Racing game is excellent, but tough

Tuesday, October 2, 2001

Play videogames long enough and you begin to despair of ever finding anything new and unusual.

But "Metropolis Street Racer," a production of England's Bizarre Creations for the Sega Dreamcast, isn't just another racing title. There are many fascinating aspects of the game to keep you busy for weeks.

You begin your racing career on one of three street circuits in London, San Francisco or Tokyo. Each course has a time you must beat, but there is far more involved.

To move on, you have to collect a set number of "Kudos," which are basically points for smoothness and style. But you can lose Kudos, too.

Unlike other racing games, you can't just bump into walls or bounce off trees with impunity. Hit something here and you lose Kudos. Drive erratically and you won't get any Kudos for style. A smooth, fast lap is the key to racking up Kudos, and that takes practice. A lot of practice.

That's my main complaint with "MSR," which is otherwise a gorgeous combination of excellent graphics, fine-tuned control and great sounds. The game is hard.

It took a few hours just to get the hang of scoring well. That's important, because you can't move on to additional tracks or acquire new and faster cars without a wallet full of Kudos.

Bizarre really played with the details. The game runs on Greenwich Mean Time, and matches it against your local time setting. If the time in Greenwich, England, means it's night where you are, you race in the dark.

The real backbreaker is that you often find you're a few Kudos short after running all the races in a chapter. What to do?

You have to go back and run some of the earlier races again, hoping to do better and increase your Kudo collection. But what if you clip a wall or your time is slower? Kiss some of your Kudos goodbye.

You have to try to recoup the lost Kudos, either by running that course again or by running another course. There's real pain in watching your Kudos evaporate after you make a mistake.

Graphics get an A-minus. The backgrounds and cars are gorgeously detailed, with plenty of color and atmosphere. A few demerits for the instant replay, where the cars for some reason lose the race-quality details. This game really lets the Dreamcast show off.

Control gets an A. You use the two triggers for gas and brake and the left joystick to steer. The cars are responsive and easy to guide around the track.

Sound gets an A. There is no announcing team with a handful of cliches. Instead, you hear what is supposed to be each city's local radio station, complete with DJ chatter. The effort and imagination involved are worth an A, and car and background noises are excellent.

"Metropolis Street Racer" is a finely polished jewel, and should excite both racing fans and general gamers.

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