Free as a bird.
Imagine this. You step up to your vehicle. You admire its stylish paint job. You climb inside and strap yourself in, fastening the life protecting seat belts with great care. You rev up you engines and keep the beast warm. You begin to move and approach the start line amidst the pack of your competitors. You slam forward as the race begins and start a neck and neck competition for the place on the podium.
Suddenly one of your opponents gets in front of you and it seems to be decelerating, closing the distance between the two of you with dangerous speed. You hear a cracking voice over the radio. Your coach yells at you, barking with desperation "you're going to crash, your going to crash! Dive! Dive! Oh Shit! To Far! Pull Up! PULL UP!" Dive? Pull up? In a racing game? It's NFS 2 in turbo mode? Is it the new Elliot Gould XXX porno game? It's the effect of a pebble in Redline Racer? Dear god the entire thing is just Plane Crazy I tell you!
Well… yes, yes it is. You have not entered a dimension of sight and sound, this is not the twilight zone, there is no la da da da la da da da in the background. You are merely playing Plane Crazy, the new, and over-all-too-soon game of PC Aerial Racing. Aerial racing games have always been something of a rarity in the PC world. Sure, they are fairly common on console systems, but the only other such game that I remember in the PC realm was Slipstream 5000 back in '95. I've always found that the lack of aerial racing games was a little odd, especially considering the massive proliferation of aerial combat games on the PC.
Plane Crazy, being the only specimen of its species, is possibly its greatest asset. Its uniqueness in the field of PC Gaming is refreshing and is sure to ensure it some success. It is a good game, but it is slighted by a few nagging flaws, detrimental shortness, and a little bad, last-minute programming.
The game starts off with a slick 3D interface that gives you easy access to whatever part of the game you seek. Options are few and obvious, nothing his really hidden away and the whole thing feels a little flashy, acceptable, and transparent to the gameplay. Once you set up your plane (selecting body and paint job) you go ahead and play either quick race, tournament, or multiplayer.
Quick race is most likely where players will spend most of their time. Except for one track unlocked by the tournament, all the tracks are available. In tournament you earn money for finishing in the top 3. This lets you outfit your plane with new engines, wings, and structural materials. If you beat the tournament, you get an extra track and a kick ass plane after all your enhancements.
Gameplay is highly arcade. Movement is handled much in the same way as a normal plane sim. Bank and pull up to turn, that sort of thing. For this reason a joystick is an absolute requirement if you plan to ever win or even last to the end of a single race. If you crash in the game you will either A: Explode or B: Bounce off like a pinball and loose some control and speed. No high realism here.
The control does take some getting used to. This gives the game something that most racing games don't really have: a learning curve. Although, the reaction here is much the same as that of anyone who plays any racer for the first time.
One thing that's really bugs me about the gameplay is the checkpoint system. In my opinion (humble though it may be), the word checkpoint is perhaps the most hated word in the English language. I hate racing game checkpoints; they are the devil. Further, they are a pointless construct on PC, serving only to prolong the sense that we are actually not sitting at our computers playing a game we paid $50 for, but instead feeding a machine quarters one at a time in the local Pizza Parlor. Well, Plane Crazy has really rigid checkpoint and until you really get good at this game they will frustrate you terribly.
Graphics are generally OK. Colorful, fun, well textured. Overall the game has acceptable eye candy but it seems to run a little slowly for its fairly cartoony looks. Almost all 3D Accelerator cards are supported through D3D but I recommend a 3DFX Voodoo 2 or Riva TNT to handle this one. Sound is good as well, not spectacular, good.
The tracks really are well designed, though. Each one is set in its own locale, save for the 3 training tracks. Each track features a barrage of tricks and twists that make them fun and frisky playgrounds for your bird-startling racing 'mobiles.
There is a nice element of combat involved in Plane Crazy. You can fly through strange glowing blue balls of light to collect amusing attacks which you launch at your opponents in projectiles that look like blue comets. The attacks include loosing control, increased weight, that sort of thing. You also get 3 charges to use to knock over pillars and blast open mine entrances at given points in the races. The combat is not the main attraction of the game but it does add healthily to the fun of this title.
So what is wrong with this tigerlilly? Well most of it involves nice little dirty Europeans and mean ugly Americans (YEEEHAWWWW!!!!). Plane Crazy was originally released by Europeans, in... well, Europe. Now in the US Sega Soft has picked up the publishing rights and a few new features were added to the mix for the American release. The new features include colored lighting that drags the framerate to a standstill, added at the last minute and apparently never optimized for speed.
The new training tracks which are fairly bland and do very little to solve the problem of the game's briefness. Oh, that's right, there are very few tracks, bad. The other additive is AMD K6-2 3DNOW optimizations that really don't seem to work. I have a K6-2 300 and the European version of this game said 3DNOW! ran at a much higher constant framerate. The main problem being the piggish colored lights which I recommend leaving permanently off.
Finally, yes, the requisite multiplayer is supported over PX, TCP/IP, Direct Connect and Modem for up to 8 players. Overall its fun but not very different from single player mode. I would have very much liked to see a split screen mode so that you could hear the screams of your friend sitting next to you as you tip a pillar into their propeller.
Overall this is a good game. Its fun, the gameplay is new and refreshing, the tracks are good, and the graphics are attractive. The game is really only plagued by its short length and a few badly implemented enhancements. It also doesn't really make you want to jump up and shout your praises of joy that this game is on your computer. Its fun. It successfully merges two different genres. Maybe it even validates the whole F1 Aerial Racing thing going on in this country. Nah.