Vanishing Point Hands-On

Acclaim just sent us an updated burn of its sim-styled driving game for the PlayStation complete with several improvements over the last version we received.

When we last previewed Vanishing Point for the PlayStation last November it was 70 percent complete. Now, almost three months later, the latest version we just received is only 80 percent complete. Vanishing Point has been in the cooker for several years now and has been delayed several times. The latest version sports several improvements over the last iteration we received, but it appears as if any progress that Clockwork Games makes in Vanishing Point's development takes some time.

The last version of Vanishing Point that we got our hands on was already fairly impressive. It featured an incredible drawing distance, a solid frame rate, challenging gameplay, and plenty of cars to choose from. The only problem was the vaunted 501-point physics system. Cars that were supposed to behave like real automobiles instead reacted to major collisions by flying into the atmosphere like UFOs. In the new version this problem is fixed, resulting in a game that is far more grounded in realism like its Dreamcast cousin. Fortunately, the positive aspects of the physics engine from the previous build have remained. Cars react to light collisions with pinpoint accuracy, and cars follow a momentum-based arch while catching air.

Besides the physics, the handling is the most glaring change between the last burn of Vanishing Point and this one. While it was difficult to keep your car on the road before, it seems even more challenging now. The analog stick is incredibly sensitive, and the slightest nudge will send the tail end of your car whipping from side to side. It's best to take it conservatively in the early going because the initial cars available handle like tanks. Adjusting the steering sensitivity isn't a bad idea, either. This wasn't a problem before when the required finishing times where manageable, but the times have been significantly reduced in this version, and completing even the first heat in the required time limit is difficult. If you can complete the first circuit with an overall first-place finish, a new car becomes available, which makes things somewhat easier.

Other than the handling, difficulty, and physics, everything else seems just as it was before. The tournament races are still the focus of Vanishing Point's gameplay. They begin with a rolling start, and the ultimate goal is to outrun the clock instead of crossing the finish line before the rest of the cars on the road. As you finish circuits, faster cars and more circuits are unlocked. New cars supply better handling than the previous ones, and new circuits require that you complete more races and more laps per race. The stunt mode is still included in the game, and it's some of the most fun you can have with Vanishing Point. Similar to Crazy Taxi's crazy-box mode, the stunt mode asks you to perform specific goals like completing slalom courses, jumping from one road to the next, barrel rolling, and a bevy of other objectives. As you complete each of the 13 tasks, you are awarded points based upon your completion time. The points are then used to open the next event.

There are 32 licensed cars in the game, and you begin with the ability to choose either a Ford Mustang Cobra or a Ford Explorer. Twelve attributes are adjustable to get more out of the chosen car so that you can pump up the top speed for courses with plenty of straight sections or adjust the handling for those with hairpin turns. Even so, this version of Vanishing Point is much more difficult than the last, and you will have to hone your driving skills and perfectly tune each car to succeed. This holds true even on the first race.

Very little has changed in Vanishing Point's graphics. The game engine's drawing distance is still the best of any PlayStation racer yet, and the cars are accurately modeled to look just like those rolling off the assembly line. There are plenty of off-track elements in full motion like rotating windmills and huge trains cruising around the environments. Convincing particle effects are used for the smoke billowing from the tires, and the texture variety is refreshingly solid for a PlayStation game. There can be as many as six cars on the screen at any given time, yet the frame rates remain steady. Despite all these positives, Vanishing Point's graphics aren't going to open many eyes to the possibilities of the PlayStation hardware thanks to an overall grainy look.

Vanishing Point was a difficult game when we last previewed it several months ago, and it hasn't gotten any easier. The handling is even more challenging than before, the qualifying times to move to the next level have been decreased, and the cars that you begin the game with are more difficult to control than those from before. Conversely, the 32 licensed cars, 12 adjustable car attributes, 12 driving environments, and the addictive stunt mode all culminate in a deep game that will be well received by gearheads and driving-game fans alike. With countless delays in its developmental history, it would be surprising if Vanishing Point makes its release date early this month. If it does, you can expect GameSpot's full review coming soon.

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