Supercar Street Challenge Preview

We take some super cars for a test drive.

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Fans of arcade-style racers will have something new to drive around the block this fall when Activision releases Supercar Street Challenge for the PlayStation 2. The first title by developer Exakt Entertainment, SSC has come a long way since it first debuted at last year's E3. Back then, the game was known as Street Lethal, and we only got to see a rough playable form. It's clear from the build we recently checked out that the game has been seriously polished and aims to offer an arcade-style experience in a number of high-profile locations. And a licensing deal with respected car manufacturer and modifier Steve Saleen--you've seen Saleen Mustangs tooling around town, we're sure--adds a dose of authenticity to the game. Not only has he had some design input, but his touch will also be seen in the game's slick create-a-car design studio feature.

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Click for full-size image

The game's goal, like that of every other arcade racer ever made, is simple: Make it to the finish line before your opponents, reaping accolades and glory as you win races. Supercar Street Challenge's single-player mode offers the standard championship, quick race, and time attack modes for you to tool around in. Championship will allow you, upon winning races, to unlock other options in the game. You'll also be able to earn money or points to upgrade your cars. You'll have a wide variety of options to spend your money and points on--everything from cosmetic additions like decals and mirrors to performance enhancements such as engine, brake, and suspension upgrades. Quick race, as the name indicates, will give you the ability to just jump in and drive after a few button presses. Time attack mode challenges you to beat a course's best time--even if that best time is your own.

The game's multiplayer options look like they'll fairly standard as well. Supercar Street Challenge's head-to-head mode will allow you to drive against a friend in a split-screen race. To help you race your best, SSC will offer a selection of nine licensed supercars: the Lotus M220, the Callaway C12, the Fioravanti F100, the Pagani Zonda C12s, the Vision CTEK K/2, the Bertone Pixster, the Rinspeed E-Go Rocket, Saleen's own S7, and the Pontiac Concept GTO. In addition to the standard versions of these vehicles, six of them (including the S7) will come with an alternate "race" version, bumping the roster up to 15. It should come as no surprise that the race versions are significantly speedier than their plain-Jane brethren, making for some insanely fast competition.

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Click for full-size image

A fleet of licensed supercars would be useless without some choice tracks to burn rubber on, though, and SSC is looking to deliver on that score as well. You'll have your pick of 23 courses set in London, Paris, Monaco, Los Angeles, Munich, and Rome. These will only be the basic tracks, however, as each location's course will have a number of variations based on track length. Thanks to Exakt's eye for detail, each city will sport recognizable landmarks. For instance, our run through the LA track found us roaring by the Staples Center on our way to the freeway. The courses are well designed and will offer you a variety of ways to the finish line. Each track possesses alternate paths and shortcuts, but, unlike in other racers, the shortcuts are actually pretty easy to spot, even when in the midst of 200mph racing. However, that old saying about the shortcut being the longest way to go can come true in SSC. These shortcuts, while shorter in length, will put your driving skills to the test--so only the best drivers will be able to shave precious seconds off the clock by using them.

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Click for full-size image

While Supercar Street Challenge's basic modes are typical of a racer, the game's "styling studio" is a feature that hasn't been seen very often in PlayStation 2 games. Chalk this feature up to the Steve Saleen license--tweaking out cars is what he does best, after all. More than just a stock "build your own car" feature, the styling studio allows you to choose from a selection of basic front and rear shapes to use on a car. You can then mix, match, and tweak them, which results in a real-time morphing effect on the cars. Aside from looking cool, the feature allows you to affect the car's aerodynamics, which should prove a hefty temptation to armchair engineers, and as you work through the championship mode, you unlock a greater selection of basic shapes. In addition, you'll be able to tweak the standard assortment of car stats--engine, brakes, handling, and suspension, among others. To keep things as user-friendly as possible, the game will use a set of sliders in the interface for tweaking various aspects of your ride. You'll be able to save your creations on to a memory card--no word yet on how much space they'll take up, however.

We had the chance to put the game through its paces, and it seems to be coming along, having improved significantly since last year's E3. Exakt has continued to work toward optimizing the game's graphics, which are extremely detailed. The various tracks offer wide, recognizable views of the cities they're set in, and the detail is clear and crisp. Though there will only be six cars in view at any time during play, they're extremely clean, sporting smooth graphics and a generous polygon count. In addition, the game will offer graphical touches such as weather effects, motion blur, volumetric fog, and lens flares.

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Click for full-size image

Control in the game was solid, with a notable amount of twitchiness. We had the most success using both analog sticks--the left for steering and the right for gas. Also, while the game is very playable, we had to adjust a bit for its physics and collision model, as those two areas still need a bit of work. The action did get a bit choppy in the alpha build we played, but Exakt has said it is currently aiming for a constant 60fps frame rate by the game's fall 2001 release.

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