All that driving and I’m right back where I started?!
There’s nothing I enjoy more than hopping into my $200,000 car and taking
it up to an icy mountain racetrack to put it through its paces. Fortunately
for me, since I’m doing this on the N64 and not in real life, slamming into
barricades, trees, rocky cliff faces and other cars isn’t going to cost me anything
more than a few seconds off my lap speed.
There’s a lot that can be done in a racing game to promote realism and make
it enjoyable. Roadsters tries to integrate interesting scenery, variable
weather conditions, lots of cars, and exotic locations with realistic physical
modeling to create a racing game that will keep you on your toes. It’s success,
however, is marginal.
The setup of Roadsters is fairly basic. You can play in one of 4 modes:
Roadsters Trophy, Multi-player, Quick Race, or Time Trail. The Trophy race is
your personal quest to earn enough money racing to become champion in three
different racing divisions. Money is used to buy and upgrade vehicles, as well
as to pay the registration for your next series of races. In order to advance
to a higher division, you have to win your current division and raise enough
money to both pay the higher entry fee for the new division and purchase a car
capable of competing at that level.
The physics model in Roadsters seems pretty accurate (although I’m pretty
sure some of the things I did should have made me roll my car, rather than just
spinning out). I have my doubts that the rules are applied equally to human
and computer controlled drivers, but that could just be sour grapes over the
number of times I got wasted.
The weather effects are not particularly realistic. Perhaps their most useful
feature is that your competitors will make pit stops to change tires to something
appropriate for the road conditions. Of course, I never bother to stop. The
manual says that this will interfere with your car’s performance, but I found
that getting half a lap ahead of my competitors more than makes up for it.
The graphics are both good and bad. The cars seem a little unrealistic, though the scenery is nice, with lots of variety and some interesting animations. Unfortunately, you’re generally too busy driving to give the backgrounds the attention they deserve (although I did spot the frozen Mastodon.) And if you’re going to have big balls of stone rolling over your head, animatronic dinosaurs springing out, or even big green parrots (or helicopters) flying at you, there ought to be some chance that they’re going to interfere with your driving. Maybe in the next version T. Rex will actually get to nibble on passing cars.
The music is okay, although the digitized voices are just an annoyance after the first race. How many times can you stand to hear yourself yell “I’ll get you for that!”?
The control system suffers from the typical console racing problems. Gamers
lacking a steering wheel setup (i.e. almost everyone) are forced to make do
with a standard controller. You won’t find analog acceleration or steering.
But most N64 gamers are used to this by now, so no big whoop.
Oddly, none of the cars, from the lowliest convertible to the most expensive performance vehicle, have a reverse gear. It’s quite common to stumble or be knocked into a position where your car is perpendicular to a wall. That’s pretty much the end of the race for you, lacking a way to back up, unless some other hapless soul happens to ram your car.
While certainly decent, Roadsters doesn’t really do anything new for
the genre. It attempts to combine realism with arcade flair, but the end result
is inconsistent. Console racing has been done better than this.