Review: Rage Racer (Playstation)

In this review, we prepare to get it on in the racing game Rage Racer. We find out how well this Playstation game plays.

This game was released in 1997 and is the third game in the Ridge Racer series. Previously, we reviewed the first game in the series, Ridge Racer. That game got a mediocre score in spite of the great graphics thanks largely due to a lack of content. We then reviewed the sequel, Ridge Racer Revolution. That game failed to impress thanks largely due to the fact that so little about the game was improved upon and the fact that competition just had so much more to offer. So, we were curious to see if this series managed to turn things around with the third installment in the series.

A fair number of things have been retained from the previous game. The most notable feature is the fact that every track has the exact same start and finish line. This fact had me concerned because previous games effectively only had one track with two or three alternative routs. Instead, the only similarities between the routs is the straightaway with the tunnel that houses the start/finish line. Everything else is largely different. Three of the tracks take a rout through a town and ends up with a waterfall and a tunnel. The fourth track goes past this and takes a simple circular rout. As for the other three tracks routs, the tunnel past the waterfall is where they split up. They eventually rejoin at a highway and go to the finish line. From the simple perspective of what has changed within the series, this was a big improvement. The routs are so different, that is could almost be considered 4 actual tracks. There is one that takes you through a coastline with Greek-like architecture. A second rout takes you through a steep hill in town before going through various highways, mountainous terrain, and tunnels. The third rout takes drivers through a forested area, a couple different looking tunnels, and more mountainous terrain which contains more tricky corners. The fourth track stays within the city and is the shortest rout in the game – so much so that the number of laps are double that of the other tracks (6 laps total).

To make things more interesting, the game does throw in a reverse option just like the previous game. This occurs after you beat all of the main races in the 5 classes. While this wasn’t that big of a deal in the previous two games, the downside here is that there is significantly more races to beat before you get there. While it was refreshing to see by the time you get there, by the time you get there, you are already annoyed at seeing the same 3 or 4 races many times over. It’s more than possible some gamers might grow weary of the game or get frustrated at the later class levels to get to this point, but if you are successful, this does increase the life span of the game.

The class system is probably one of the improvements to the previous games. Previously, if you beat a race, that’s it. You move on to the next race with a victory under your belt. In this game, a victory on a single race means you are a step closer to getting a gold trophy. In order to unlock the next class, you need to finish in the top 3 positions in all of the races. In the first 2 classes, this is just 3 of the 4 tracks. In the remaining classes, you also get to contend with a 4th track that is all about raw speed more than anything else. The advantage of this new system is that it allows for both easier play and challenging play. For each new class you advance up to, your opponents become more skilled and, well, overall faster.

One thing that compliments this new class system is the monetary system. Each time you place in the top 3, not only will you get a victory added to the track, but also cash. You can spend your cash on a new car after.

The new car system, which is what the money system is directed at, is a huge improvement over the previous game. Previously, all you typically got was 4 cars. One car had a balance of all the available stats. A second car had great handling. A third car had excellent acceleration. A fourth and final car had excellent top speed. If you accomplished a particular feet, you could get a number of other cars, but that depends entirely on whether you beat a pre-loader game. In this game, you start off with a low end grade 1 car. You can save up cash and buy either the car with great handling or great acceleration. The third option is to take you car into the engineering shop and have it tuned up to the next grade.

Each grade of any particular car goes up by roughly a a factor of 10. In the first class, prizes top out at around 500eg. The next class of car can set you back by a couple thousand eg depending on which way you want to improve your chances in the next class. When you each the 2nd class of tracks, your opponents become faster and more skilled. The 3rd grade cars also become available. While the prizes go up into the thousands, the next grade car will set you back tens of thousands of eg. The pattern continues all the way up to the end of the game. If this sounds vaguely familiar, then you might be thinking of a SNES game called RPM (Radical Psycho Machine) Racing where the scale is very similar – though this game obviously doesn’t implement any kind of weapon like the SNES game did.

If you manage to beat the 5th class, you’ll unlock the “Extra GP”. This mode is available in the menu. If you go into this class, you’ll likely be saddened to learn that the prize money you’ve earned as well as your garage has been reset to the beginning of the game. You’ll see the same courses, however, the key difference is that the tracks are now reversed. Interestingly enough, this almost makes the game feel like it has a whole new set of courses because the tracks look so different and only vaguely similar to that of the previous set of tracks.

If you beat all 5 classes in the Extra GP, you’ll unlock a 6th and final class. This comes with a whole new grade of vehicles (the “?” grade) which cannot be upgraded. These super cars are pretty much a requirement for success in this class, though it will cost you millions of eg. A second big difference is that, unlike the usual 12 opponents you go up against, this class only pits you against 5 other opponents. While that may sound easier, the difficulty in this class is anything but easy – almost demanding near perfect driving throughout the courses. Another thing to note is that these courses have reverted back to going forward again like the first half of the game.

If you manage to complete the 6th class, you win the game. The game will reward you with a credits roll and video. While not obvious at first, if you start a new game from there, you’ll find that you have 999,999,999 eg. This is more than enough to not only buy every car in the game, but upgrade them all to the max.

One final feature worth noting is the time attack mode. The cars and tracks available depend entirely on what is earned in the two GP modes. Your success in topping the track times also depends in large part to what you have already unlocked. A “?” grade car will likely easily top the times while the your efforts in other grades could prove to be more challenging with lower grade cars. In this mode, the track is split into three sections and you are able to keep tabs on how well you are doing throughout the entire race. Curiously, no checkpoint times are recorded for whatever comes pre-loaded in the game. Instead, the time for each checkpoint is whatever the total lap time is. So, it’s not uncommon to see huge leads early on when you attempt to beat the top time for the track for the first time. Beating all the top times don’t seem to earn you anything in this game.

While there is a trophy room to display your victories, this ends up being largely a moot point other than eye candy as you will win the game regardless of the trophy color. Trophies are earned based on your first run at the cup. All gold will net you a gold cup. Finishing second in any race during this first attempt will get you a silver cup. Finally, merely completing the class will, at minimum, earn you a bronze trophy. What use this room is beyond this remains a mystery to me.

There is no question that this game is an improvement over the previous game. The question then becomes, is this improvement enough to take it over the top? In my view, not really. The improvements in this game were enough to get it out of the bad books, but not much more beyond that. This game still suffers from a content shortage with precious little in terms of tracks. There is barely enough cars available to make this game workable, though the ladder system was at least decent. The reason why content is still lacking in this game is because you have all of, optimistically speaking, 4 tracks that you grind your way through a minimum of 5 times. If you happen to buy the wrong car or select the wrong upgrade at any time, then you were left with grinding your way up to getting enough cash to buy the car you actually needed to carry you through to the next class. This alone makes for some very repetitive play.

To make matters worse, there is the issue of difficulty. The first class in the regular GP mode is fairly straight forward. It isn’t quite push over difficulty, but it is enough to get you used to the track and feel for how the vehicles react to cornering and braking. By the time you get to class 5, you are already blazing your way through the courses, hoping to not hit other cars or the wall too hard too many times. While this difficulty can be quite, well, difficult, the game then hits you with an array of “MT” vehicles (Manual Transmission). This forces many players to try and learn manual transmission in the game. Some racers might consider this an improvement as it is possible in many racing games to get an advantage thanks to clever shifting strategies. In this game, however, Manual cars end up working against you, making things far more difficult on the course. You end up shifting down prior to corners before shifting back up as you leave. The hills make it very apparent that that a vast majority of cars struggle to go up hills – something that would otherwise almost go unnoticed thanks to automatic cars. Because of this, the game becomes far more difficult than easier. The only way to keep the difficulty down is to upgrade the highest grade automatic car in the engineer shop. While the car may have a slightly slower top speed in the end, it more than makes up for this by efficiently finding the best gear for you – leaving you to focus exclusively on braking, cornering, and maneuvering around opponents. The only manual car worth buying in the end are the higher end Absoluto cars for the extreme oval course (practically a necessity) as the high speed is all that matters and shifting ends up being minimal (so long as you evade other cars and bashing into the wall of course).

The difficulty system goes awry when you gain access to the Extra GP course. When you complete class 5, you go from highly difficult opponents all the way back to a laid back easy difficulty, being pushed all the way back to class 1 once again. While the difficulty eventually gets harder as you enter class 6, it makes me wonder if the reverse courses should have been offered in parallel to the regular version just to keep difficulty more consistent. So, instead of offering an “Extra GP” mode, simply place the reverse tracks next to the normal ones. If you complete class 1, you get access to class 2. If you complete class 1R, you get access to class 2R. If you complete both class 5 and class 5R, you get access to class 6. That strikes me as a more logical progress tree. The added bonus is the fact that you can switch to a refreshing reverse mode much sooner, giving you a chance for better variety sooner. In addition, offer a Grade 1 and Grade 1R class if need be (or, readjust the prices accordingly to re-balance the game). This would have reduced the repetitiveness by a long shot in my view.

When you compare this game to other games circulating the market at the time (i.e. Diddy Kong Racing, Mario Kart 64, and San Francisco Rush: Extreme Racing USA), this game ends up feeling like a repetitive drag. At this point, 4 courses is bare bones minimum. If each course takes well over 3 minutes to complete lap, then 4 courses might be tolerable. Unfortunately, one course can take roughly 1 minute per lap while one lap in another course can last as little as under 30 seconds. An improvement over the previous game? Yes. Enough to compete against other racers at the time? Not really.

In addition, the course design was extremely linear. Even grassy areas are apparently off limits as when you even get close to the edge of the road, you bash up against an invisible wall. There are literally no alternative routs to speak of within a course. You are simply left with one main rout which makes for less exciting play.

The physics were another issue in the game. Others have complained about this already, and I largely agree that physics were an issue. I would also throw in how cars handle can be a bit awkward – especially in later stages. The biggest problem with the physics, for me, was how swerving works. If you initiate a swerve, the game forces the car to angle left, then right, before randomly allowing you to regain your grip. This was a carry over from the previous games. While understandable in the earlier games, it is becoming increasingly out of place as other games are able to handle more realistic swerving. Because swerving is more unpredictable and slows you down so much, you are better off literally holding down gas and brake at the same time. The harder the corner, the earlier you initiate the brake. The reason for engaging both gas and brake is important is because it becomes virtually impossible to slide, allowing you more control as you enter and leave corners. In addition, your momentum seems to “spring” back faster as you disengage the brake after. It’s such a strange way to handle car handling.

Generally speaking, this game is definitely an improvement over the previous game. The monetary “eg” system adds a much needed level of complexity that forces players to think. The class and grade structure opens the gate for formulating strategies throughout the game. As a result, it makes playing the same tracks over and over again more bearable and understandable. Unfortunately, this game has many faults including unrealistic handling, odd physics, precious little content, lack of alternative routs within courses, and a somewhat disjointed difficulty curve. By far, not a perfect game.

Graphics were a strong point in the first game, but fell short in the second game. This game does improve a lot on this front, helping to keep this game a contender in the graphics department. The changing daylight makes a return here, but what is improved in the daylight conditions is the continually changing lights. When you go to night, not only does your tachometer light up as it darkens, but lights in windows in buildings on the sides of the track also light up as well. The features found throughout the track were nicely realized and made for some good eye candy. Unfortunately, thanks to a low content quantity, this game still has its limitations in this department. Still, a great job overall here as texture warping is barely noticeable here.

The audio was an interesting change. In terms of music, this game does change things up a little. This game moves away from the acid and happy hardcore music and moves towards more drum n bass style music while still retaining some of the acid roots previous games had. Generally speaking, the quality of the music (this is not a commentary on musical genre’s) was somewhat improved. Still, I don’t think there was a whole lot that was memorable here. The major plus in this game is the fact that this game does contain a nice large library of music, and that does keep things fresh in the audio department. The sound effects were pretty decent, though. I like that different cars had their own engine sounds. The fastest car in the game, oddly enough, sounds like the engine sound of the Sky Train in Vancouver, BC, though. Generally speaking, an improvement, but not enough to really move the needle on things.

Overall, I was quite happy that this game does manage to turn things around for this series. It wasn’t enough to make this a particularly great game, but it does rejoin the pack in terms of quality racers. The monetary system, class, and grade system adds a nice structure to the overall gameplay. Unfortunately, physics and content quantity does harm gameplay. While the graphics were great, the audio doesn’t move the needle much in the grand scheme of things even if it is an improvement. A decent enough game, though nothing huge.

Furthest point in game: Beat the game. 1 bronze trophy. 1 silver trophy. The rest were all gold.

General gameplay: 15/25
Replay value: 7/10
Graphics: 8/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 66%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.

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