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NFS Porsche Unleashed (PC)
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New PC Screens(6)

PC Screens(7)

The latest installment of the Need for Speed series from Electronic Arts introduces some new elements to the game play and, as the name suggests, focuses on the products of the Stuttgart sports and racing powerhouse all the way from their origins in the late '40s to today's GT series racing models.

I received an Alpha version of the game recently and so this will be a preview of the game, whetting your appetite for the release of the game, scheduled for Spring of this year.

Need for Speed (NfS) is the most successful arcade-style racing game produced and with Porsche Unleashed, they are not tampering with what has made the game popular in the past, but rather have focused on improving and adding some fresh twists to the formula.

If you've been thinking about getting a big new hard drive, this might be the time. NfS requires a full 600 megs for installation and an additional 100 megs for runtime use. Software rendering is not supported -- Voodoo 2 or 3, or TNT2 is required as is Direct X 7. Wimpy systems need not apply.

Once I cleared all the junk off my hard drive to make room for this monster, however, the installation went well.

The game I received is still in Alpha, and the enclosed handout warned that graphics had not yet been optimized. There were some purple or pink blotches, and a few amusing works in progress such as trees that sprouted from the sides of hills and then turned upward at an angle. But the potential for something really good is obvious. Especially nice is Schwarzwald, with picturesque forested areas and a logging camp to explore.

Other tracks include:

    Cote d'Azur -- everything here is a strange shade of purple, which will probably change by the final version of the game. This track runs along a scenic coastline.

  • Pyrennees -- Oddly featureless with wide pavement and sweeping curves. Seems like a track best suited for the really fast cars.

  • Alpes Provence -- You start out on dry pavement, but along the way it starts to snow and soon the ground is covered until you go back down the mountain again. One thing that struck me as odd is that no matter how fast or slow you are going, the snow flakes move at the same speed on the screen. Again, easily tweaked prior to release, I'd guess.

  • Autobahn -- Another track for the supercars with lots of on and off ramps. Watch out for the killer toll booth.

  • Auvergne -- This track was my least favourite. The majority of the time, you are in an endless village of nearly-identical grey buildings on one side and a wall on the other. Hopefully this track will undergo more scenic development before release.

  • Normandie -- If you have raced the GPL Spa track, this will look familiar.

  • Zone Industrielle -- It's a city right out of Blade Runner and Greenpeace's worst nightmare with chemical tanks spewing vapours under a leaden sky. The only gripe I have is that it seems that it would have been more realistic to have had narrower streets with 90-degree intersections like a normal city. What we have is like a regular road in an urban setting. Still, this track is right up there with Schwarzwald for the most visually appealing in the game. Especially nice is the dock section. And to show that the designers have a sense of humour, the segment ends in a wrecker yard between piles of crushed cars.

  • Corsica -- This is the track with the widest choice of paths and the one that I drove the most in my testing. Lots of tunnels -- Freud would love this game -- and even a triple waterfall.

Additionally, there is a skid pad and three tracks identified as Monte Carlo 1, 2 and 3 that were not usable in this version, but provide great hope for the final version.

Another interesting graphic element is in the menu. When you choose your car, the player can click on the car to open the hood, trunk and doors and zoom in for a 360-degree view of the interior. This is a nice touch, but in a game that is so huge, I wonder how much space they could have saved by making this optional. It's not something you're going to use more than once or twice anyway and is mainly a showcase for EA's new 4-point physics model. If the tracks are eye candy, this is just junk food.

The sound effects seem to be up to the quality of the rest of the game, which is to say they are just fine. Each car has its own engine sound and the effects are realistic but not really anything that strikes me as really outstanding.

Setup is easy and complete including options for joystick, keyboard and wheel. I was able to setup and calibrate my wheel first time with no hassles, but if you create a new player, the procedure must be repeated.

There are several modes of play, but in this Alpha version of the game, the only one stable enough to use was the single-player, single race version.

First, the player chooses his weapon among 15 different Porsches, though the handout mentioned that in the final version of the game, 80 choices will be available.

Here are the cars in this version:

    356 Convertible
    356 Coupe
    '72 911S
    '78 911 Turbo
    '89 Carrera 4
    '89 Carrera 2
    '94 911 Carrera
    '95 911 Turbo 3.6

The physics engine in Porsche Unleashed is completely new from the one used in High Stakes, and though work in modeling the cars' performance is not yet complete, it's already pretty darned good. There is a clear difference in the the feel of the different cars -- the 356 is like my old Volkswagen Beetle while the GT3 racer is just that, a solid and powerful race car that chops the corners with verve and precision. In between, there is the tight-handling but underpowered 914, the tail-happy Turbo, and the nimble Boxster. I really liked the feel of the 928.

One final note about the cars is that for the models where the graphics hadn't been finished for the Alpha, the car that appeared on-screen looks exactly like a Trabant! It was quite a sight to watch the replay and see a Trabie leaping and broad sliding down the track.

Once you've chosen your car, pick the track and whether you wish to run it forward, backward or mirrored in either direction. The handout says that you can also choose night or inclement weather but that feature wasn't available in Alpha.

Events consist of 1 to 8 laps either alone or against up to 7 opponents. Skill level for the AI is either beginner, advanced or blow-your-doors-off great. You can also choose light, moderate, heavy or no traffic.

The civilian traffic consists of cars, buses and trucks, and the latter never seem to go above 5 mph. The cars and buses, on the other hand can drive like absolute maniacs -- in one notorious incident at Corsica, I turned into a tunnel to find a bus slithering from side to side and finally turning over onto its side. Then another bus came along and sandwiched me...

Since the number of AI drastically affected the frame rate, I'll save my comments on racing the computer cars for the final version. Network and Internet play will also be available.

In addition to the single-race, there will also be evolution (career), factory driver and knockout modes in the final version of the game.

There is a force-feedback option and the player chooses from four views -- front bumper (with or without HUD), in-car, chase and helicopter. Screen resolutions are available from 640x480 up to 1024x768. I ran the 800x600 and at the tracks where the frame rate had been optimized, it was very acceptable on my P2/400.

With all the options available from different cars to weather to time of day and many tracks available with different modes of play, the latest NfS should hold up well.

My main interest in racing is the "serious" games -- NASCAR, the Formula 1 games, etc, but every now and then, you've just got to get away and drive like a maniac on the public roads, and nothing fulfills this fantasy better than NfS. The cars in the game certainly don't perfectly replicate the power and handling of the real Porsches, but that's not the whole point of the game. Even in Alpha, it was easy to see that Porsche Unleashed is going to be a lot of fun and I can't wait to get my hands on the finished product. Now I just need to try and talk the wife into letting me get a new hard drive so I'll have room for it...

By: Paul Hamilton 3/1/00

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