With so many racers on the PlayStation, it's tough to find a niche that hasn't been filled countless times. But Acclaim is attempting to do just that with Vanishing Point, a strange racer lost somewhere in limbo between simulation and arcade styles. Vanishing Point features 32 licensed cars from companies like BMW, Alpha Romeo, Volkswagen, and Lotus. The races take place on city streets and outwardly, Vanishing Point is pure sim. However, after playing the game, an entirely different feel materializes.
Tournament races are the heart of Vanishing Point - you simply choose an available car and hit the track. Each race begins with a rolling start, and racing the clock is more a priority than the number of cars passed. As you progress through the tournament mode, new cars are unlocked and each new series increases in both the number of events and the number of laps. The cars that are initially available strain to make turns, but winning the initial heats isn't overly difficult, and new cars are unlocked after completing each series. There is also a stunt mode with 13 challenges, including the long jump, barrel roll, and slalom courses. There are eight tracks for racing and four multiplayer-specific environments for a total of 12 driving areas.
Clockwork Games, VP's developer, is going to great lengths to ensure that the physics system is as accurate as possible. It has included a 501-point variable system to ensure that the cars react as realistically as possible. The tail end of the car sways naturally back and forth while oversteering, and the reaction from bumping cars at an angle differs greatly from just scraping on by. The way the cars react to catching air is also impressive, as the weight transfers perfectly along an arc. After extreme impacts, the cars react like pinballs off a bumper as they spin and flip through the air, often for more than ten seconds at a time. Whether this is intentional or not remains to be seen.
Vanishing Point's title is quite justified, as there is absolutely no draw-in whatsoever. Putting it bluntly, it has the farthest horizon of any PlayStation racer ever seen. Not only does the game engine manage to draw impressive lengths of track, but it also does so while displaying four or five cars on screen and massive off-track objects. Jumbo jets fly overhead, trains scream down a track, and towering windmills spin in the wind. VP also features a decent particle system and real-time lighting for an extra touch of realism. But the texture variety is what brings VP's graphics to life. Each track is approximately two miles in length, and the textures are seldom repeated. You really get the feeling of driving around complete cities instead of feeling as if you're driving around some isolated track in the middle of oblivion. Despite all these processor-intensive operations, Vanishing Point's frame rates never slow down. The only negative is that Vanishing Point's overall look is a tad grainy.
Controlling the cars takes some getting used to. As mentioned earlier, the sluggish handling of the initial cars can be frustrating, but new cars are easily opened, which are much more adept at hugging the road. Even with a tight suspension, it takes quite a bit of patience to pilot a car around the track without swapping some paint with the guardrails. Using the E brake is essential in drifting your car around turns while not losing speed. After a series or two, the controls become manageable, and in turn the game becomes much more exciting. If you still can't get a handle on driving, 12 different attributes can be adjusted until it suits you.
The music for Vanishing Point is excellent. If the game's original compositions are indeed produced in-house by Clockwork, then these guys need to be pressing up some wax. The progressive trance tracks are club quality, and they stand as a reminder of how few PlayStation developers take advantage of the clarity of the CD-ROM medium. The usual engine noises and crash sounds are included that keep the game sounding nice and authentic.
Vanishing Point is already an impressive racer that will appeal to a wide range of game players. Its wild crashes and stunt mode give it an arcade feel, while its sensitive handling and licensed cars ground it in simulation. The version of Vanishing Point that we played is only 70% complete, so there is still plenty of time for last-second changes before its mid-December release date. Watch this space for more on Vanishing Point as the holiday season heats up.