"Slidin' On Down The Highway To Heck"
Good old Mad Max started something didn't he? Ever since that '70's classic movie of automotive violence and grown men wearing skin tight leather pants while watering their houseplants, our collective unconscious has long been tainted with a particular role that cars always play in post-apocalyptic futures. Usually, the plot takes the following course: The deterrent concept of Mutual Assured Destruction (MAD) fails and there is a nuclear war that ravaged the planet leaving only a few mutant rejects alive. Sometimes a few mutant rejects are left alive and a ruling, non-mutant (probably British or Californian) class now lives either in posh orbiting space stations or underground. Sitting back, sipping Chardonnay, and enjoying a fine novel by H.G. Wells.
Then, the mutant population usually turns to the cars left on the roadways while their owners burned in unnatural flames. These mutant brigands usually either take to racing these automobiles for pleasure, or using them to kill each other for fun. Either way this premise has made for many a good flick and a few decent games. Powerslide, the latest post-apocalyptic-arcade-racing-game, breaks from this premise, slightly. The disaster was actually just the destruction of the ozone (the game must have been funded by the green party). The rich non-mutants chose to live in the underground. The choice was made to race rather than kill. Finally the racing is in off road buggies, which makes for a whole new kind 'a drivin' (preach on Taurus).
The name Powerslide is indicative of the racing style of the game. You drive these modified dune buggies over wastelands of various sorts: Desert, Mines, Rock Quarries, Dams, none of which have surfaces that make for good traction. This causes every turn to be a Powerslide, handbrake used or not. But, the game features a highly advanced physics system that makes every slide unique and causes some entertaining results, like your buggy flipping over from the G-forces or taking some of the funkiest jumps this side of I-76.
One of the most notable features of Powerslide is the graphics. Developed by RatBag software, Powerslide uses "The Difference Engine" a new 3D technology which gives us one of the best looking pieces of software on the market with some of the highest framerates. Powerslide does a better job of feeling real, feeling photorealistic than any other game on the market. Mainly this is do to the excellent use of texture, high polygon counts, and sparing use of non-ambient colored light sources, which are not often seen in everyday life, contrary to the philosophy of Unreal and Dethkarz.
Powerslide has 8 tracks, 2 bonus tracks, and 2 Multiplayer only tracks. All feature tight design and run from extremely short to some of the longest tracks found in a racing game. The environments go everywhere from racing underground in the upper-class "Nutopia" to slidin' though the ruins of a very convincing Metropolis. The Bonus tracks were conceived mainly to show off the game's physics modeling. There is a pure stunt track and a Luge track, yes, you heard correctly, a Luge track, it's cool (and flavorful!). The tracks are all extremely expansive, some of them taking place outdoors, some of them featuring multiple paths, and even completely irrelevant but fully developed environments. The tracks feel more like driving areas than like the comparatively confined hallways of racing found in games like Need For Speed 2.
Initially you only have access to 3 tracks and 4 of the 8 vehicles (each vehicle has several drivers to choose from, paint jobs essentially). To gain access to the other tracks (the better tracks) you must play through the increasingly difficult championships in the game. Unfortunately, in order to gain access to all the tracks and cars you have to perfectly complete 4 separate, overlapping, championships. That is just to much of a chore and makes the game quite frustrating up until you beat it, at which point you've almost played it out already.
Spread out over the tracks, and hidden in secret areas are the cheat codes. Each code has an unusual effect on gameplay, my favorite being the twister cheat which whips the AI cars around your head like something out of the movie of the same name. Also, the game remembers the last 10 cheats you entered and you can use them again just by pressing one of the 10 number keys at the top of the keyboard. In addition Powerslide keeps the codes in the same place as the refrigerator that stores the fresh fruit you win (post-apocalyptic trophies) so that you can refresh your memory any time you like. None of the cheats let you win in the championships. They are merely added spice to the game that, for once, don't ruin it.
The music, is some of the best I've ever heard in a game. In the opening race around a desert, for instance, I was seriously impressed by the almost John Williams orchestral score. Other tracks feature music that is in a style appropriate for the location, but just as high quality. The sound effects were also good, but not outstanding.
Overall this is one of the most enjoyable, unique, and innovative racing games on the market currently. The physics of the game really create a whole new style of racing, through one of the greatest visual feasts yet seen on a humble 3D Accelerated PC. Aside from the championship problem and the fact that the game's focus on physics makes it feel like a bit of a tech demo, this is a nearly flawless racing game, and an easy recommendation. Hell, how many different ways can you say that the durn'd game is good?