Rayman 2 Preview

A platformer of this caliber has not been seen on the PlayStation yet.

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Rayman 2: The Great Escape
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You've most likely tried out or bought the N64 version. You might even be playing the superimproved Dreamcast version right now. If so, then you may ask, Why would anyone want to play the "weakest" and latest (as in "late") version of Rayman 2 for the PlayStation? Believe it or not, for anyone who hasn't played it yet, and even for those who have, Ubi Soft has managed to create yet another high-quality version of its favorite mascot's sequel, and it has its own compelling reasons for you to play it.

I've just arrived at Ubi Soft's Shanghai office to check out the current work-in-progress, and I've found that the Chinese development team (along with some of Ubi Soft's key French members) has Rayman 2: The Great Escape up and running, and it looks fantastic.

When Ubi Soft ported the original N64 game to the Dreamcast, the process was actually pretty painless, given the DC's considerable hardware advantage over the N64. For the PlayStation version, which has been in development for almost two years now, Ubi Soft's Shanghai team was presented with an entirely different situation. What this entailed was taking the huge texture and animation requirements and stuffing all of it into the PlayStation's measly 2MB of onboard memory. While it took a bit longer to get going, the PS-experienced Shanghai team constructed a unique game engine that not only had the game running, but running at a steady 30 frames per second, and practically glitch-free.

Knowing that the PlayStation version would have to include features that would let it stand on its own, Ubi Soft Shanghai added a slew of additions and improvements so PS owners would be inclined to give Rayman 2 a new home. First among the changes was the addition of voice-acting to the game. While this may seem like no big deal, it brings Rayman closer than ever to the realization of the "3D cartoon." The voice-acting, surprisingly, is incredibly well done, similar in quality to a Saturday morning cartoon, and it truly adds to the experience. For the multilingual players out there, the game ships in five different languages (English, French, Spanish, Italian, and German), although it's unknown if it will be one language per game territory, or if you'll be able to select any language in the US version alone. Another cool addition is PocketStation support. While Sony still hasn't released the peripheral in the US, Ubi Soft is aware that some gamers have imported the device and has implemented the PocketStation support in ways that will actually benefit the player. Instead of just being a half-assed minigame collection, the PocketStation games will let you collect extra lums from the game, and you can even fight some of the game's bosses on the small handheld instead of in the actual game itself. While these options are not essential, for those who have a PocketStation, they provide a pretty cool reason to dust it off.

Among other additions to Rayman 2 are the creatures you free from cages. In the N64 and DC versions, they're all Lums, either yellow or red ones. In the PS version, you'll free three different creatures from cages. They all give you health refills, and Ubi Soft hopes that this difference will make rescuing these creatures just a touch more rewarding than before and add incentive to the whole process. While the previous editions of the game had huge levels and massive amounts of animation, texture data, and almost no load time, the development team (which grew from 20 to 53 people) had managed to capture just about everything the other iterations had. The first-generation game engine felt a bit "flat" to the team, and wanting to improve it, the team integrated a special vertex-lighting system that added depth and richness to the 3D environments. Despite the massive environments, there is no streaming data, as the team fitted every level (via specific PlayStation redesigns to 20 percent of the levels) into the onboard memory. The music is full redbook audio now, containing all of the CD quality sound as the DC version. The Shanghai team has gone a step further and implemented dynamic music changes, so the music adjusts to the tempo or situation of the game as it happens.The team has made full use of the Dual Shock controller. The left analog stick can be used for full 360-degree movement, while the right analog stick can be pressed to jump and pushed to fire Rayman's power-fist shots. While the digital controls work fine, this analog configuration is intuitive and precise. The L and R buttons control the camera, while L2 and R2 control Rayman's strafing.

Other little details, such as giving Rayman different sounds depending on what sort of material he's walking on, add to the immersion value, while the nearly high-res graphics may very well make you leap for joy. A platformer of this caliber has not been seen on the PlayStation yet. Sorry, Crash. Hands-on play reveals that the game controls as tightly as any version thus far, and the production value is extremely high.

Scheduled to ship this September, Rayman 2: The Great Escape may be a bit late to have the impact it might have had earlier on, but if you haven't sampled the joys of the no-armed, no-legged wonder in 3D, this is as good a reason as any to do so. Check back for more details as they emerge.

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