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Vanishing Point (Dreamcast) Review

Background Info

Acclaim always seems to get a bad rap. The QB Club franchise follows them around like Pigpen's smelly funk in the Peanuts cartoon. While I have taken the advice of others to stay away from that game, I've found plenty more Acclaim titles to get excited about (well, except for the awful Ricky Carmichael motocross games). Games like Re-Volt, the Turok series, the exquisite All Star Baseball series, and even the Sega developed F355 came out of the publishing house known as Acclaim. Recently, another great title has emerged from Acclaim, Vanishing Point for the Sega Dreamcast.

Vanishing Point is a racer with a twist. Think of it as a time trialer with a purpose. You don't race directly against your opponents as in traditional racing games. Rather, they are on the course wreaking havoc while you try to reach a specified time requirement. You can consider Vanishing Point as a traditional rally game meets Crazy Taxi.

Presentation/Graphics : 90
The first time I started up Vanishing Point, I was struck by the fast pace of the game. Playing from the first person view I experienced an incredible sense of speed. Not only does the track rush by quickly in spots, but the game moves along at a high, luscious framerate. What is amazing is that Vanishing Point maintains the spectacle without pop- up, draw-in, or slowdown whatsoever. This is even more incredible when you consider that there may be as many as 4 or 5 other cars on screen during a race.

You might draw the conclusion that to maintain the consistent pace the game has to make sacrifices. Quite simply, Vanishing Point sacrifices little, if anything. Each licensed car in the game has a fair amount of detail. Bumpers, taillights, body frames and more are exact replicas of the real life Ford Explorers, Mustangs, Lotus Elises, and more.

The tracks are equally appealing. An English countryside course features brick roads in spots and a scenic backdrop. Along the course you'll find picturesque bridges and churches. No matter where you look, the textures are appealing. Some city courses incorporate convincing elevation changes. Cabled suspension bridges and tunnels come around every now and then to break up the lush green cityscape that mixes buildings and trees. About the only complaint you can find with the game is that some of the courses are too dark. Night driving had me guessing which way to turn until I turned the brightness up on the television.

Presentation/Audio : 80
Another driving game, another cheesy musical score. The music in the game follows the same mold as games like Need for Speed 3, with its somewhat techno score. While not totally objectionable, after awhile the repetitive tunes have played their course. Once you turn the tunes off, you'll hear the sounds of each licensed car. You'll instantly realize that each car has a unique engine sound. In addition to the various revs of engines, tire squeal provides feedback for the state of grip. You'll always be able to tell when you're on the brink of sliding with a convincing squeal. Where you aren't convinced about the sound is with collisions. No game has made a convincing crash sound and Vanishing Point, with its amateurish crunch sound, advances this area no further.

Interface/Options : 95
When I first got Vanishing Point, I focused on just a single mode. The menus, which are laid out simply, took me straight to the Tournament Mode, where I had my choice of a Ford Explorer or Ford Mustang. The simple menus took me from intro screen to racing quickly, and I was already having fun. With time I dabbled in the other modes in the game. Aside from the lengthy Tournament Mode, Acclaim packed plenty of other options in the game. An online Internet mode lets you post your best times to Acclaims site for bragging rights. The Single Race mode lets you race with any unlocked car on any unlocked course. The multiplayer modes, which must be unlocked, range from head to head racing to chicken runs, where players come at each other in opposite directions. In total, there are around a half-dozen multiplayer modes.

To add to the already excellent value, there is the CWG Rally mode, which is a single player race over a series of courses. Finally, there is a stunt mode where you must achieve certain goals and with a certain time to advance. The goals vary from completing a series of S-curves to hitting a jump, rolling your car through a 360, and reaching the finish safely. To be honest, each mode is fun.

Along the way you pick up cheats or unlocks for various elements in the game. Some of those include the ability to tune your car. The tuning interface is simple and has options such as tire pressure, brake bias, and suspension settings.

Gameplay : 90
I recently completed and reviewed Metropolis Street Racer for the Dreamcast. It took me awhile to get started on that game for one reason - Vanishing Point. Since picking up Vanishing Point I had been glued to the television. I initially started playing the game in the Tournament Mode. In this mode, each unlocked car has three series of heats. The first heat is a two-race series of two-lap races. After each race you are awarded points depending on your finish. If you come in first overall for the series, you unlock another feature in the game, which may be another car, a tuning option, a track, or an additional race mode. After the first series, a three-race series consisting of two-lap races awaits. Finish that in first and it's on to a three-race, three-lap-per-race, event. With 16 unlockable cars in the Tournament Mode, that's 48 racing series awaiting you.

As mentioned earlier, racing is essentially a time trial affair. Starting from a standstill, you quickly accelerate out of the blocks and hit innocent traffic. The innocents make your driving experience a hellish one. They love to dart in front of you, hit you from the side and generally make your day miserable. As you weave in and out of traffic, a timer keeps track of your lap and overall times, and a position indicator is sporadically updated to let you know where you stand against your competitors who have previously finished their runs. But there's a twist. The same competitors who've already posted their times are out on the course as well. However, these guys are even more aggressive than the innocent traffic. They are trying to protect their placing in the pecking order, and to do so they'll aggressively attack you. Not only will they also cut you off, but they'll even ram you from behind given the chance.

This form of racing may have you scratching your head, but it really works. Think of it as a combination of Crazy Taxi and Need for Speed 3. You have to attack both the course and the traffic to place highly. The end result is a unique and addictive form of racing.

At the beginning of the game, the only available cars are the Ford Mustang and Ford Explorer. Getting used to the handling of these vehicles takes time. The Explorer definitely has some handling issues due to its high center of gravity. The consistent rolling of this top-heavy vehicle is apparent. Along the way, you'll pick up additional slouches like the Ford Ranger pickup, which drives awfully. But then you'll get behind the wheel of a TVR or Lotus Elise and experience driving bliss. Each car that you win in the game offers particular advantages and disadvantages, and learning how to drive each one is part of the fun of the game.

Once I got through a significant portion of the game, I headed to the internet and tried out the online aspect of Vanishing Point. Seeing as how VP is a souped-up time trialer, it's ideally suited for the internet. When you connect to Acclaim's servers, you head to the Internet Challenge area. There you'll find a host of races which have definite begin and end times. Single and multi-race series stay on their server anywhere from one day to nearly a week. New races are always beginning and ending. Once you pick a race, a list of the top times is shown. If you feel you can place well, you can accept a challenge and drive on the course under the same conditions as everyone else on the net. The same traffic, same car, and same car setup are used for everyone. As you race the course, you are updated with your position relative to your internet competition. Once completed, you have the option of posting your time or going back for more. Once the clock runs out on the series, points are awarded. The points earned count towards your global ranking on the Acclaim website. I must confess that I was hooked for several weeks with this mode. As soon as a race would come out, I'd race it. With new races being added daily, I would spend an hour or two every night online with the game.

But alas, I realized I had to finish the game, so it was on to the other modes. After finishing the Tournament Mode, which is a challenge, I put significant time into the CWG Rally and Stunt modes. Both continued the excellent gameplay offered elsewhere in Vanishing Point. The Stunt mode is particularly fun with a variety of driving goals that must be met.

Veteran race fans should have no problem with Vanishing Point. I've heard some criticisms about the game's handling, which to be honest, is troublesome at the beginning. Any racing game has peculiarities in the handling department, and VP is no exception. However, I quickly adapted to the handling model and found a game that has fairly realistic handling. Some vehicles suffer from extreme understeer, such as the Ford Ranger, and others are too loose. You can either complain and give up or actually work at the game and find one fine racer. Those ready to give up on the game should try it with a full-sized wheel. This game was made for a wheel. You'll shave seconds off your lap times and experience unparalleled control.

Likewise, you can make some complaints about the AI competition. At times they are downright cheap. I've had my AI competition accelerate out of nowhere to ram into the back of me, sending me spinning. But overall the challenge they provide is well balanced. It avoids making the game too easy. In fact, it improves your driving skill. You quickly learn that slowing down and driving cautiously in some areas saves more time than keeping the pedal to the metal.

Replay Value : 90
Replay value is always difficult to assess. On the Dreamcast it is made even more difficult due to the incredible number of excellent racing games available. As soon as one four- or five-star racer comes out another is waiting in the wings. Racing fans can only pick these great racing games up and hope they have enough time in the day to play them.

To be honest, if I didn't already have such great racing games as Rush 2049, F355, Test Drive Le Mans, MSR, TXR, TXR2, Sega Rally 2, Test Drive V-Rally, Sega GT, and Monaco GP 2, Vanishing Point would consume every bit of my racing time. With the online component you can easily put over a hundred hours into the game. Even the offline components will keep you busy for hours on end.

If you're like me and already own all or some of those fine racers, you're facing a dilemma. If you want some advice, get this title. It's one of the most addictive racers to come out recently. Its unique approach to racing makes for a challenging game.

Overall : 90
Vanishing Point is yet another excellent racing game on the Sega Dreamcast. Racing fans should do themselves a favor and grab a copy. While Sega may be dropping the hardware end of things, Dreamcast owners can relish the fact that their console offers the best racing of any platform. The online and offline components of Vanishing Point just add to that fact. It's time to forgive Acclaim for the sins of QB Club. Vanishing Point makes forgiveness easy. This is one dandy racer.

By: James Smith 2/27/01

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