No Fear Downhill Mountain
Presentation/Graphics : 65
I've been playing a fair amount of Dreamcast games lately, so obviously I was a little underwhelmed with the graphics of this particular PlayStation title, to say the least. Yet, even when compared to a first-generation PlayStation game, No Fear still seems to come up short in the graphics department. The background graphics have a very grainy and murky appearance, and the riders themselves are rather strange-looking. There are also generous amounts of draw-in, pop-up, and instances of bad collision detection on each trail, accompanied by weak lighting and skid effects.
Then there is the crowd--or should I say pixelated cardboard cutouts? I don't understand why developers add these ugly monstrosities to games, since they tend to detract more from the visual experience than they add to it. If a system or game engine cannot display decent-looking spectators, leave them out of the game. It's that simple.
Another issue I have with the graphics concerns the plentiful amount of No Fear logos littered throughout the game. Granted, the name, No Fear, appears in the title and is a major sponsor of the game, but it's really ridiculous to see No Fear ad banners everywhere you look (most apparent during the instant replays). Heck, even before you start the race, you will be greeted with a huge, pixelated No Fear banner. Still, this is hardly the only game that is guilty of gratuitous advertisements (Jet Moto instantly comes to mind).
Luckily, the graphics do have some redeeming qualities, although they are few and far between. Though the riders do look very goofy (due to awkward-looking texture-mapped faces pasted onto low-poly bodies), they are all nicely animated. I would have to say these are the best animated characters ever to appear in a mountain bike racing game, but considering this is the only mountain bike racing game available for the system, that isn't saying much. Nevertheless, each character/rider has a variety of animations that cover every facet of mountain bike riding. >From quick pedaling, to placing a foot down on the ground during a sharp turn, every animation is displayed with remarkable smoothness. The frame rate is steady and consistent, and there is a surprising amount of speed that can be reached on each trail. Replays are also nicely done and capture the spirit of the race from a variety of camera angles. Unfortunately, you cannot save them to a memory card.
Overall, though, the graphics fail to capture the essence of the great outdoors. While the riders are decent-looking and the frame rate and animation better than average, No Fear's environments are almost painful to look at and hardly push the PlayStation to its limits. This is most prominent while racing on a trail called "Sunshine Forest," which just happens to be one of the darkest and ugliest courses ever seen in a PlayStation racing game. At this point in the PlayStation's life and development cycle, it's hard not to expect the very best in terms of graphical performance from the system, which is something No Fear doesn't even seem to attempt. Thankfully, graphics don't necessarily make or break a game, so all hope is not yet lost....
Presentation/Audio : 60
As bad as No Fear's graphics are in most respects, the terrible music and sound effects can't even one up them. Let's start with the music. What we have here is some very generic techno, with a total of maybe one or two decent songs. The in-game music fails to excite or keep pace with the on-screen action. (Remember, this is supposed to be a fast, rugged, no-fear type of racing experience and not a futuristic hovercraft racer like Wipeout.) Needless to say, the music seems a bit out of place. I would have preferred some good ol' rock music to better suit the on-screen action and rough 'n' tough style of gameplay. I enjoy listening to techno music in games, but in this case some rockin' tunes would have helped to spice up the action and gameplay a bit.
No Fear's sound effects fare somewhat better, but they aren't anything special and will hardly stand out among the countless number of high-quality-sounding PlayStation games. Ironically, the problems with the sound effects are that they seem to be lacking effects. Quality wise, they sound OK (the surround sound is pretty cool, if you have a decent setup), but there is a real lack of atmospheric sounds. If you turn the music off (which is something you'll probably want to do), you won't hear much in the way of sound, other than some occasional stock-sounding crowd cheers, low-key bike sounds, and a heavy pant or two coming from your rider as he or she tires. Some sound effects like thunder, or the sound a character makes when he or she falls off the bike, are on the verge of laughable. In addition, many of the sound effects lack variation. There were points in the game where I deliberately tried to execute a spectacular crash to see whether the character would let out any sound other than a simple "ugh!" No such luck. And if your rider happens to fall into some flowing rapids, don't expect to hear the sound of splashing water. It's these types of subtleties that No Fear lacks.
Just like its graphics, No Fear's music and sound effects are simply lackluster, with very little to help distinguish or set them apart from a first-generation game. So far, it seems that there is a great deal to fear about No Fear Downhill Mountain Bike Racing (pardon the pun), but don't stop reading here because things start to pick up for the game in the remaining departments--which are arguably more important anyway.
Interface/Options : 80
No Fear has several modes of play and a nice selection of options to boot. There are both single- and multi-player modes to choose from, with up to four players being able to participate in certain multi-player modes. Here is a quick rundown of the modes:
Menus are clean and easy to navigate, although there is some hard-to-read text present due to the low-resolution. Loading times will vary throughout the game, but all in all, they are fairly average. There is some information posted on the loading screen about the particular trail you will race on, so at least you don't have to stare at a dark screen between races.
Options consist of a screen adjust, controller configuration, music & effects volume (can also choose between mono, stereo, and surround sound), music selection (thankfully you can turn the music off), memory card load & saves, and an option to play any of the videos you have unlocked.
You can use analog or digital control to play the game, but must use the digital pad to navigate through the menus, regardless of whether or not you're in analog mode. I found this to be a little strange, since most PlayStation games that support analog control allow the user to navigate the menus with the analog stick. This isn't that big a deal, but it still feels a little bit weird, especially if you are accustomed to playing games that allow the analog stick to be used in every area of the game. The game also supports Namco's NeGcon controller, for those of you who actually own one.
To intensify your downhill racing experience, you have the option of choosing between four available views, including a first-person view, an even more realistic handle bar view, and two third-person views, which will provide a more accurate read of the trail. At anytime during the race, a quick press of the select button will instantly change your view of the action.
The only major problem I have with the interface deals with the inability to save a game after an individual heat during the Championship mode. As you will find out in the next section, the Championship mode is very tough and unforgiving as it is, but if you happen to lose a race during the second or third heat on a particular trail, you must start from the beginning.
There is a piece of inaccurate information on the back of the jewel case that I feel I should mention. It states that you can race against up to 16 riders, which is simply untrue. As you will find out in the next section, gameplay consists of racing against a single computer or human opponent.
Gameplay : 78
Since I already mentioned the different modes of the game, I'll get right down to what works and what doesn't work for the gameplay. I'll be focusing most of my attention on the Championship mode, which is the main mode of the game.
All races consist of racing against a single opponent. This shouldn't be viewed as a negative, since the trails themselves (of which there are about two dozen loosely based on locations around the world) provide a hefty challenge and prove to be the real opponents of the game. The problems with these extremely narrow trails are they contain many sharp turns, unexpected jumps, and graphical blunders, which forces the player to know the trails like the back of his or her head before winning a race on them. This will require plenty of trial and error to find out where precious seconds can be shaved off to maintain a lead over your opponent. There will also be varying weather conditions and time of day changes to contend with as you advance, but the time of day has more of an effect on the race than a rain shower does. In fact, races that take place during cloudy conditions or late evenings hinder gameplay because the graphics appear even more dark and murky than they already are. This makes it hard to distinguish between turns and potential crash inducers like trees or rocks.
Speaking of crashes, every time you crash or fall off the bike, the screen will appear black for a split second or two after the moment of impact. While this helps to speed up gameplay so you don't have to watch and wait for your rider to get back on his or her bike (like in Road Rash), it takes away from the crashes, especially the ones that are grandiose in nature (i.e., falling into raging rapids).
In all, there are a total of eight riders to choose from (two of which must be unlocked in Championship mode), each with their own individual stats that cover four areas: Power, Stamina, Recovery, and Balance. There is a mixture of male and female characters, but none of them are professional mountain bike riders. This may be a downer for those who follow the sport, but since it isn't exactly the most popular of sports, this exclusion is to be expected. While you may be apt to pick a male character who has a lot of power and stamina, there will be a female character who has stronger stats for balance and recovery. It's up to you to decide which will be more important during the race (Hint: power isn't always the most important attribute). Your character's stats will never increase, so the best you can hope to do to improve their racing ability is to win some bike upgrades or plan out a more strategic race.
And you will need to do just that if you plan to beat the CPU. While the computer-controlled opponents are not impossible to beat, they aren't nearly as affected by crashes or rough trail conditions as much as you are. As you advance in heats and difficulty level, this will become more apparent.
In order to win bike upgrades, you must win three heats on a particular trail in the Championship mode. This is easier said than done because, without the ability to save your progress between heats, you must start from the beginning of the first heat if you lose during the second or third. Once won, the bike upgrades will allow you to customize your bike to suit the terrain and condition of the trails better. You will receive upgrades for the following areas of your bike: tires, gear ratio, brakes, front & rear suspension, frame, and wheels. Make sure to use your upgrades wisely, though, because you will only make things harder for yourself if you equip the upgrades improperly. For instance, if racing on an icy trail, make sure to equip your bike with tires that have the most amount of grip. Also, be aware that each bike upgrade has its own advantage and disadvantage. A better set of brakes may equal better braking, but it may be at the expense of a rider's energy level, since it will add some weight to the bike.
There are really only three main buttons that you'll need to worry about during most of the races: front brakes, rear brakes and accelerate/pedal. By pressing up or down on the analog or digital pad, your rider will lean forward or backward respectively, which helps when traveling up or downhill. As a matter of fact, correctly using the forward and backward lean may help shave some precious seconds off your time.
There is also a trick button, which must be held down while a button combination is pressed and then released immediately after to execute the trick (superman, 360, tabletop, etc.). Most of the tricks are throwaways and should only be used on the trick trail and not during competition, especially if you plan to win any races.
The most important aspect of No Fear Downhill Mountain Bike Racing is braking--or to be more exact, the lack of braking. Just like its real-life counterpart, braking must be used conservatively to gain the advantage. You should only use your rear brakes when absolutely necessary. (The front brakes can be used a little bit more often, as they won't have a significant impact on your speed.)
Also, you will constantly have to monitor your rider's energy meter (located on the bottom right of the screen), which lets you know how tired your rider is. You will want to keep the meter from reaching the red zone by making sure to pedal at appropriate times only. In other words, don't expand important energy while coasting down a hill or flying off a jump. If the meter reaches the red zone, you will notice that your rider slows down a considerable amount and cannot reach his or her top speed. A heavy breathing sound effect will also let you know when your rider is getting tired, which ends up being more helpful in monitoring your rider's energy level than the energy meter itself.
Control is fair, but not as tight as it could be. No Fear is fully dual shock compatible and has some satisfying vibration effects as well. I originally played the game using analog control exclusively, figuring it would offer the best control. After much testing, I found that the digital control was tighter and allowed for easier forward and backward leaning. Still, you have the option of adjusting the sensitivity of the analog controller in the options menu, so if you have an analog controller, you'll need to experiment a bit.
Replay Value : 80
No Fear definitely packs in plenty of replay value--at least in theory. With its three difficulty levels, multi-player modes, close to two dozen trails on which to race, large number of bike upgrades, and eight total characters with varying abilities, No Fear will keep you playing for quite some time, if you can overlook the previously mentioned flaws in this review.
Unfortunately, the multi-player modes are null and void due to the small size of the two squares that separate the action, with even more atrocious graphics awaiting you and your friend(s). While it's nice to have multi-player modes in any type of game, they must be playable to add to the replay value.
As mentioned earlier in my review, there are special Competition Access Codes (CAC for short) that can be entered in the time trial mode. These CAC's can only be obtained from Codemasters' official website and will unlock special competitions hidden within the game. Prizes and/or special recognition (name listed in the "Hall of Fame") will be awarded to the player if his or her time is good enough. However, these competitions will be raced under set conditions, so you will not be able to use any of the special bike upgrades or characters that you have unlocked in the Championship mode. Cheat codes and GameShark codes are also useless here. Check out Codemasters' site for more information and to find out what the latest CAC is. The CAC's are a nice touch, and an incentive to keep practicing and playing the game.
Overall : 75
When it comes down to it, No Fear Downhill Mountain Bike Racing will probably appeal more to fans of the sport, or those who find it intriguing, than it will to those who are looking for a quick arcade romp. It's a challenging, and sometimes frustrating, game that requires prior knowledge of each trail and bike upgrade, as well as knowing when to brake and let up on the pedal button to conserve energy. Don't expect much in the way of graphics or sound, but don't let the below-average presentation get to you either. If you stick with it for a while, No Fear Downhill Mountain Bike Racing will start to grow on you and become one of the more unique and rewarding racing experiences available for your PlayStation.
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