SF Rush is NOT a simulation of real life racing. In fact, this is about as arcadey a racer as I've seen. The game moves quickly, which is good, but the realism is so skewed that at times it gets ridiculous. Jumps are more like hanglides, with your car soaring through the air covering up to 3 city blocks. While entertaining, your car reacts mysteriously to these moments of antigravity. Sometimes you'll land smoothly, and sometimes you'll eat pavement - it's all very "up in the air." (mind the pun).
Perhaps the most annoying thing about the game is what I call the 'crash and burn cost/benefit model.' Where in most racing games crashing into a wall is considered a bad thing, it actually can help you out in SF Rush. When you bite it, you are placed back in the race in the same position you were in when you crashed. So if you were in 5th place when you steered your automobile into a wall, you'll start right back in 5th place, right back on the track facing the right way and in the thick of things. While this is great in the arcades where you spend 50 cents a pop, it's really unnecessary in the port. You can always set the option to 'death,' but I've yet to actually complete a race without blowing up at least once.
Another issue is the fact that this game is going to mainly appeal to residents of the Bay Area. Sure, there's enough going on to warrant a play by anyone, but if you live in Sing-Sing, why do you care about driving through The Embarcadero? Given, Game Revolution is based in the area and therefore we enjoy driving like wildmen through Chinatown - but not everyone will.
All in all, this really isn't a bad game. It's a much more complete product than the unfortunate Cruis'n USA, and is actually a good deal of fun if you get into it, but certain design flaws keep this one back from greatness. My advice is to rent before yah buy. And while you're at the video store, pick up a copy of Bullit to get you in the mood...