Sunday, 6 February 2011

Race Drivin'

People like to dismiss the Sega Mega Drive as being a console that can only cope with 2D graphics... and for the most part, there's a good reason for that. It's a lovely system but even with blast processors the world of three dimensions is a little out of its reach. That's not to say people didn't try to make 3D games for it though!

One attempt is 1993's Race Drivin', originally an Atari arcade game. It's a sequel (or "update") to Hard Drivin' which had similar ideas - make a full polygonal driving game to prove that Atari were still industry leaders. Of course, by 1993 they weren't, and Race Drivin' hence falls flat on its face. Here's why.

Predictably, the problem with Race Drivin' is power... or the lack of it. The series is notable for bringing 3D to consoles and computers that were supposed to struggle with the concept - old DOS PCs, the Commodore 64, ZX Spectrum and Amstrad CPC. On those systems, this sort of thing is spectacular and unheard of. It's good to see Atari make an effort, following their poor performances in the middle half of the 1980s.

But on the Mega Drive, it struggles to have the same effect. People didn't want to see their cutting edge home games consoles struggle with cutting edge games. Console consumers were far more interested in long lasting, action packed releases, not fun "experiments". That's why (sadly) you don't get many experimental console games anymore. Experiments don't sell, and if you can't roll in a profit when dealing with a multi-million pound industry, the only thing you can count on is inevitable bankruptcy.

Commodore 64 users need to have patience. Mostly because the majority of games, distributed on cassette tapes, had ridiculously long loading times and were prone to breaking. A C64 fan can deal with a game that runs slowly - the entire system runs slowly as far as they're concerned. But a slow game on the Mega Drive doesn't float many boats because it was marketed as being an ultra-fast system. Watching Race Drivin' lag despite its claims of speed and enjoyment isn't a thrilling experience. You end up questioning that large £30+ investment.

Race Drivin' runs at about 10-20 frames per second, which is frankly unacceptable. Understandable perhaps, because the Mega Drive cannot render 3D geometry quickly, but that doesn't disguise the fact the game is not suited for this system. It's a similar story on the SNES, and likely the Amiga and Atari ST. If it means waiting until technology catches up, so be it.

I wouldn't attempt to port Call of Duty: Black Ops to the PlayStation 1 because I know the result would be poor - Atari should have left this one in the arcades, though I will admit, the gap between the 1988 release of Hard Drivin' and a home console suitable to run the game would have been about six years. Very difficult to market a six year old game as being current.

Though having said that, Race Drivin' also saw a Sega Saturn release in 1995, and though the lag is gone, the graphics are so horrible it can't help but look outdated. I guess the whole concept of Race Drivin' can be considered a giant waste of time - it's a toss up between underperformance and outdatedness, neither of which would be hitting home runs for the home console crowd.

Race Drivin' does make some improvements over Hard Drivin' though. Sure, this only really comes in the form of more vehicles and more maps, but it still stands as a better package. As it contains all the content from Hard Drivin', at least we can say we don't need two games (Hard Drivin' is also available on the Mega Drive if you hadn't guessed), but if I'm to be honest, you probably don't need this one either.

Basically, the idea is to drive around a track, beating opponents and avoiding obstacles and traffic. As far as full polygonal environments go, Race Drivin''s is pretty bland, but you can't expect much better from a game that has its roots set in 1988. There's curves, hills and loops and it's difficult to deny the fact the game is ahead of its time, but as these landscapes take up valuable processing power usually used to give us speed and music, you can't help but feel that this game could have been a lot better if it weren't trying to be so complex.

It also contains a simplistic track editor, which is a nice touch. It might even be the first recorded instance of a user being able to manipulate a 3D world in game, but this isn't an area I've reseached heavily. Like Hard Drivin' it also shows action replays of crashes, and they look about as unrealistic as you'd expect, as all car bumpers are fitted with high powered springs.

But back in 1993 there's a very good chance that this game, despite its flaws, was deemed excellent. It had a good go at trying to revolutionise the genre, and though it mostly failed because the technology wasn't there, I can't knock the game for trying. However, this was the second attempt by Tengen to bring this game to the Mega Drive - it didn't work amazingly well the first time so god knows why they thought the tables would turn a year later.

Can I recommend this game? No. You're better off with a different version but unless you're a die hard racing fan, you're also better off with a different game. On the plus side, the 1988 arcade original isn't too shabby, so you could always check that out if you want.

1 comment:

  1. You should play the Sega Saturn version; it's more obscure, and it's actually good!