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Speedbusters (PC)

Publisher: Ubisoft
Sport: Racing Simulation

Background Info
Speed Busters (SB) is refreshing in that it makes no attempt to recreate reality--it is pure and simple fantasy racing. The storyline goes like this: A police officer has won a million dollars in the lottery, and plans to give the money away to the drivers who blow past the radars at the highest speed. Not exactly a Shakespearean plot, but it suffices. The genre SB finds itself in is crowded, and takes something kind of special to make a title stand out; does SB have that edge?

UbiSoft has made quite a name for themselves in the graphics department, with accolades going out for POD and F1RS. Speedbusters continues this tradition, with some very impressive work in the visuals.

Resolutions range from 512x384 up to 1024x768, depending on the graphics card in your machine--on the tested system, 800x600 was the maximum offered. The detail settings can be set to predefined levels with a slider, or individual items can be added and removed for a custom setup.

Some of the many options are animated textures, fog, reflections, and transparency, along with a lot more--the end result is a game which can be tailored to your specific needs. Very nice.

Once SB is running, the graphics are certainly above average. Not quite at the level of Powerslide, but there is a lot more going on around you--I won't spoil the surprises SB holds, but there are several animated 'obstacles' which appear in the game. The cars are uniquely styled, and have a variety of color schemes and 'skins' to choose from. The lighting effects, reflections, and transparent windows are superbly done, and the environments are attractive, varied, and immersive. When it's all said and done, I would rate the visuals in SB in the top 2 or 3 arcade racers on the market. Well done, Ubisoft.

With games becoming more complex, with more modes of play and options, it seems that interfaces are becoming more cryptic with every release. Thankfully, SB breaks this trend with an easy to navigate set of buttons at the main screen. Even multiplayer is accessed from the main menu, a nice touch for online gaming fans. No more hunting through several layers of menus to find the network or modem linkups. The only real oddity in the interface is the graphics options menu--it appears before the game actually launches, so you have to exit to change anything. Not a huge problem, because it's so flexible, but nonetheless different.

A few short months ago it would have taken a hefty prod with a sharpened tree branch to get me in front of an arcade racer, but times have changed. I've begun to appreciate them for what they are--fun games that don't take themselves too seriously. I approached SB with this in mind, and was duly rewarded with some pretty good times.

Game modes aren't overwhelming--you choose from arcade or championship modes, with time attack and ghost car selections within the arcade mode. Arcade races consist of one race, with up to 5 AI cars, on any of the available tracks (you have to unlock the tracks as you go). Championship is a series of races, with the addition of a money system to purchase upgrades, such as engine tuning, better tires, and insurance. You must also earn money to pay for repairs to your car, which will be necessary.

The handling of the cars is fairly good, with each of the 7 (plus a bonus car) having different personalities--not as distinct as Grand Prix Legends, but better than Need For Speed 3 or the Test Drive series. Damage is very well done visually, with deformations similar to Viper Racing, and car performance will suffer with extensive damage to the car.

There are six tracks, plus a mystery track, included with SB. This is one area where I'd like to see more choices, but the tracks Ubisoft gave us are nicely rendered, challenging enough to be fun more than once, and made up of a variety of surfaces and environments--from wide-open desert to crowded city streets, and surfaces ranging from soft sand to slick ice. There is a real difference in how the car handles the different surfaces, and that fact adds greatly to the gameplay.

Several obstacles are present throughout the game, providing some humor, and a degree of challenge. Without giving too much away, expect to find UFOs, Giant gorillas, and the occasional killer squid hanging around the tracks, as well as some less active measures. Seeing things like this made me realize that SB is more about playfulness than outright competition.

Speaking of competition, SB has a variety of multiplayer modes for those times when the AI (which is pretty good, by the way) isn't cutting the mustard. You can link up via serial connection, modem, IPX/SPX, TCP/IP, or via the Ubisoft Game Service. With IPX or the Game Service, up to six players can join, but the other modes are limited to two.

I played SB on the Game Service, and it was easy to set up and launch, and the gameplay was agreeably lag-free--SB uses a method of representing other players cars which prevents warping, although it does create some oddities in the race standings at times.

One of the better multiplayer features in SB is the ability to race in Championship mode, making the races a little more involving and competitive. This, among the other things mentioned, make SB a good multiplayer game choice.

It seems developers are paying more attention to the audio qualities of PC titles lately, and this title continues the trend. The music is very well matched to the scenario, and is of high quality, as are the environmental sounds around the tracks themselves. The engine sounds are nothing too stunning, but the change in sound due to damage is a neat touch--every now and then the engine will start to sound a little under the weather, accompanied by the loss of performance. The sounds of tires on gravel and skidding on pavement are well represented in SB as well. Overall, the audio in SB is entirely adequate, but not outstanding.

The addition of advanced multiplayer support has rendered this almost a moot point--if the AI gets too easy, go find a human to race, and sooner or later someone is going to beat you. Thankfully, SB contains some pretty good AI, and they get faster as you do. The challenge stays fairly high throughout the game, but is never overwhelming--a nice mix of AI speeds and aggressiveness helps to accomplish this end. In a nutshell, I think SB offers something for both the casual racer as well as the more advanced arcade-racing fan.

A few months ago, Need For Speed 3 was the pinnacle of arcade racers--with the introduction of this title, and GT's Powerslide, NFS3 has fallen to a distant 3rd (I haven't tried Motorhead or some of the other new titles) and the gap is pretty wide. Ubisoft has done an admirable job on this one, blending fun, challenge, and some pretty nice graphics into one of the better games of any genre. Is it better than Powerslide? Yes and no--they both have their fine points, and both have a wart or two. Better or not, I would still recommend SB to anyone who is looking to have fun with a racing game, and it could win over sim fans looking for a nice diversion from the more serious titles. This one's a keeper.

Reviewer's Equipment
Reviewer's Equipment AMD K6-2 300, 64MB SDRAM, Diamond Stealth II 4MB 3D card, Diamond Monster 3D I, Interact 3D program pad, Thrustmaster Formula T2

By: Scott Moore- 12/30/98

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Graphics: 90
Interface: 84
Gameplay: 88
Audio: 86
Difficulty: 88
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