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Demolition Racer (PSX) Review

Background Info

Screens (6)
Have you ever had the burning desire to just run right into that car ahead of you on the highway, but your good sense keeps you from acting like an idiot? If so, Demolition Racer gives you the ability to vent your driving frustrations in a virtual world. This arcade racer is all about destruction and mayhem. If you don't mind throwing realism out the window, this game will keep you satisfied with several fun modes of gameplay.

Presentation/Graphics : 70
When I first started Demolition Racer, my first thought was that I was playing Virtua Cop for the Sega Saturn. The buildings and scenery are, for the most part, flat textured and brightly colored. Demolition Racer definitely won't win any awards for innovative graphics. To start, the cars are not too detailed. While some of the cars have custom paint jobs and decals, they just don't come across as striking. However, the cars in the game do take damage, which is kind of obvious for a game with demolition in the title. As cars take on damage, the cars change in appearance. At a certain damage level, the hood pops up and later flies off. The odd thing is that with the hood popped up, the outside view makes it look like you wouldn't be able to see out the front window. But using the in-car view, your view is unobstructed. Taking on more damage, cars eventually start to smoke and flames come from the engine. Cars crumple, stuff flies off, things burn. Good old destruction.

The game offers several views, but probably the best for driving is the in-car view. Unfortunately, the in-car view has a problem. Cars can go airborne, and if one does and lands in front of you, the car is there, and then it isn't. It disappears all of a sudden due to some clipping problems. The glitch doesn't affect the gameplay, but it is annoying at times.

With 16 on screen cars in single player mode and 12 in two-player mode, the Playstation hardware tries to keep up. However, at the beginning of a race, there can be slowdown. In the two-player mode, the slowdown at the beginning is so great that the 3-2-1 countdown seems to drag. Pop-up and draw-in was not noticed in the game, and once you're well into a match, the pace is kept relatively constant.

Presentation/Audio : 85
As is par for the course for me, I turn the music off in driving games. When I drive for real, I'm always switching the dial until I find something I like. But video games seem to lack decent tunes to drive by. The music in Demolition Racer is brought to you by Fear Factory, Junkie XL, Empirion, and Cirrus.

Maybe I just like to hear the engine roar and tires squeal. At least the game does have great sounding game sounds. The engine sounds are believable, and as the cars take on damage, the sound of crushing metal permeates. Eventually, your tire starts to squeak like an old jalopy (or my 1988 Pontiac). On the paved courses, tires squeal going around turns. If you've got enough damage to start a fire in the engine compartment, you'd swear you could roast some marshmallows under the hood. Even though you can't see flames from the in-car camera, you know they are there with the sound effects. Lastly, one of my favorite sound effects in the game is the sound of traffic cones tumbling down the road. Demolition Racer nails the sound of the cones.

Interface/Options : 95
Demolition Racer is an easy game control-wise. The controls are limited, with steering, gas, and brake being the main controls. The brakes can be applied with the square button or by pulling back on the right analog stick, and you can pull the hand brake with the L2 button. The gas pedal is found on either the X button or by pushing the right stick forward. Camera views are changed with the triangle button, and a rear view is displayed with the R2 button. A horn, which is rarely, if ever, used, is activated with the circle button. The game was played with the traditional digital pad, a dual-shock controller, and an analog wheel. The dual-shock and the wheel provided the best control in the game, although the digital pad was manageable. The dual-shock made good use of the vibration functions. Collisions didn't overwhelm me, as I was expecting a solid jolt from the pad. However, as the damage to my car mounted, a low level of vibration could be felt, which partly redeemed the inadequate collision vibrations. Menus are easy to work through, and the manual describes everything in the menus. You couldn't ask for a better manual than what the game comes with. Every course, car, and event is described well. Game options also get their share of descriptions.

Gameplay : 95
Demolition has loads of great modes of play. Once the game starts, you have a choice of a single race or the Demolition League. In the single race mode, five different games await you, although not all are available until you complete some of the Demolition League levels.

Demolition League starts with the Rookie League, where you race in four demolition races. By default, races are three laps on a variety of tracks. You must place fifth or better in each race to move to the next race, and you have an unlimited number of attempts to win each race. Before the first race, you select a car which will be used for all four races. Your competition drives the same car, so the drivers and damage tolerance are fairly equal. You start last in a field of 16.

Once the race starts, it's a mad dash to the finish line with destruction on your mind. By hitting cars you score points, and the scoring depends on the type of hit you inflict. Points vary from 5 for a tap to 500 if you land on a car from above. Boost the speed and rear-ending a car nets 25 points, and a good solid hit to the side doubles the score to 50. Starting a fire on another car or causing it to drop out of the race yields yet higher scores. And you don't just get points with the hit. If the car you hit bumps the wall or spins, you are awarded additional points.

But inflicting damage isn't the only aspect of the game. To make the most of the damage points, you need to finish near the front of the pack. The game utilizes a dual mode of scoring. The damage points you score are multiplied by a number which depends on your final position. The higher you finish, the more you score. Thus, you can't just rush to the head of the field to get the maximum point multiplier. If you go too fast, you won't have enough damage points to multiply. Rather, the best strategy is to stay back in the pack for a few laps, banging into whatever comes near.

Just like you can cause damage to other cars, other cars can reduce your health. And each time you hit another car or hit a wall too hard, your health drops. Fortunately, there are some power-ups along the course to help out. Unfortunately, the power-ups are available to the competition too. The power-ups include a "death" box, a surprise box, a repair box, and an invincibility box. The death box explodes when you hit it, causing severe damage to your car. The surprise box contains bonus points to add to your score. The repair box replenishes some of your health, and the invincibility box makes you invulnerable for a short time. As mentioned earlier, the AI controlled cars will make a run for the power-ups, so you must be aggressive in finding them. However, running over all of the repair boxes in the first lap does no good. You can't have more health than you start with, so hitting these boxes too soon is a waste of repair points. But wait too long and it may be gone the next time around.

So you've made it through all four races on rookie level. Move up to semi-pro and you get to try it again over six courses. This time, however, you must wind up in third place or better to advance to the next race. The competition seems to get better in the more advanced class, so you need to start driving better and hitting more cars. The next level is pro, where you must place first in all eight races. Finally, the endurance league challenges you to place first in ten races. The competition is fierce, and you'll find the game very difficult in this league. The first two levels (rookie and semi-pro) are easy, and pro is a challenge, but the endurance league takes skill and a lot of luck.

The AI in the road courses is top-notch. Cars are aggressive and target you as well as the other AI cars. The cars make mistakes, seek out the power-ups, and drive unique lines. Blocking is not an issue since all the cars drive offensively. On several courses there are alternate paths, and the AI cars will split and take the different routes. With 15 AI controlled cars, the programmers did an excellent job with the variety of intelligence.

The last league competition, which is open from the game's beginning, is the Arena League. In this league, you engage in a classic bang-em-up in a demolition bowl. You and the 15 other cars start by lining up equidistantly around the circumference of the bowl. Once the green light drops, it's every man for himself as you rack up the points. Just like the race courses, the object is to score plenty of points and finish near the top of the field. In this mode, as cars lose all their health points, they are left stranded in the bowl and create obstructions on the course. With each car that drops out, your final position improves. The game ends when you've killed the last car or your health drops to zero. You must place first in all three bowl matches to advance and open up yet another mode of play.

The AI in the Arena League is outstanding. This free-for-all mode exhibits smart AI drivers that search for cars which are still working. You can't hide behind cars or sit at the edge of the course. If you do, you're a sitting duck, and another car will surely pin you and rack up the points. One strategy that works for awhile is to drive around the perimeter of the bowl, but even that eventually fails, and in the meantime you lose out on valuable points.

Once you've conquered enough leagues to open up all the game modes, you are left with five different games. Demolition Mode is identical to the road courses of the league play. Here, you select any car that has been unlocked (there are 8 cars with different strengths and weaknesses) and race on any unlocked course. There are 10 different road courses, all with unique characteristics and various fun factors. One of my favorites is Parking Lot Pile Up, which is a city course that runs through a multi-story parking garage. This course features good grip and 90 degree turns. Courses vary in length, and the average time to complete a lap is under two minutes.

In The Chase, the emphasis is one defensive driving and finishing first. For a game where destruction is rewarded, this mode is out of place, but can be challenging. You need to avoid collisions to survive. An interesting and fun game mode is the Chicken race. Here, you race the other 15 cars, but they are going in the opposite direction! The goal is cross the finish line first, which is easy except for the oncoming, aggressive traffic. The Arena League is replicated in the Last Man Standing mode. Finally, Suicide mode puts you in the bowl but with a twist. You don't want to be the last man standing, but the first with a dead car. Sixteen cars simultaneously smash each other trying to inflict the most damage on themselves. Running into walls doesn't rack up points fast enough, so you'll have to find other cars willing to hit you. It's a novel concept, but not as fun as the Last Man Standing mode.

I can't rave enough about the fun factor in the game. However, there is one glaring problem, which may or may not aggravate the gamer. Control, especially on some of the off-road courses, is suspect. The game does not claim to be a simulation, and full arcade response is everywhere. Cars bounce off the sides easily, and a direct hit on a car can send you spinning. For those familiar with Activision's Grand Tour Racing 98, you'll recognize the bouncy nature of the cars, especially the Indy cars in that title. You would think it would get better with the cars that supposedly have better control (one of the discriminators for the 8 cars), but I noticed little difference in control from one car to the next. Some of the courses feature narrow roads with several turns, which compounds the problem. In the single race mode, however, you can bypass these courses and concentrate on the more playable ones. But the problem lies in the league modes, where some of these courses must be finished to continue. Fortunately you can try the courses ad infinitum, and once complete, instantly save before going to the next course.

So despite the control issues with the cars on some of the courses, Demolition Racer is loads of fun. If you were ever a fan of games like Bump 'N Jump or even the Twisted Metal series, this game should appeal to you. The five game modes offer plenty of entertainment, especially the bowl competitions, demolition races, and the chicken contest.

Replay Value : 75
If you give it your best, the game can be beaten in a few days, which means you've unlocked all of the cars, courses, and game modes. In that sense, there is not too much in terms of gameplay. However, the game offers replay value in another way - it's fun. When going through the league play, you'll find yourself saying you'll play just one more time, again and again.

Even games like Need for Speed are relatively easy but yet they continue to beckon us to play them over and over. Demolition Racer is similar. You won't necessarily play it day after day, but when you spot it in your game library and are in a certain mood, you'll pop it in and enjoy it. I know I'll continue to play it, especially after a tough drive home after work. It's much better (and legal) to take your driving frustrations out on the TV than on the roads. So while the game won't be in your Playstation constantly, if offers enough replay value to make it in there every now and then.

Overall : 84
As mentioned, the graphics in Demolition Racer would not be considered as superior to other Playstation titles. However, games are all about the gameplay, and in this capacity, Demolition Racer succeeds. The unpredictability of the AI cars ensures that you will never always come in first. If you can look past the quirky and touchy control of the cars, you'll uncover a true arcade racer that offers several excellent game modes.

By: James Smith 11/9/99

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