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Viper Racing (PC) Review

Presentation/Graphics : 92

Great graphics will not make a game great, but they will make a great game even better. This is certainly the case with Viper Racing. There's not much to dislike here. D3D and Voodoo support with resolutions from 512x384 to 1024x768 for those of you with the serious hardware. On my system, I get a smooth 41fps with everything on at 800x600. There are plenty of graphic options to adjust to get the frame rate you need and there's even a built-in benchmarking tool.

The cars are just flat out gorgeous. Light dances about the highly polished paint as the Viper muscles its way around the track. In exterior views, the windows are transparent and you can look in one window and right out the other one and see the scenery on the other side. At 800x600 the interior of the car looks almost photo-realistic. The gauges are particularly real looking, although only the speedometer and tachometer actually work. The top of the dash where the window meets could have used some more work as it looks like the dash was just chopped off at that point. Trackside scenery is fairly well done. Scenery ranges from fertile green to parched desert to city road course landscapes. A word of caution here, at 180mph, don't gawk too long or you'll find yourself stuffed into one of those trees you were admiring. Over all the scenery doesn't drop your jaw, but it serves its purpose and you really don't have time to pay much attention to it anyway.

Presentation/Audio : 80
Those of you who have seen the earlier demo will be pleased that the sounds are much improved in the release. Tire squealing has been toned down and the engine sounds beefed up a little. Over all the sound is good, not fantastic but certainly doesn't detract from the experience either. You can easily tell by the engine sounds when it is time to shift without watching the tach. Similarly, the tires give you audible clues to how your car is performing. There is no in-game music, only during the introduction scenes and the closing credits. Under the options there are controls to adjust to the quality of the sound being played at the cost of performance. All in all, nothing to get excited about nor complain about.

Interface/Options : 80
Simplicity is a word that works well here. It takes exactly three mouse clicks to get into some instant action from the main menu screen. All the menu buttons are large and clearly marked. It's painfully obvious where to click to get you where you want to be. The garage area is as easy to navigate as the main interface. Folder style tabs are used to get to specific areas of your car. Aerodynamics are under one tab, chassis under another etc. This scheme gives you access to your whole car from basically one screen. Adjustments are made easy with arrow buttons to increase/decrease, stiffen/soften, raise/lower etc all aspects of your setup. The paintshop included is simply a joy to use, especially for those of us who couldn't use a paint program to draw stick figures. In under a minute you can crank out a slick looking Viper with multiple colored schemes. The only area that I see which could use improving in the main interface is in the save/loading of the career mode. If you're the kind of person that likes to re-load until you get it right, you'll have to back out of career mode and reload your saved game from there. Realistically, this is minor though, as it's only a couple of clicks to do so.

Gameplay : 90
At first glance, the cover of this game looks a bit arcadish. Open it up though, and on high realism settings, it is pure sim. This game has the best physics and car dynamics that I've seen. Not just better than other games, but simply amazing. I have never driven a Viper (or any car that comes close performance wise) but I have stretched a few speedometer cables in my youth and this is exactly what I think it would be like to drive such a powerful car. It's a very fine line between fast and crashed in this game, and it takes a bit of skill, a dose of patience and a lot of practice to stay on the right side of that line. During shifting the front end will dip then come back up under power. The chassis rolls, the weight shifts, and the wheels slip. It's all here. You can power through corners half-sideways with the tires screaming, or you can finesse your way through with a good line and a barely audible chirp of the tires. At the core of any good racing sim should be a good driving model, and Viper Racing has this base covered completely.

There is a good selection of race options in the game. Three levels of AI difficulty, three levels of driving realism from arcade to simulation, number of AI drivers from none to seven, driving aids, eight tracks (all of which can be run in reverse direction for 16 total), a nice replay system, and three gameplay modes: career mode, instant action, and multiplayer.

Career mode puts you behind the wheel of a stock Viper racing in the amateur ranks against other amateur AI drivers. There are four classes you can race in: amateur, club, pro, and the final GT class. You must race and win a season points championship in order to progress to the next higher class. Along the way you earn money depending on well you do in each race. With this money you purchase upgrades to your Viper with choices ranging from performance mufflers, to ported cylinder heads, to prototype racing slicks. Not all upgrades are available in each class, with the top of the line upgrades being reserved for the GT class. With enough cash you can eventually put together the monstrous GTS-R racing machine. Putting together the upgrades brings with it a bit of strategy as well. Sink all your cash into engine upgrades and you'll likely end up with a car that's too powerful to control. The tracks that you'll be racing on in a given class might also help determine what upgrades you purchase first.

Instant action is just that. Buckle up and jump into a race. Your choice of tracks, number of opponents, number of laps and so on.

Multiplayer is, yep, you guessed it, racing against other humans. Thankfully you've got all the connection options covered here. Null modem, modem to modem, IPX and TCP/IP. I've only been able to run a couple of races over TCP/IP and frankly I wasn't impressed. With four of us racing all on 33.6 or 56k connections it was pretty ugly. From my point of view the other three cars were flying around the sky like bugs around a porch light on a summer evening. While it didn't affect the my machine or the way my car handled there wasn't much point to racing others when they were flitting about 50 feet above me and I was alone on the road. With three people it was a bit better. Their cars jittered and bounced about on the road but were more or less on the road the whole time. Two people, one on one, was actually smooth and absolutely playable. No erratic behavior and no lag. So it would appear that for playing over the net, you and your competition better have a fat connection to the net. I have heard that a local IPX game plays quite nice though I haven't been able to try it myself.

The more I race against and watch the AI the more I like it. The AI is fast and it is aggressive and at first it seems like they drive as though you are not even there. I've lost plenty of races due to one of them tapping me from behind and spinning me or just flat out smashing into me taking us both out. The more I play the less often this happens and now it appears to be more my fault than theirs. For example, if I take an 80mph corner at 55mph with someone behind me, I'm probably going get rear-ended. The AI expects you to take it 80 like everyone else but when he realizes how slow you're going its usually too late for one or both of you. The AI has to play with the same driving model as you do and sometimes and if there isn't enough room for them to react to you, there's going to be an accident. The AI does spin and lose it, and they sometimes save it too. I have seen the AI cause some fantastic pile-ups, where I had to pick my way through the wreckage in first gear. Speaking of wreckage, the damage modeling is great. Paint scrapes off, fenders get bent a little or a lot and wheels buckle under. Only the buckled wheels seem to affect the car, however, as I have not noticed any detrimental effects due to severe body damage. If your Viper gets banged up too bad to drive, you just push the space bar and *poof*, your car is fixed and ready to race.

Track design is diverse and each offers a unique challenge. There are two ovals, one a tri-oval and the other oval has a chicane in the middle of the back straightway. Very tricky that one. The remaining six are closed road courses in a variety of settings. Some are wide and very fast while others are narrow and tight with plenty of elevation changes. They might remind you of Need for Speed style tracks except they are slightly more down to earth so to speak. There are no car launching jumps, no debris littering the road or anything like that, but neither are they Watkins Glen or Laguna Seca. Somewhere in between these is where the Viper tracks live. A few small bumps to test the suspension, decreasing radius turns and blind corners and hills are used to make each track a challenge.

The garage is well equipped though not as much so as some of the other sims out there. Here you have chassis options like front and rear shocks and springs, front and rear roll bars, toe, and camber. Front and rear spoilers for aerodynamics, adjustable gearboxes and final drive ratios. Just about all you need to put all that horsepower to proper use. An extremely useful feature in the garage is a small window in the corner that shows you in real time how the adjustments you are making are going to affect your car. For instance, when taking away front spoiler, a bar in the window will increase on the 'push' side to show that what you are doing is going to add push to the car. It's a great feature for those of us who don't know how adding or subtracting camber to the front wheels is going to affect handling. Multiple setups can be saved to disk for each track as well.

Another one of this game's great extra features is the paintshop. There's a complete (though simplified) paint program built into the game. Artistic types can work their magic free hand and those of us who are not so talented with a pixel brush can use a number of templates and assign colors to the template and get a professional looking job done in no time. Easy to use and the cars look fantastic coming out of the shop.

A few other little extras include force feedback support and a clutch. This is the first clutch I've seen in a racing sim and it works as it should. Personally I just couldn't get used to it, and will probably never use it unless someone comes out with a three pedal driving wheel.

Difficulty : 85
The game isn't easy, but not so difficult as to turn you away from trying again. On the middle difficulty AI setting, I find it to be a good challenge. I'd call myself an intermediate sim racer and I feel right at home on this setting. No doubt the serious gearheads out there will get a decent challenge on the harder AI setting. The AI settings combined with the realism settings should be enough to set the game at a challenging level for any one of any skill level.

Overall : 88
Ok, so it has good graphics, good car physics, and it's a Dodge Viper... But is it any fun? Yup. It has plenty of fun to offer. It should appeal to sim lovers and arcade lovers alike with emphasis on the sim. It is at heart a good sim with good graphics, good tracks and plenty of little extras. It isn't stuffy or overly complex like some of the NASCAR or Indy car sims, but has enough realism to appeal real sim fans. A few minor grievances are that the rear view mirror doesn't show a very wide view of what's behind you. There are some very large blind spots to deal with. The replay system could use a cut and paste option, and after driving your souped up Viper in career mode, going to an instant action race with the stock Viper is rather anti-climatic. Those small gripes aside, it is a stellar game that I have no reservations about recommending to anyone.

By: Garth Cramer 11/27/98

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