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Vanishing Point (PSX) Review

Background Info

The back of the jewel case for Vanishing Point on the PlayStation states, "It's not just racing!" How right they are. Vanishing Point is a unique blend of racing and evasion. The basic premise of the game is to have the best time in a time trial sort of mode with a twist - traffic. Innocent traffic and your rivals do their best to knock you silly as you speed through numerous levels. You do this with one of the over 30 licensed cars and in a variety of modes. It may not sound like much, but trust me when I tell you this is one of the best racing games to come out in recent months.

Presentation/Graphics : 100
I played the Dreamcast version of Vanishing Point extensively. I collected all the available cars and opened up every option imaginable in the game. One thing I can definitely state is that I grew accustomed to the graphics of the Dreamcast version. I had guarded anticipation when the PlayStation version of the game arrived. I faced going from the wonderful textures of the Dreamcast to the blocky, pixelated graphics of the PlayStation. I feared the worst and discovered the best.

Acclaim better get a stranglehold on developer Clockwork Games. Simply put, Vanishing Point is one of the nicest racers I've seen on the PlayStation in terms of total graphical quality. I know each track forwards and backwards from the 128-bit version of the game, and the venerable 32-bit PSX recreates each one exactly the same. Tracks with animated planes and trains have the same look and feel, albeit a little cruder. The static graphics such as buildings, bridges, and trees have convincing looks to them as well. The cars have about the same quality as you'd expect from titles like Gran Turismo.

But what impressed me the most about the PlayStation version of the game is that I have yet to notice any pop-up or draw-in in the game. The developers did a tremendous job of hiding these artifacts behind tunnels and turns such that once you make a curve or pop over a hill the images flow naturally. Furthermore, this smooth action is accompanied by a pleasing frame rate with no slowdown. Most of the time there may only be another car on the track so you expect nothing but the best from the PSX, but even with 3 or 4 more cars on screen the game keeps an incredible look. I even prefer the brighter Red Rock Canyon and Midnight Highway courses in the PSX version over the darker DC version.

About the only complaint you can make about the graphics is that the obvious texture limitations of the PSX are apparent. But in all honesty my jaw dropped when I saw what my old PSX could do. The only other time I felt this way was the very first time I played Gran Turismo when it first came out. If my jaw can drop for a PSX title in this day and age of Dreamcasts and PS2's, it deserves a perfect graphical score.

Presentation/Audio : 80
The parallels between the DC and PSX versions continue in the audio department. This is unfortunate as the music, comprised of techno-style instrumental tracks, gets repetitive and annoying. I quickly turned the music down to hear the roar of engines as I hit the gas pedal. Heading around curves, tires would squeal if I was getting close to sliding. Vanishing Point also has nice stereo sound that gives you an audible clue when traffic is approaching from behind. The sound is good, but games like Need for Speed or Gran Turismo have slightly better audio packages.

Interface/Options : 95
Vanishing Point has 5 single-player modes and an equal number of multiplayer modes. Many of the modes must be unlocked, which gives you an incentive to complete the game. Single-player modes include the main Tournament mode, a single-race mode, time trial, a fun Stunt Driver mode, and an appealing CWG Rally mode (basically a time trial mode against unseen opponents). The multiplayer modes include head-to-head racing, knockout tournaments, and a "winner stays on" mode.

In the Tournament mode you must win each of three heats with 16 different cars. Along the way cars and tune-up options are unlocked. The tuning options range from air pressure to suspension stiffness, and each item is adjusted with simple menus. Unfortunately, the tuning options aren't well discussed in the otherwise excellent manual that accompanies the game.

Other significant options include the ability to customize the sound, graphics, and control scheme. The default control scheme is more than adequate with the exception of the hand brake location, which is targeted to the R1 button. The game supports analog controllers. At first I found the control with the analog stick too difficult to manipulate. I switched to digital controls and quickly made my way through the first two cars in the game (Ford Mustang and Explorer). Once additional vehicles were made available, I switched back to the analog stick and was pleased with the response.

Gameplay : 90
As mentioned, the Tournament mode is the main mode of Vanishing Point. In this mode you begin with the Ford Mustang and Explorer. Initially the vehicles control as if they were on ice. Many gamers will toss the game aside not knowing what lies ahead. As you progress through the 2 two-lap races, you unlock another vehicle. Win the second heat, consisting of 3 two-lap races, and you open another option and the right to compete in the final 3 three-lap races. To finish the Tournament mode, you must complete 3 heats with each of the 16 cars. That's 48 heats, 128 races, and no less than 304 laps for you to finish. Phew!

The racing is a glorified time trial scenario. 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 place 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.

The handling in the game is a function of the vehicle being driven at the moment. The initial Ford Explorer is a tough drive 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 while it has less roll, has its own sluggish feel from significant understeer. But then you'll get behind the wheel of a TVR or Lotus Elise and experience driving bliss. Cars like the BMW 328 offer a nice balance. 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.

The AI of your competition comprises a major challenge of the game. Initially the AI rivals, which are distinguished from regular traffic by the triangles which float over their cars, kind of tag along for the ride and occasionally get in your way by blocking or brushing against you. Eventually, however, the AI cars get more aggressive and border on being 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.

If you venture into the other modes of the game, you'll find more great play. The CWG Rally is an extension of the Tournament mode. Here you race a set of courses with no traffic. To advance you must complete the heat in a specified time. The Stunt Driver mode is a blast. This multi-stage mode requires you to complete an objective in a certain amount of time. By performing well and finishing early you earn maximum points, and each event is scored out of 100. To advance to another stage you must accumulate a predetermined amount of points. The objectives include things like jumping off a ramp for distance, completing a series of S-curves, and completing short circuits.

Replay Value : 90
Some cars, due to tough handling, make the game a bear to play. But if you like a challenge you'll learn how to drive each car effectively enough to complete every heat. With 128 races that increase with difficulty, the game has plenty of replay potential. The value comes in with courses that are well designed and intense racing. The stunt, rally, and multiplayer modes just add to the value of the game.

Overall : 90
Vanishing Point is not Acclaim's answer to Gran Turismo. While it has somewhat realistic handling, the game is really an arcade racer at heart. The racing can be tough at times, so gamers who don't want to be challenged should get out of the way for true race fans such as myself. It's a nice complement to one of my favorite PSX racers - Need for Speed Hot Pursuit. Both titles share a common ingredient - they are both fun. The excellent graphics make the game even better.

By: James Smith 3/5/01

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