Go Speed Racer, go!
Last night it hit me like a ton of bricks, and I knew right then that I had crossed a fine line, a line I had hoped never to cross. My wife walked in, home from work as usual. She took one look at me and got this tired, achy look in her eyes. She had caught me an hour after the kids had gone to bed, playing with myself. No, not "that" - I was sitting at the computer, staring at the screen and had hardly noticed her come in. When I realized that my wife was looking at me with new eyes, judging who I was by what I was doing with my computer, I stopped and looked at the situation.
I actually had a steering wheel connected to my PC...pedals and all!!! I had tunnel vision; the rest of the world didn't exist. My only reality was the race, winning was everything, and I wasn't concerned with how her day had been, how she was, or anything to do with her whatsoever (This is a new thing? - Ed.) I had crossed into DORKDOM... Jesus, I guess they were right when they said that Donkey Kong was just the "gateway game," that sooner or later I would be playing harder and harder games. Until one day, I would be addicted.
Well, look at me now. I'm sitting in front of a $1500 piece of equipment that I have so lovingly assembled myself, purely for gaming. I call this part-time gig "my dream job," even though I write reviews purely to quench my passion for gaming, not financial gain (Hey, we pay in only the highest quality peanuts here. Be thankful, review monkey... - Ed.)
And so it goes that I am a slave to my addiction. I'm always looking for the perfect high, trying desperately to find that certain feeling I get from a great game. And despite a few flaws, BreakNeck certainly gives me that feeling.
Racing games have come a long way since the days of Super Sprint andOutrun. The basic premise is still around - drive fast to win - but now we have anti-aliasing and transparent fog to enhance the graphics to the point of realism. We also have options, and lots of them, to really let us have control over our gaming experience. It's these types of advancements that have brought games to the point of pulling us into their worlds, and BreakNeck is a game that really draws you in.
The graphics are excellent. The desert levels feel hot and the city levels are very realistic. The level of detail is incredible; tail lights blur behind dust kicked up by tires and perspective changes depending if you're in a super cart or a semi. As you burn your way through the courses, the scenery flows by like liquid, really adding to the sense of speed. On a midrange computer (K/6-2 450, 128 MB RAM, Voodoo 3 PCI), the frame rates stay in the high 30's; on higher grade rigs (Pentium 2 550, 256 MB RAM, Voodoo 3 AGP) they were in the 60's. Occasional pop-up is noticeable, but it's no big whoop.
BreakNeck is chock full-o-options. There are 43 different cars scattered across several classes to pit against each other in all out races. There are Premium (sports cars), Classic (Cobra clones, etc.), Bonsai (little slow cars), Semi-trucks, Monster trucks, and Formula 1. There are even "shootout" cars with weapons galore mounted on the hood ala Road Blasters - blow the competition away before they cross the finish line.
The options continue in the 24 different tracks, each with several versions that result in a whopping 96 total variations. Each track has different elements that affect the race such as rain, snow and sand. In turn, each race has a different challenge, from different speeds and handling to weapons to road elements.
The racing physics are definitely arcade; at one point, I discovered that I could drive up the side of an Egyptian pyramid in a schoolbus. Not something you should try at home. Flips are commonplace and can throw you to the end of the pack for a while, especially in the Monster trucks and Super carts. This makes first place a hard position to reach and keeps the competitive edge high.
There are three game options: Expert, Arcade and Multiplayer. Expert mode is for tech heads, with heavy focus on tuning options, contracts, and sponsorships. It's more setup than gameplay, but very deep; definitely for the simulation fan. Tune your suspension, tranny, and change tires for the different conditions.
Although a little more basic, Arcade mode offers as much gameplay without the technical aspects, much more for the "pop it in and race" type.
Multiplayer is a blast. I got a few of my friends together on a LAN and we were up until 3:30 in the morning, obsessing on beating each other to the finish or blowing each other off the track in Shootout cars. Frankly, I haven't had so much multiplayer fun since I first discovered Quake II. I would recommend a racing wheel, it really adds to the realism and fun factor, as well as making control very exact. (Not to mention it kept me in the lead all night. Sorry Damon and Carlos.)
Still, BreakNeck offers little beyond the standard racing gameplay elements. You still just race around tracks. It doesn't do anything particularly new, though at the same time doesn't do anything particularly wrong.
Overall, BreakNeck is a solid game with enough options and depth to keep you interested for quite awhile. If you have access to a group of friends and a LAN, this game is a must buy. If you are bored with racers that are limited in the types of cars and racing situations, then you will love the variety that this one has to offer. A welcome addition to any gamers collection.