It's been a few years since Sony released its one-note wonder, Porsche Challenge, to the masses. For Porsche fans it was a notable title, as it gave gamers a chance to drive Porsche's brand-new Boxster and, unfortunately, only the Boxster. Despite the fact that Porsche Challenge looked good (though it had some serious pop-up) and played reasonably well, it proved to be an aberration and was never graced with a sequel.
Well, Porsche fans, languish no longer. Electronic Arts has secured the Porsche license and created what it hopes will be the ultimate Porsche racing game for the PlayStation. Fitting neatly into the Need for Speed series, NFS: Porsche Unleashed is an extension of the NFS brand, focusing solely on the Porsche legend. As with any driving game before it, Porsche Unleashed puts you in the position of trying to drive faster and with more skill than your competitors, with the intent of being the first to cross the finish line. Unfortunately, for every game that gets it right, there are five more that simply do not. Porsche Unleashed, sadly, falls into the latter category.
It's not as if developer Eden didn't try. The team had a rich legacy of cars and car data to work with, which is seen in the ample number of options available. There is an evolution mode, which lets you start off with a new or used Porsche, similar to Gran Turismo's advancement process, where you buy a car and attempt to earn money via high-place finishes in competition races. Compete for cash and prizes, and when you accumulate enough money, you'll be able to compete in a circuit race. Eventually you'll hopefully attain and fine-tune your ultimate Porsche and receive the resulting awards and trophies. There is the prerequisite quick race for gamers who don't want to go through the hoopla required in evolution mode. In quick-race mode, you can select from a number of different minigame-style races: capture the flag, chase (a high-speed version of tag), race (the most straightforward mode), and time battle. Then there's a tournament mode, where you make your way through Porsche's various historical eras. Win each tournament, and you'll advance to a higher class. There is also a weekend race option, which lets you take your Porsche and race against older, classic models that you wouldn't normally find in a generic racing game.
Porsche factory-driver mode emulates Gran Turismo's license mode. In this section you start as a rookie who must accomplish different tasks and missions to progress through the ranks of professional Porsche test-drivers. Along the way your coworkers encourage you as you attempt to hone your skills. Ultimately, your goal is to become the hotshot accredited Porsche factory driver. The tests are reasonable, with a fair learning curve.There is, of course, the mandatory split-screen two-player mode, which is handled as well as can be expected, but the game is still amazingly drab, despite Porsche's rich heritage. The controls are typical fare, with digital and analog control supported. In the game's front end menus, the car models look great, easily as nice as Gran Turismo's, but in actual gameplay, they all look a little flat. To be fair, there are a variety of car models available, some with their tops down and sporting polygonal drivers, but the graphics fall short of expectations. While the game moves at a smooth frame rate, it is a grainy affair that doesn't look like a fifth-generation PlayStation game. Graphical oddities, such as not having headlights on night courses (though the competition has working headlights) and ill-advised light-sourcing in all the wrong places, make for a graphical presentation that pales against the efforts of other popular racing games. Track design is especially weak, with lack of distinction being the game's worst enemy. Porsche Unleashed possesses one of the worst collision-detection routines ever seen in a racing game, and the soft control is hampered by the fact that your car can stick to almost anything in the game, making racing more of an obstacle course than anything else. At some odd moments you will find yourself completely stuck on a fence or a tree or rolling the car because of a sharp turn and a steep embankment. While stuff like this is all well and good in a game like Destruction Derby, you'd be hard-pressed to find someone enjoying this sort of behavior here.
The sound effects are presumably sampled from real Porsche cars, but they often sound unclear. Conversely, the music is a wicked blend of lounge tunes and more modern, funky beats. Thankfully, the game steers away from the harsh Gen-X thrash metal/techno trend heard in recent racing games.
Perhaps the game's saving grace is its awesome array of Porsche memorabilia, doled out in equal amounts of FMV and actual drivable Porsches. For the Porsche fanatic, Porsche Unleashed is a worthy investment. It's just a real shame it didn't come on more powerful hardware, as the PlayStation's guts simply don't do justice to the game. But while you're waiting for a sequel, consider yourself cautioned to rent before buying this well-intentioned but utterly flawed driving game.