When Bad Video Games Attack!
Few of us readily admit to the crap we find ourselves staring at come 9:00 on a Thursday night, largely because we're too ashamed to reveal our shallowness to our friends and cohorts, despite the fact that they themselves were probably watching the same exact thing.
Is there any greater evidence of TV's guilty pleasures than Fox's World's Scariest Whatever series? The title alone gets the blood moving. Hey, these ain't just Scary Overweight Babies, they're the World's Scariest Overweight Babies! That's, like, historic, right? Watching this is actually educational, like watching a documentary about the World's Last Living Bald Eagle! This stuff could come in handy one day, if by chance that day I'm on Jeopardy and the category is World's Something Something! I'll take that one for 1000 Alex, because I've been watching Fox!
Now it's one thing for this stuff to succeed on TV, where all they really do is cut together a few clips and add some voice-over by the World's Scariest Retired Sheriff, John Brunell. Whammo - instant ratings. It's another thing entirely to actually turn this show into a video game and charge people money for it, which is precisely what Fox and Activision have done with the aptly titled World's Scariest Police Chases.
I say aptly titled not because it's consistent with the series, but because there is indeed something very scary about the game - namely, the part where you play it. Too bad it's unintentional.
World's Scariest Police Chases lets you enjoy the thrills and spills of life as a cop in the rough and tumble city. Criminals run amuck doing all sorts of nasty business to automobiles, putting the lives of innocent bystanders at risk. Your job is to apprehend the evil doers by either shooting their car to pieces, ramming their car to pieces, or chasing their car to, uh, pieces. The problem is that none of it is as dramatic as it sounds.
The game follows in the footsteps of the excellent Driver by allowing you to drive through a real city. It's not a real real city like LA or Las Vegas, though I swear at one point I drove past a sign pointing to Newark, so maybe it's supposed to be New York. Who knows.
There are a few modes of play, including a Free Ride mode which allows you to drive around the city looking for criminals, who happen to occupy about 1 in every 5 cars. World's Scariest City! The main mode is Pursuit mode, which lets you take on 20 disjointed missions. There is no story at all.
WSPC also bears a similarity to Driver in its control, sort of a cross between real-world physics and arcade action. You can drive a variety of vehicles, each with slightly different handling characteristics. It's not particularly robust, but it's at least halfway decent.
Decent, however, doesn't extend to the rest of the game. Despite its promise of providing high speed thrills, several huge flaws give this game a flat tire.
For one thing, you can only play as the cops, which leads to monotonous gameplay. Chase this guy. Chase that guy. Then, if so inclined, chase another guy. I guess it's the name of the game, but it would have been way better if at some point YOU were actually chased.
The perpetual chasing wouldn't be so bad if the cop cars were made out of something more solid than papier-mache. In order to stop a criminal, you have to either disable it by shooting at it or ramming it. There's also the option to just chase it until a blue meter fills up and the perpetrator stops driving, but where's the fun in that? Unfortunately, in many missions you cannot use your guns - it's just not upstanding and the department will instantly halt the mission should you try to pop some caps. This makes ramming the next option, but the only way to damage another vehicle is to smash into it. The weird part is that a criminal car will not take damage on its own, no matter what. You, however, will take damage from anything else you touch - a tree, another car, a park bench - these all cause damage to you, but not the criminal.
It's infuriating. On one mission I watched a criminal ram headfirst into a telephone pole going top speed, only to back up and return to the getaway. His damage meter did not increase. A few seconds later I sideswiped a parked car and lost about a fifth of my health. AAARRRGGG.
I should also add that I knew the aforementioned criminal would hit the telephone pole to begin with because the missions are scripted. There's basically no AI to speak of, making the chases boring and redundant.
The graphics are pretty cheap, with plenty of pop-up, bland textures and a subpar framerate. This might be the end of the PSX's days, but you'd think developers would have figured out how to squeeze every inch of power out of the thing by now. Don't believe these screenshots. It's amazing what a little shrinking can do to a picture.
The game is almost saved by the hysterical voice-over of Retired Sheriff John Brunnel. His intense voice and cheeseball lines give the game a certain tongue-in-cheek quality. Unfortunately, the in-game sound effects are awful, particularly the engine noise. It sounds like an Intellivision game. I made better motor sounds when I was 4 years old and playing with Matchbox cars.
World's Scariest Police Chases may not be the World's Worst Game, but it's still a waste of time on Thursday night. Man, why couldn't they have made When Animals Attack instead?