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Metropolis Street Racer (DC) Review

Background Info

Screens (13)

Proclaimed as one of the most innovative racing games ever, Bizarre Creations and Sega finally get Metropolis Street Racer (MSR) for the Sega Dreamcast out the door. MSR has been one of the most delayed titles on the next generation consoles, and with all the delays you would expect the perfect game. While it's not perfect, it is one heck of a ride.

MSR's hook is the use of the Kudos system. If you head to Webster's, you find a formal definition of the word along with a brief history of its origin. To save time Sega gives you its three-part definition, which basically states that kudos is respect or honor conferred on someone who basically kicks butt. That's your mission in MSR - kick butt. In a racing game, this means win and win with style. And you'll be racing with fully licensed cars to no end. MSR is packed with over 200 routes in London, Tokyo, and San Francisco. That's a lot of racing.

Presentation/Graphics : 70
During the development of MSR, Bizarre Creations traveled to the three cities in the game and snapped several thousand pictures. Their goal was to make this game the single most geographically realistic game ever. For the most part they succeeded. Having been to London recently, I immediately recognized places I've been to such as Trafalgar Square, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace, and more. Each building was in the right spot and with the correct trimmings. You could even spot the statues outside of Westminster Abbey, though I must admit to not finding the one of George Washington. I don't know, maybe the British development team is still pissed off about that whole revolution thing. If you take a leisurely drive through any of the venues, you'll quickly realize that the detail is incredible. Tokyo is filled with bright colors, intricate iron gates, and nice blossom trees.

Unfortunately, it's the incredible detail which brings the game down. For the most part, the game plays wonderfully at a consistent rate and at 30 frames per second. However, the exception comes when you race in the rain or fog. Fog looks like something out of a Scooby Doo episode, and cars have a funky glow about them. In the rain, the water drops fall on the windshield and tires leave tracks in the road. You can't complain about the attention to detail. The problem is that all these things coupled with a few extra cars and the detailed trackside graphics tend to bring the game down to a crawl. On one particular San Francisco course, I swear I was driving on a slick surface in slow motion. Trying to correct for oversteer was next to impossible. It's so bad that I actually dread racing in the rain, not because the added difficulty of slick conditions but because the game takes a nosedive in performance. The graphical score has to take a hit for this sole reason. You can expect probably 10 to 20 percent of the races to be afflicted with slowdown. The only other negative graphically is that the game plays too dark at night. London has little lighting, especially in St. James park. Trying to find corners was particularly difficult, so I ended up turning the brightness on my television to the maximum to see the road.

You can race MSR with a variety of views. The default view is a third person view which I can't stand. Giving the impression of skating across the streets, I scrambled to find a first person view. The game has a couple of them, but both are situated on the hood or bumper. There is no in-car view like Test Drive Le Mans, CART, or Test Drive V-Rally. By default, the rear view mirror is not turned on. There are two mirrors available, a medium and high resolution mirror. Hearing that turning the mirror on can affect the pace of the game, I opted for the medium resolution mirror, which was more than adequate for the task. While you may be able to get a graphical boost with the mirror off, as you progress through the game you'll absolutely need to use it.

Presentation/Audio : 85
During the game's development, I heard plenty of the radio feature of MSR. You can customize the sound track to feature the tunes you like to listen to. Unfortunately, I don't like the tunes in the game, so I immediately turned it off. Besides, one of my biggest beefs with game companies is putting music in racing games. Whether is NASCAR and its awful Southern rock track or F355 and its horrendous '80s hair metal track, these games should stay away from music. Ever see a radio in a stock, Indy, or F1 car? Didn't think so. While you have production cars in MSR, the feeling is the same. Let me concentrate on the driving.

Once the music is turned off, you'll hear a symphony of wonderful car sounds. Every car has a unique sound as the engine revs. Audible tire squeal lets you know when you lose grip on a turn. In St. James park, as you rush by trees you hear nice dimensional effects of the staggered trunks. Likewise, you'll always know on which side a car is approaching. There is even ambient noise in the background that is subtle but adds to the realism of the game. If you listen closely on the Fisherman's Wharf courses, you'll hear an occasional horn blow from an offshore boat.

Interface/Options : 80
Upon starting MSR, you are asked if your Dreamcast has the correct time. You are then asked to specify the time zone in which you want to play. MSR uses this information to have you race in a particular locale at the current time. Being in Texas, if I play MSR at six o'clock in the evening, the London courses will be under the cover of dark at midnight, and the courses on the west coast will be two hours behind. Once the time is set, the main menu lets you go to your garage (where you can try out and gain available cars), race in the Street Attack mode, take part in a time attack, set up a race of your own, play against real competition, set some options, or head to the internet.

One option includes controller configuration. Several mappings are available, but unfortunately you can't customize the button layout. Playing with a manual transmission was tricky at first due to the poor gear up and down locations. The default is to use the X and B buttons for the gears. Every other Dreamcast game I have played uses the X-A or A-B pairings. It was actually kind of traumatic for me. The game supports steering wheels, but honestly the game plays and responds better with the standard controller.

Gameplay : 85
There are few games that have given me physical pain. Pain is a good thing. It means the game is incredibly fun and addicting. Games that have made my all-pain list in the past year include Sega's Virtua Tennis and Acclaim's Dave Mirra Freestyle BMX, both on the Dreamcast. MSR now joins that elite list.

The main mode in MSR is the Street Racing mode. In this mode, there are 25 chapters, and to advance to another chapter you need to acquire a certain number of Kudos. Each chapter has 10 races, divided into time trials, one-on-one's, unique challenges, and multi-car (2 to 5 other AI cars) races. The challenges include things like passing a certain number of cars before the clock expires, lapping an opponent, or reaching a certain speed. You earn Kudos with skill, style, and gambling. Each race has a specified goal, and by beating that goal you earn skill Kudos. If you desire, you can raise the goal and if you beat it you earn even more Kudos. You also earn points for style, which means running clean laps, powersliding, and overtaking. Finally, along the way you earn Jokers, which when played double your award if the goal is met. Of course you can also lose Kudos by hitting your opponents or walls.

Racing is done with any available licensed car. You are provided a few garage slots, but to earn a car you must complete a particular challenge. Each car has a specified car performance factor (CPF). The CPF is an indicator of a car's top speed, handling, and acceleration, and it factors into the Kudos you are awarded. If you race against competition with a higher CPF you'll be rewarded. If your CPF dwarfs the competition, you'll earn less. As you progress through the game, you'll no doubt need to switch cars. If you eventually run out of open garage slots and have to trade a car in, you'll lose a portion of the Kudos won with the car. Thus, the game rewards those who stick it out and improve their driving skills with the lesser cars.

Each car handles differently. The obvious area is power. The early cars accelerate like my 1994 Saturn. That is, slowly. But there is also a distinct difference in the handling of front-wheel-, rear-wheel-, and all-wheel-drive cars. Front-wheelers have a definite understeer problem. On one particular challenge, I thought the Toyota Celica would put me over the top, but its understeer was so severe that I couldn't carry my speed through right angle turns. Rear wheel drive cars can oversteer, which has the positive effect of powersliding to maintain speed and earn style points. Unfortunately, the cars are showroom stock, and as such you can't customize them. In fact, once you put a car in your garage, you can't even switch from manual to automatic transmission. You need to make that decision prior to earning the car, just like real life.

On the courses you'll experience AI cars which have some unique driving skills. If there is a fault to the game, it lies with the AI. Not only are you penalized for hitting other cars, but the AI cars will often bump into you and kill your Kudos score even when you have the inside position on a turn. Also, when AI cars are behind they possess magical catch-up powers. An AI car may crash and be five seconds behind at any given point. Don't let your confidence stay high, however, as the AI car will reach you quickly. Furthermore, nothing is more frustrating when you race an equally performing car only to be out-accelerated on the straights.

Replay Value : 100
I have yet to finish MSR and I've put well over 20 hours into the game. With some 250 races to complete I envision this game taking some 30 to 50 hours to complete the Street Racing mode. If you are a racing fan, the racing will never get old. The street courses are an absolute joy to traverse, and the driving is an improved Ridge Racer powerslide model but for the Dreamcast. Since picking this game up I've bought another 4 or 5 games and have yet to even crack the plastic on them. MSR had to wait until I finished my other racer du jour, the excellent Vanishing Point from Acclaim, but once I popped it in I was hooked. The addictive racing even overcomes the really poor slowdown on some courses and questionable AI. MSR is simply another title in the incredible list of racing games for the Sega Dreamcast.

Overall : 90
I feel the hype surrounding the game was warranted. Visually MSR is second to none with highly detailed environments. Significant slowdown occurs on some courses, but it does not diminish the overall enjoyment of the game. Likewise, the AI can be bullish at times, but with cunning driving you can beat them at their own game. The street courses are challenging and fun whether you drive solo or against competition. MSR is yet another winning racing title from Sega.

By: James Smith 2/12/01

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