IMPORT REVIEW: It's about time someone other than Psygnosis released a decent Wipeout clone. Gamers have waited too long for the day when a quality futuristic racing title meets or exceeds the standards set forth in Wipeout XL. Unfortunately, this is not that day, and Gust's Hresvelgr is not that game. In fact, other than a passing resemblance to the ideas in Wipeout, Hresvelgr for the PS2 better represents the bastard child of Star Wars: Episode I: Racer more than anything else.
At the outset, you have one choice: gran prix mode. Choose one of seven ships and race against the computer on four winding courses. You then choose between one of ten offensive or defensive weapons, although a few are exclusive to particular ships. For defense freaks, there are turbo boosts, EM shields, and chaff to cover your tail. For the adrenaline junkie in all of us, there are missiles, rockets, lasers, and mines on offense. Complete the gran prix mode in fourth place or better, and you'll unlock two more modes: expert and master. Expert is a faster, more frantic version of the standard gran prix, whereas master mode twists the courses around with tighter turns and new routes. There you go: seven ships, four courses, and three modes. There's no two-player feature, no arena, and no prospect for hidden Easter eggs. Estimated time to unlock everything: three hours.
As far as the actual game goes, your goal is to complete three laps around a corridor-based course. To prevent deviation, there's a power field running down the middle of the course. Veer too far, and you'll lose engine power. Do you like shortcuts or alternate paths? Aside from occasionally cutting across corners, they don't exist here. The brunt of the game's challenge is composed of the eight opponents racing against you. Their AI is pitifully stagnant, though, amounting to "fire weapons" and "stick to the middle." Since their weapons don't do much damage or dangerously alter your course, all you really need to do is zigzag a bit and use a turbo boost. End result: You've won. On certain courses, there are yellow brake or boost panels, but these have little bearing on the outcome of a race. Drive straight, watch the course unfold, and win - that's Hresvelgr. Adding insult to injury, you can sometimes fall through solid flooring. Ouch.
Whereas gameplay may not change from generation to generation, the PlayStation 2 is renowned for its graphical and audio capabilities. Unfortunately, Hresvelgr never makes use of them. Musically, the game's soundtrack is soothing but uninspired. The sound effects do the job of conveying thrust, explosions, and collisions, but seem downright stolen from other games in the genre. Visually, the game's backgrounds are fluid and dripping with polygons, but actual course delineators - such as the power field and force field containment system - are barely above Sega CD in quality. To put it another way, Hresvelgr covers its juicy backgrounds with huge, ugly, flat-shaded polygons and the occasional lens flare. The ship models themselves are decent, with undulating engine exhaust, smoke trails, and reflective lighting, but nothing we haven't seen before on the N64 or PlayStation. Hresvelgr's greatest affront, though, lies not in its shortcomings, but in its frame rate. Not since the Japanese version of Sega Rally 2 has there been such random animation in a game. Would someone please choose between 15, 30, or 60fps? The PS2's talents are wasted on this game, even more so than they are in Sky Surfer.
When you get right down to it, if Hresvelgr were a food item, it wouldn't even pass the tasting and judgment criteria of Iron Chef's lower house member. This isn't to say that the ideas in the game are poor, because they're not. Futuristic racing ships, alien worlds, and high explosives are the everyman's idea of a good time. Unfortunately, Hresvelgr fails the meet this recipe's full potential, resulting in a stale, crusty lump as opposed to a succulent pastry. As Sky Surfer will attest, there are worse PS2 games, but seeing the sheer potential in a title like Hresvelgr makes its shortcomings all the more disappointing. Let's hope when Crave releases it stateside as Fusion GT, some of the more pressing issues are addressed.