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Motorhead (PSX) Review

Background Info

In case you hadn't noticed, the Playstation has more than its share of racing titles available. And like any other market that is over-saturated, most of these games are rather unremarkable, if not downright awful. There have been a few bright spots in the PSX racing market, most noticeably Gran Tursimo, Need For Speed III and the Wipeout series. Fox Interactive and Gremlin hope to join that elite group with Motorhead, their futuristic new Playstation racer. Will they succeed, or will they end up with just another mediocre racing title set in the not-too-distant future. Let's take a look, shall we?

Presentation/Graphics : 72
Graphically, Motorhead will not blow anyone away. The game is apparently set a bit into the future, so none of the cars are recognizable; rather they are rendered as someone's idea of what cars will look like years from now. Actually, they don't look very futuristic at all, but they also don't really closely resemble any actual cars you see on the road. The designs are, frankly, pretty uninspired. There really is not much to comment on; I mean they do look different from one another, but not a whole lot. Only the color of the cars really lets you identify them as individuals. There is little if any animation to speak of on the cars; they do not take damage, and there are only 2 camera angles (a sort of bumper view and a behind-the-car view), so even seeing the tires turn is a rarity.

The tracks are also nothing to write home about. There are 8 different locales, and while they vary enough in scenery, they are not what I would call detailed. They are decent enough, and certainly serviceable, but again the word that comes to mind is uninspired. Get used to that word, you are probably going to hear it a lot in this review.

Motorhead does offer you the option to race at either 60 or 30 frames per second, though there is a trade off. While racing at 60 FPS, the cars move fluidly, the scenery zips by fairly well, and there is no slowdown to speak of. Alas, when racing in 60 FPS mode, you can only have 2 opponents to compete against. At 30 FPS, the game still runs fairly well, though the difference is noticeable. At least here you can race against up to 5 opponents. You just need to decide what is more important to you; optimal frame rates or a reasonable facsimile of actual competition.

As far as pop-up goes, the makers of Motorhead have used a sort of fog system to limit how badly it appears. This is sort of a cheap way to cover up pop-up problems in my opinion, and even if it was acceptable, it isn't even really capable of covering up all the problems. Buildings and mountains will suddenly appear out of the haze, and to me anyway, the effect is even more disquieting than normal pop-up; it is all too obvious what the makers of Motorhead are up to, and even then it is not effective.

Presentation/Audio : 60
The audio in the game is, well, uninspired. Yes, there's that word again. The sounds of the cars' engines is nothing special in the least, sounding virtually like every other generic racing game out there. The screeching of skidding tires is equally lifeless, adding nothing to the atmosphere of the game. Does the in-game audio make you feel like you are racing? No, it makes you feel like you are playing a video game. And while the visuals fail in the crash department (and let's be honest, so did Gran Turismo's), the audio is equally lacking here. Running into a concrete wall at 150+ miles per hour will result in a dull thud. That's it.

The music in Motorhead is techno, and before you can even say "Wipeout," let me set you straight; it is only techno in the most generic sense of the word. This is bottom of the barrel stuff, what some middle aged conservative white guy might consider "hip." This is the equivalent of techno elevator music. In fact, I would call it decidedly, uhm, ...uninspired.

Interface : 85
The interface for Motorhead is straightforward and easy to navigate. A speedometer-like needle takes you from one area to the next, and the layout is intuitive and simple. The standard menus are all there: one or two player racing, records and options. From there you can further tweak the game to your liking, changing the level of difficulty, the number of opponents you will face and options for setting up the controller, sound and detail levels. Interfaces are supposed to be clean and easy to use, and Motorhead's is no exception.

Gameplay : 70
Motorhead plays like most arcade racing games, only not the really GOOD ones like Rage Racer. Again, nothing in Motorhead sets it apart from the crowd. The game is analog controller compatible, and the 2 sticks are used for steering and accelerating/braking. The control is pretty tight, perhaps a bit overly so. There is very little resemblance to the simulation aspect of Gran Turismo, but being an arcade racer that's OK. What isn't okay is the way the cars take turns, which is to say a bit too well. Instead of your rear end sliding around as it should, you tend to stick to the road too much, which limits the level of power sliding that can be done. Power sliding IS possible, but it is a far cry from the Ridge Racer series. You are really better off taking a turn cautiously and braking going in, then accelerating coming out. That is fine, but since this is decidedly an arcade game at heart, I get the feeling that most of the folks interested in a game like Motorhead are gonna be disappointed in that manner of handling turns. It is almost as if the folks at Gremlin were undecided on just what kind of racing game they wanted to make.

The modes of play are pretty standard fare for today's racing games; you have time trials, a ghost-car mode that lets you race against your past previous performance, 2-player split screen mode and a league mode that rewards you with new tracks and new cars as you advance in the competition. The different cars all have their own strengths and weaknesses in the usual areas, such as top speed, acceleration and handling. The better cars are the one that are hidden, which I suppose gives you some incentive to beat the league mode.

Difficulty: 70
Thankfully, Motorhead does allow you to tweak the difficulty level a bit, but again in the usual tried-and-true racing game manners. For one, there is a variable difficulty setting which allows you to determine just how good the computer competition is. At the easiest level, they still drive a damn near perfect race, but they are a bit slower, so they can be caught and beaten with relative ease. At its most difficult, the computer drives flawlessly and so must you if you wish to have any chance at winning. And the difficulty setting does not affect the league game, so don't think you are gonna breeze through on the easy setting and open up all the cars and tracks; it is not that easy. It's also frustrating. Motorhead is by no means the first racing game that increases difficulty by making the CPU opponents drive perfectly and making you match it to even have a chance. But it is a mode of tweaking difficulty I have always despised, and I won't make an exception here. Watching the CPU drives glide around hair-pin turns with the greatest of ease immediately makes me think damn robots are driving the cars. Of course, that is actually kind of the case, but it shatters all illusions of reality.

The other way to adjust difficulty is catch-up mode. Again, this is a welcome addition, even if most racers out there today offer this as well. Catch-up mode will allow cars that fall further behind to catch up a bit easier. This can mean you, if you are lollygaging around on the track, but it will also help the CPU racers if they should fall behind (as if they need it).

The game does offer varying degrees of difficulty, and a good stiff challenge during league mode. Unfortunately, it is implemented in the most irritating of manners, the dreaded "perfect-driving computer opponent." To me, that is just taking the easy way out.

Overall : 71
In case you haven't guessed it, I can pretty much sum up Motorhead with one word: uninspired. Oh, I could use other words if you like, such as generic, sterile, mediocre or bland. They all fit. That's not to say that Motorhead is an awful game; it is not THAT bad. But it does nothing to separate it from the rest of the would-be racers out there, and it falls painfully short of the few great racing games available on the Playstation. If you are a certified racing nut, you may want to give Motorhead a look. Otherwise, beware.

By: Jim S. 1/1/99

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