Subject for debate: Just as all those ultraviolent car shooters like Interstate '76 and Carmageddon hit the streets, the discussion of that latest of 21st Century syndromes, "road rage", has become, well, all the rage. It's open season on America's freeways with computer games bringing the biggest keg to the party. Coincidence, or something a bit more insidious?
To add jet fuel to the flames comes the sequel to the semisuccessful PlayStation console car killer, a game that'll encourage living out real-world violent tendencies more towards the game's designers than towards the jerk who just cut you off (right before he gave you the finger).
As far as plot goes, this title prefers to take the Seinfeld approach to story development and be pretty much about nothing, save the fact that essentially it's kill or be killed, which has always been my personal favorite. In the original PSX game, the venue for your carnage took place in LA. You and several other contestants were confined to a futuristic arena where the sole goal was to take out every other vehicle with your own armed-to-the-teeth motorized machine of mayhem. It was victory through attrition; the last one standing was crowned the winner and promised glory, riches, a T3 connection, and whatever else his heart could possibly desire.
But the times, they are a-changin', and where once there stood a proud City of Angels, there stands only a rotting corpse of a metropolis (yes, I know, not much has changed since 1998, but I digress). The duel-to-the-death contest has gone global, taking you to such international hot spots as Paris, Hong Kong, and an abandoned Soviet missile silo.
After choosing one of 12 deviant cars, you drive it from your raised chase-car perspective through mostly uninspired arenas, picking up health, napalm, and other assorted weapons of mass destruction in hopes of being the last one standing. Racing around the area, you try to pick off the other contestants before they take you out of the game. As a nice little sadistic sidelight: Scattered throughout are the poorly rendered unprotected groupie, skateboarder, and other assorted out-of-place pedestrians that you can run over (well you don't really run them over, it's more like you push them for a few hundred feet before they disappear from the screen).
But before you think that this is an entirely bad game, let me be the first to inform you that it does have its strong points. For those equipped with a 3Dfx card, this game is monumentally better than its PlayStation sibling, with realistic flames and translucent smoke. However, even on the highest resolution, there just aren't enough interesting things to look at (and what is there isn't all that impressive) to make you boot it up to show off your computer's processing power to your friends.
Gameplay isn't too shabby. It can be quite entertaining living out your road rage vicariously through this title, blasting baddies before they blast you. The excellent, hard-driving sound track makes the gameplay even that much more intense. However, controlling your automotive arsenal is as infuriating as being stuck behind a senior citizen going 35 in a 55 with his blinker on. You'd think you were turning mammoth 18-wheeler trucks as opposed to hot rods, considering how unwieldy these things are.
But where this game really shines is not in single player, but when you go head-to-head with your friends, the way wanton slaughter was intended to be carried out. Here, the game actually becomes more than a distracting diversion and almost approaches being moderately entertaining, at least for the first hour. Like I alluded to earlier, the arenas are a bit on the uninspired side and tend to be pretty monotonous after awhile.
Call me spoiled, but after playing so many really good action shooters like Quake II, Jedi Knight, Duke Nukem, or even Carmageddon, games like this aren't nearly as entertaining as they may have been just a few years back. While at times an engaging ride, especially in multiplayer mode, this game just doesn't have the horsepower to keep up with the best.