The original Extreme-G arrived on the Nintendo 64 in 1997, quick and sure on the heels of Psygnosis' similarly styled WipeOut and WipeOut XL for the PlayStation. While the futuristic N64 racer may have been a pretty obvious WipeOut clone, it held its ground, offering fun gameplay and a high-tech techno-enhanced racing theme that was introduced, but not thoroughly exhausted, by its PlayStation counterpart. Exactly one year later, Acclaim offered a second helping on the N64 with XG2, and the magic was gone. The game was fast and furious but possessed a number of significant flaws. Now, nearly three years later, the franchise has reared its head on the PlayStation 2 in the form of Extreme-G 3, and the revival has turned out remarkably well.
In Extreme-G 3, the song remains largely the same as before, albeit much better produced: You live deep in the far-flung future where you have to race high-speed cycles up and down walls and shoot energy blasts at people for kicks. Unlike in the WipeOut series, there aren't numerous power-ups to pick up over the course of the race. Instead, there are two types of energy-recharging fields that you drive over for power: one for weapons and the other for shield energy. Weapon energy powers whatever weapon you currently have selected, and when that energy runs out, none of the items in your arsenal will work. Shield energy is of particular use since it also powers your turbo boost. That means that if you get shot or bump up against a wall, the energy will be partially depleted and you won't be able to peel out on a straightaway as successfully as you'd like. It also means that if you want to go really fast, you're going to run the risk of your shields completely failing and having your cycle blow up. It's this sort of constant hairsplitting give and take that makes Extreme-G 3 so entertaining.
In addition to your base bike, you can buy supplementary items such as improved engines, better weapons, and larger storage capacity for weapon and shield energy for your cycle. One item, the leech, is especially effective. If you use it successfully, you can lock on an enemy from behind and steal some of his shield energy to add to your own. This not only lets you turbo-boost more frequently, but it also sabotages your opponent's ability to do the same. The leech can make for some very compelling final stretches.
Extreme G-3's environments are somewhat sparse in comparison to those in the earlier games in the series; however, the game speeds along at an extremely fast and consistent frame rate--unlike its predecessors. A host of impressive graphical effects vie for your attention and attempt to distract you from the race at hand. A couple of the more basic cosmetic effects are the heat wash that exudes from the back of your cycle right before the race starts and the light trails that stream behind all of the speeding vehicles once the race begins. Another effect you see early in the game is reminiscent of a visual element from Konami's Metal Gear Solid 2: Sons of Liberty. Once you leave the confines of the race hangar, raindrops begin hitting your TV screen and cling there momentarily the way raindrops would to a car windshield. If you hit your turbo boost, the raindrops strike your screen even faster and slightly obscure your view of the race.
But Extreme G-3 saves its most impressive visual effect until near the end of the game. Once you garner a higher-capacity engine, hitting the turbo boost button sends you to speeds so fast that the screen ripples and distorts, and the sounds all around you drag and muffle like they're coming at you through an underwater tunnel, with everything rushing by at intense speeds after a singularly dramatic, momentary pause--your payoff for making it so far, extreme G's. You can maintain this speed for only a handful of seconds, but you'll want to quickly start hunting for shield energy once you come down so that you can do it again. To the game's credit, it provides an excellent feeling of speed from the start, and once you get to the final few courses, it spoils you with the extreme-G effect. But it's give and take. The feeling of speed is intense, but it's provided at the expense of some of the other graphical niceties. The environments lack some of the visual flair that we've come to expect from the series and that we might anticipate on the PlayStation 2.
Extreme G-3's sound effects, though, are excellent. The jet engine whine of the bike's motor builds as you get closer to an opponent, or as one speeds up on you, gaining or losing pitch as you race up or down hills. It's such a gradual and effective sensory feature that you can close your eyes and still know what's going on in the game, save for being aware of the bends in the road. The same words of praise can't be said about the game's soundtrack, however. It's composed of a number of UK techno tracks that are certainly serviceable but somewhat basic and repetitive ("Give me a fat beat! Give me a fat beat!").
The game's two-player mode is viewed from a vertical split-screen, which lends great visibility to the course ahead since the tracks are thin and vertically ascending with loops and hills. It's fantastic looking and keeps a high and consistent frame rate with barely any noticeable chugs. In a way, the two-player mode looks even better than the single-player because it cuts the backgrounds out of the picture and focuses only on the action.
The sum of Extreme-G 3's parts is a smart and solid racing game that provides an amazing feeling of true speed. It's only salient drawbacks are that there are some holes in its AI that you can exploit to race through the leagues, that there aren't enough tracks, and that more eye candy isn't possible with frame rates this high. It's a racer that should appeal to those who get little out of Gran Turismo 3 A-Spec and to those who've grown tired of waiting for Sony to finally get around to finishing Wipeout Fusion.