Extreme G3 Preview
Acclaim's futuristic racer breaks the sound barrier on the PlayStation 2
When it debuted on the Nintendo 64 in '97, Extreme G turned quite a few heads with it's roller coaster-like track designs and excellent sense of speed. Coming before F-Zero X's release, the game became the racing game to beat on the system until Nintendo's updated SNES classic hit. The series faltered in '98 with its follow-up, XG2, whose erratic frame rates and design failed to live up to the original game. This year's installment, Extreme G3, marks a change of system for the series and a return to the basics that gave the original game its appeal.
The game boasts the graphical improvements you'd expect from being developed on the PlayStation 2. You will race against a total of 11 opponents, each riding well-detailed vehicles. Bike models reflect their generous poly count and offer a solid assortment of eye candy, ranging from reflective chrome surfaces to a subtle warping effect from the heat of the engines when they are idling on the starting line. Also adding a nice touch to the game is the subtle animation that you'll notice as the bike's air brakes, flaps, weapons, and thrusters move over the course of the race. The various weapons you'll use in the game sport a good number of special effects that make clear the danger they present. Mines, machine guns, and missiles are just a fraction of the arsenal you have at your disposal.
The environments are a mix of the standard locales you'd expect to find in a racer--a mountain canyon, an open road, and so on--and more futuristic tracks such as a Blade Runner-esque city that you can race through at night. Weather effects such as rain and snow are on hand to add that extra layer of stress you can only get when tearing around corners at ridiculously high speeds with reduced visibility. Track design adds to the white-knuckle feel of the game thanks to the wicked, roller coaster-like design that mixes insane corkscrews with nearly vertical ascensions followed by huge drops. In roller-coaster fashion, the bikes slow slightly as they climb before a drop and then build to tremendous speeds as they tear down the track. Vigilant and skilled players will also find shortcuts to help them get ahead of the pack, but care should be taken when heading down these shortcuts. They may seem like a quick way to cut ahead, but one mistimed move and you will be at the back of the pack before you can say, "I think I can make that jump." Obviously, the sense of speed when racing is great thanks to the over-the-top velocity the bikes can get up to via the turbo button. As in the original, it's possible to go so fast that you break the sound barrier. Best of all, the PlayStation 2 manages to keep all of the above graphical action going at an extremely fluid frame rate. Developer Acclaim Studios Cheltenham has stated that its target is a constant 60fps, and from the look of things so far, the game seems to be well on its way to meeting that goal. The build we played was already running at a near constant 60 frames per second, special effects and all.
As in the original game, while the main goal of a race is to come in first, dealing a little damage and/or death to your opponents is a good thing too. By using the nicely diverse arsenal available, you can slow down or deal death to your opponents in a number of creative ways. However, the ability to blow up players who cut you off is a double-edged sword. After an opponent is destroyed, he or she is permanently taken out of the race; while this can be very useful to you when racing, it's not so fun when you're the one blown up. Making sure you race well at high speeds and kill successfully while avoiding explosive death really gives the game some bite. Keeping tabs on your shield, turbo, and ammo levels is a must. While they can all be recharged by racing over specific patches of track, there never seem to be any such patches around when you really need them.
To hook you, the game will offer several modes to tear through. Single player modes include XG league, league, arcade, time trial and championship. Multiplayer modes offer team grand prix, head-to-head, or a cooperative mode where you can compete as part of the same team. The grand prix and league modes will reward you with money, which you can use to upgrade your bike. The customization possible on a bike will let you tailor your bike's strengths and weaknesses to your racing style. The more bloodthirsty racers can load up on the weapons, while the less combative can focus on speed and armor. The upgrades are also essential to getting through some of the more challenging shortcuts. Control is solid. The bikes handle well: The R2 and L2 shoulder buttons control air brakes, which allow for fairly easy turning.
So far, Extreme G3 looks very promising. The sense of speed and the track design--key elements of the original's appeal--seem to be back on track. Fans of the series may be disappointed when they discover the game's multiplayer modes only support two-player split-screen racing--a cut down from the four-player split-screen modes in the previous games. While the omission is a bit of a letdown, the new additions seem to balance things out a bit and definitely make the game one to watch for. Extreme G3 is slated to ship this August.
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