Hands-onMad Dash Racing

We visit Crystal Dynamics and play its upcoming racing-combat game.

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On a visit to Crystal Dyanmics' Menlo Park facilities today, we had the chance to run through a playable course in Mad Dash Racing--the studio's upcoming Xbox on-legs racing/platform game. The game seems to be coming along quite nicely and successfully blurs the line between linear platformers, and rough-and-tumble arcade racers.

Basically, you take the role of a cartoon character, and book-it through huge, intricate, and expansive courses littered with all manner of platformesque challenges: long gaps, steep slides, and airborne tunnels are just some of elements coloring the courses.

The arctic course we got to see today seemed fairly far along, and its brisk pacing and tricky design make it pleasure to run through. As previously reported, the Mad Dash's characters will be separated into three different classes: quick "dashers," burly "bashers," and high-flying "gliders." Each class will have a certain strategy associated with it--dashers, for instance, are the quickest all-around, thanks to their boost abilities; bashers, on the other hand, are good at busting through obstacles that would stop other racers in their tracks; while gliders simply fly over them. Furthermore, every track in the game will have alternate routes designed to facilitate travel for characters of every type. The arctic stage we played today was evidence of this. Because the character we played was a glider, finding a suitable route was our first priority. Fortunately, one quickly made itself available. Just off the main course, a side route revealed itself--an inclining tunnel littered with big crates that we had to bust our way through. A basher's work, to be sure, but we were up to the task. Upon emerging from the tunnel, we found ourselves on the edge of a high cliff, beyond which floated a series of airborne platforms. We jumped off, glided toward them, and collected all the glowing green stones (the game's version of coins) that rested thereupon. The rest of the stage was a similar blast. Certain areas took the form of slippery snow slides, concave in surface, complete with strategically placed ramps and boost-pads, not unlike EA's SSX in execution.

At this point, technically and graphically, the game seems to be pretty well fleshed out. The control setup is pretty tight--the Xbox's left analog-stick controls your character, as logic would dictate, while jump, attack, and powerslide commands are mapped to the face buttons. Gliding is achieved by holding down the jump button and powersliding in Mad Dash works just like it does in kart-racers--you use it to both tear into turns and gear up for boosts. The environments were replete with all kinds of subtle flourishes, like snowflakes, real-time reflections, and animated elements. One stage (that we didn't get to play) featured a series of crashing gears in the backgrounds, spinning full-tilt as the character coursed through. Another stage--called Oompa Ruins--featured rhythmically closing stone temple doors, through which only bashers can bust. Another stretch of the Oompa Ruins took place on a gigantic blade of grass, sections of which, apparently, had been munched away by similarly giant caterpillars, which sat on the course, quite effectively obstructing certain paths.

In any event, Mad Dash Racing is looking quite good. The game is currently running at around 30-40 fps, though certain unpopulated courses ran at a solid 60-plus--the figure that the team is shooting for. We're pretty excited about this one, and we'll very likely learn a lot more about it at this year's E3.

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