|What do you look for in a racing
game? Seems like a simple question, but entire video game franchises have been built on
trying to answer it. Do you like realistic racers or pumped up arcade thrills? Do you want
to vie for the championship cup amongst sportsman-like competitors? Or do you want to
fight for your life against ruthless roadhogs who would like nothing more than to watch
you crash and burn? Would you prefer to tach out on an open highway, or would you rather
bust up someones lunch date in midtown? All of these possibilities exist. Amazingly,
however, there are comparatively few racing titles on the N64, even today. Enter
Roadsters is an arcade racer in appearance, and perhaps at heart, but it attempts to combine its eccentricities with an attention to mechanics. Sometimes this can make for a strange mix. For instance, you choose from an array of exotic sports cars, the street legal kind not formula racers, and set out on unpopulated highways to compete, and yet the highways are set up in continuous laps, and you can pull off for adjustments by a pit crew.
The options for gameplay offer no surprises. You choose from the Trophy Race, where you compete for cash and rank in order to progress through three divisions and win the spoils. As you win and earn the big bucks you can buy new cars or upgrade the one you have. In Quick Race you bypass all of that complicated stuff and just see what youre made of in a race of your choice. Time Trials gives you the opportunity to race against the clock. And there is a Multiplayer option for up to four opponents. From there you choose a driver, a car (out of about 30 models), and begin.
Graphically, the game is a mixed bag. The most impressive and appreciated element of the landscape is that there is almost no pop-up. In so many racing games the terrain seems to materialize a hundred feet in front of your vehicle, making driving by sight tedious at best. Here, the courses simply exist; when you crest a hill you are able to see whats coming down the road. The settings are quite imaginative and detailed. You compete in oilfields among working oil rigs, under the gondolas of a ski resort, and even through an old Tudor village in the English countryside. You will come across onlookers, birds, and the occasional low-flying helicopter.
However, while all of this adds a certain flair to the game, it does have its limitations. There doesnt seem to be a straight line anywhere in the game; the objects are so pixilated around the edges that they are almost distorted at times. While it is humorous when a bird decides it wants to fly right into the camera, the resulting close up is a garbled mess. The replays are especially lackingpeople and houses are obviously two-dimensional and the wheels on your car arent even moving. Also, while the backgrounds are vibrant and populated, dont expect to interact with anything other than the racers and the road. You cant even break through a wooden fence at over 100 mph.
The sound comes up lacking. The music is good, but the effects either arent there at all, or they are dull. The echo effects while in the tunnels are great, but the sound cuts out immediately before and after you enter a tunnel to accommodate the change. Most annoyingly, though, is the limited comments of the drivers. My driver once repeated the same stupid wisecrack to every car he passed for two entire levels.
The joystick control is good, accept for a tricky reverse gear which requires you to press and hold both the down gear button and the joystick while hitting the accelerator. This makes little sense when there are two unused C buttons. There are two alternate camera angles: one which is so close to the car that it is useless, and another from the drivers perspective that offers a handy review mirror.
However, for all of this, it is the control of the car that makes or breaks the game. Roadsters gives you the visual impression that you are actually moving at 100mph plus. You dont doubt it for a second. What it doesnt give you is a sense that your wheels are touching the ground. You dont feel the bumps or turns or crashes, in fact you dont crash as much as you just stop dead in your tracks upon contact. Apply your hand break around a corner and you dont skid into a turn, you just abruptly change direction. One of the most elegant touches in the game is that the weather will gradually change during the course of a race. The track may be dry in the beginning, but if the clouds are dark you can bet you are in for a light drizzle that at some point may even turn into a downpour. But the transition on the road is less gradualas soon as the first drop hits the ground you are driving in wet conditionsand adverse weather such as rain or snow will make driving on or off the road virtually the same.
So, what do I look for in a racing game? Basically, some kind of intensity. I want to feel as if there is something at stake. I want to feel danger over every hill, around every corner, as if I am barely able to handle the road at this speed and if I dont negotiate this turn there will be consequencessquealing tires, rolling, crashing, a world o hurt. Speed is essential, but if you cant run off the road and bust through a few fences now and then, you dont feel that weight. And if a high speed collision with another racer only brings the two cars to an abrupt stop, from which both drivers merely back up and move on, then the illusion is shattered. This is where games like Road Rash blow your mind, what insanely fun games like Crazy Taxi overcome, and where Roadsters, in my opinion, fails.
For all of its trappings, Roadsters is an interesting game. With solid environments and inventive backdrops, each level is enjoyable. Changing weather conditions add variety and challenge to the tracks in mid-contest. There are enough flashy cars and available upgrades to push the replay factor. And, when all is said and done, it is more involving than most of the racing games that the N64 has offered so far.