"Dirty Polygons...Naughty Polygons...."
When Ridge Racer first hit the shelves in 1995, it made huge waves as the first quality racing game for the PSX. The sharp graphics and smooth controls made it an instant favorite. However, other racing games have been released since then that in many ways eclipse the standard (just check out Wipeout XL).
There has been much hype surrounding Rage Racer. Will it be the next big thing in Playstation racing? Will it set another benchmark like its predecessor? Will it taste great, be less filling, and do my taxes? No. But its not bad. In fact, there are some surprisingly fresh and interesting additions that balance out the flaws, making this a pretty good racing title.
I don't know who does the intro animation sequences over at Namco, but they deserve a raise and a good steak dinner. The intro is superb, incorporating FMV and SGI animation sequences with a frantic, commercial edge. Admittedly, it's a bit overblown; I for one was more impressed by the remarkable introduction that set the stage for Soul Blade (another Namco beauty). I guess when you got it, you got it.
As in most racing games, there are a nice number of options available You can change the key configuration, choose automatic or manual transmission, modify brake drift, and even (get this)...design your own logo. That's right. You not only can choose the two color paint job, but you can design a personalized logo for your the hood of your car. Using an easy paint program, just pixel-draw away!
You start out with no money and a crappy car, which can be upgraded via tune-ups or traded in for better/different cars (for the right amount of moolah). By racing through the various circuits, you can earn more dough, get better cars, drive way faster, and up the overall fun time.
Racing games generally rely heavily on graphics as the selling point, and indeed it is here where we run across some strange happenings. The graphics are mostly polygonal, even the road itself. This lends tremendous realism and fluidity. Unfortunately, these are some of the "dirtiest" ploygons we've seen. The screen is constantly buzzing with black lines (the breaking of the 'seams' on the polygons). Cleaner polygonal mapping would have given the game a much better look.
Much of the blame for the dirty polygons can be attributed to an amazing lack of pop-up. The tracks merge effortlessly with the horizon; very little pop up can be found, and even then only when you're looking for it. This stays consistent even when you're flying around corners at 150 M.P.H... a remarkable job of curing one of the oldest plagues afflicting racing games. Another terrific enhancement is the inside the car view which has the best rear-view mirror I've seen
Many racing games these days seem to be brimming with views, which make sit all the more bizarre that in Rage Racer you can choose from exactly two. One is from behind the car, the other is from inside. I suppose this makes sense. When's the last time you drove a car sitting outside behind the car to the above-left looking down-forward at a 45 degree-ish angle? (I did this once. Twisted my ankle and lost my shoe.).
The control is pretty smooth, though there is an annoying collision detection problem. For some reason the programmers decided that it was more important to keep the car on the road than add realistic touches, like the ability to drive on the grass (whoa, fancy.). You can't off-road at all; if you try to, you bump into an invisible barrier that nudges you back onto the track. I can't tell you how irritating this can get...
The track layout is also kind of strange. Rather than race on a bunch of vastly different scenarios, you choose one of three. Yep, only three (and a bonus track shaped like an oval for high speed -yawn- circling). The wacky part is that each track begins and ends the same way; you just go down different 'middle' paths. But the biggest problem with this is that they all look the same. This lack of variety and creativity takes away from the replay value.
However, if you're just looking for high speed thrills, Rage Racer isn't a bad choice. Aside from the minor graphical and desgin flaws, this is a solid racing game. The scenery is great (you can even drive by signs depicting the logo you created!) and the music is pumping. Not a bad game for arcade style racing fans. You realism buffs, however, may want to check out Formula 1 and save this one for the Friday night rental.