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Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA (N64) Review

Background Info

Racing games have rarely fared well on the N64. A good number of titles are simply mediocre; some players have declared that Super Mario Kart 64 and Diddy Kong Racing are superior to the majority of the competition. Moreover, while some racing fans crave simulations, others prefer simple arcade-style contests, where driving skills and car selection take a back seat to thrills, spills, and crashes. Despite some features that are essential to a good sim, Rush 2: Extreme Racing USA, the sequel to San Francisco Rush, is fundamentally a pedal-to-the metal arcade contest.

Presentation/Graphics : 85
Rush 2 offers players seven geographically-specific courses as well as three abstract ones--a "crash course," with numerous cross-overs; a "stunt course" that looks like it served as the set for Tron or some other sci-fi movie; and a "half-pipe" course, in which cars race along the interior walls of a large pipe system resembling subway tubes. At best these abstract environments are curiosity pieces; at worse they waste the player's time. Better to have expended the energy in developing these courses on something else, perhaps an all-purpose testing grounds/oval. Far more interesting are the tracks that run through various American cities and locations. Those racers wedded to the West Coast may enjoy Hawaii, Seattle, Hollywood/Los Angeles, or, nearer to the home of the original Rush, Alcatraz (although I've never seen the loop-de-loops on the island's road system). For those players who like to gamble or see Elvis in neon, there's a Las Vegas track, while two tracks course through Manhattan, one ripping through downtown while the other winds its way across midtown and Central Park.

Many players will find stretches of these courses to be somewhat uninspiring if more than adequate in appearance. However, those players familiar with the landmarks of these various locations may discover some pleasing sections. For example, I found the representation of the Battery in New York filled with nice touches and an appreciation for detail; Vegas is bright lights and garish signs. Draw-in is kept to a minimum, and fog is employed realistically where environmentally appropriate. Here and there curious gaps lead to unintended results, as when I slipped beneath Las Vegas and drove around with the city floating overhead.

The cars themselves are generic types, from subcompacts and vans to sedans and "concept" cars. Gathering certain goodies increases the number of available cars. Players can select body paint schemes, including racing stripes, from a rather broad palette. The vehicles themselves are not tremendously detailed or visually stunning, but they are more than adequate for the job. Drivers can use one of four camera views, from above and behind to the front bumper itself.

Presentation/Audio : 80
Actually, for a cartridge game, Rush 2 has good sound effects and background music, although it is far from exceptional for a console game. Players select from a number of background looped tunes and adjust the volume of various effects. Engine choice has little discernable effect on sound, although terrain does; background noises are appropriate to sections of each course (Chinatown in New York, for example) and sometimes bear close listening (as in the little child who demands to go to the bathroom outside LA's Federal Building). Again, solid but not spectacular.

Interface/Options : 90
Simple and effective. Each player can create a profile to store paint and setup preferences (tires, tire rims, torque, suspension, and engine) for each customized vehicle. The impact of some of the mechanical alterations is easily grasped, for beneath each car is an indication of its acceleration, maximum speed, control, and drift under various setups; however, the effect of some decisions is not always evident or easily grasped in a vehicle's performance. Controller button arrangement is also programmable, allowing each player to store configuration preferences. Players may choose to compete in one race, participate in a circuit comprising 28 tracks (each track can be mirrored, run backwards, or both), or simply practice on each course. For a single race, players may select the number of laps, cpu-controlled opponents, the orientation of the track (mirrored/backwards), fog (or, in the case of LA, smog), wind, difficulty, handicap (catch-up), checkpoints, and death (total the car and you're out) versus reincarnation (get a fresh replacement).

For those who are reluctant to expend memory card resources on the game, the game uses passcodes to measure progress during a circuit. However, the game itself takes up less than a third of a card, allowing you to save best lap and best race time data.

Interface options extend to the information one can have displayed on the screen during the course of a race, including radar, a track map, tachometer, speedometer, place, gearshift, and time elapsed/time remaining. One can toggle these on or off. One may also configure audio options.

One error in the instruction manual: contrary to what it claims, one can use the practice mode to gather keys and cans to uncover new cars and other goodies. At least I have.

Gameplay : 80
All racing games, whether they be simple arcade racers or detailed driving simulations, must share several traits to succeed as games. Will the game reward good driving technique and penalize simple exercises in acceleration and speed? Is the point of the race to pass x number of CPU opponents in a fixed amount of time--the approach favored by classics such as Pole Position as well as a host of other racing games--or does the player believe that there's a real race going on, in which trailing cars may pass the player-controlled vehicle as competitors jockey for position?

Rush 2 offers players a solid driving challenge that varies according to difficulty level. Good drivers will do fairly well on the easier stages, although even then sloppy technique is usually punished: cars can (and do) catch up. One can freely reset one's car on the track and begin anew by hitting the abort button. Otherwise, usual video driving techniques and tactics apply. Although the instructions for the circuit state that you must use the same car for all 28 races, that has not been my experience.

There are several other games within the game. Each course has a dozen keys and four cans of Mountain Dew; running into them can expand one's selection of cars and offer other surprises. In addition, cars on the stunt course attempt to score points for various feats of driving, including splits, time airborne, and spins. Some of the goodies are easy to secure; others require cars to perform acrobatic feats. Some courses have their own targets, including the rats in New York's subway system. It is best to set the game on practice and do some exploring first.

Difficulty : 85
There are five levels of difficulty, ranging from Very Easy to Extreme(ly Hard). Much depends on whether the player wants to employ some driving skill and take good advantage of shortcuts or simply press down on the accelerator whenever possible. At the upper levels, the game does approach a simulation of driving, although it never leaves its arcade roots.

Overall : 82
Rush 2 is a solid, enjoyable arcade racer with some simulation trappings. It offers players the chance to engage in some head-to-head racing as well as the lengthier circuit campaigns. One's interest in the various ins and outs of each course will decline somewhat over time, and perhaps several circuit options would have added to the game's appeal. Nevertheless, this is a sequel that is fully the equal of its predecessor, providing a fun gaming experience for those players willing to accept the game for what it is.

By: Brooks Simpson 12/5/98

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