Screamer 2 Preview

Walking the fine line between action and simulation, Virgin is preparing a sequel that offers arcade play with all the fixins

Players who spent countless hours speeding behind the wheel of Screamer will be glad to hear that Virgin Interactive is revving up to roll out the sequel, Screamer 2. Like its predecessor, Screamer 2 rides the middle ground in the grand racing circuit. Not quite a hard-core racing sim like IndyCar Racing II, nor as simplistic as the twitch-and-turn, quarter-sucking arcade entries like Namco's Ridge Racer Revolution, Screamer 2 draws from both sides of the gate. The result is a game that players intrigued by (but not obsessed with) the concept of going round in circles at very high speeds can easily get into, without getting bogged down in the finer details demanded by dedicated sim racers.

While the original title drifted perhaps a bit too close into the arcade realm, Virgin is steering Screamer 2 in the opposite direction, adding features that make the game richer, but not more complicated. After taking Screamer 2 out for a few laps over its six internationally flavored courses, I was impressed by the fast, superbly rendered graphics and rousing burning-rubber sound effects.

Associate producer Jeff Ziel took Gamespot under the hood to point out what's new. "Screamer 2 uses the same 3D engine created by Italy-based Milestone; however, the varying weather conditions are new." Choose your element, and Screamer 2 puts you right in the thick of it. Besides a sunny California day, Ziel promises plenty of "Fog, rain, and snow. And tracks in different parts of the world. The jungle track is muddy. In Egypt, you race over sand and cobblestone streets."

Because the original Screamer's action ripped across pavement tracks exclusively, players were less concerned with tweaking their vehicles for the ultimate ride. Under Screamer 2's varying conditions, however, Ziel says players will have more control over how their racers handle. Having a hard time taking those slippery hairpin curves? No problem. Suggests Ziel: "Let a little air out of your tires. Increase or decrease the suspension. Adjust your brake sensitivity. You can even add a little play to the steering wheel." By experimenting with these settings, Ziel says players will be able to shave off those critical few seconds that keep them from racking up their very best lap times. Players will be able to choose between six tracks and environments, including Austrian mountains, English countryside, Scandinavian ice fields, Peruvian jungle, Egypt, and the streets of San Francisco.

As for the driving machines themselves, Screamer 2 has no "official" cars. However, Ziel promises, "if you choose a car that looks very similar to a Porsche," you can bet "it will act like one as well." Unlike the original, whose cars were preconfigured, Screamer 2 offers four customizable vehicles, allowing players to mix and match features to attain a close-to-perfect feel for the virtual road. Key options include an automatic or manual transmission, and two- or four-wheel drive systems. "There's also four bonus cars," adds Ziel. "As you complete tracks in championship mode, the game reveals not only a new track, but a new car as well—one that's a little faster and handles a little better."

What Screamer 2 also handles - a lot better - is damage. "This time, it's more realistic," Ziel says. Sideswipe another car and "you will see your fenders getting bent to heck, the side of the car smashing in." The effect is not merely aesthetic. "The damage will affect your performance," Ziel says, whereas in the original Screamer damage had no effect on your car. "Keep on slamming into the right wall and eventually your car is going to start pulling to the right." Severely damaged racers can pull into the "Garage" after intense heats to make repairs. While I did manage to cause a few spills and take down more than a few barricades, our beta did not show off the game's promised damage goods - I look forward to seeing the kinds of beatings Ziel describes in the final version.

While all of its new features go a long way toward making Screamer 2 a better performer, the most eventful advancement of all lies deep beneath the surface, in the wiring: multi-player racing. Says Ziel, "Screamer 2 is set up around team racing, like rally racing. Four players can race, in teams of two against two, or three against one." This improvement, coupled with the game's exhaustive features overhaul, should go a long way toward making Screamer 2 a winner with Screamer fans, and with gamers new to the racing circuit.

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