Acclaim's Vanishing Point began as an attempt to blur the line between arcade-style extravagance and home console racing games. Released originally for Sega's Dreamcast system, the game developed by Clockwork Games is now available for the Sony PlayStation. While it isn't the heir apparent to Gran Turismo or Ridge Racer Type 4, Vanishing Point's own brand of arcade-based simulation is a fine alternative. There are a few quirks to get used to, though.
Initially, Vanishing Point feels just like any other ordinary arcade-style racer. Of the game's 32 vehicles and 13 tracks, only two cars and a single course are available from the outset. To unlock the rest, as well as some useful tune-up options, you'll need to achieve first-place finishes in the game's tournament mode. In tournament mode, each car is presented with three individual heats in which to race, each of which is in turn composed of two or three of the game's 12 main courses, with mirrored and reversed tracks cropping up intermittently. Unfortunately, you start out with a poorly handling Ford Explorer and a tail-heavy Ford Mustang Cobra, so you'll have to surmount the game's slippery handling and devastating crashes before getting to the good stuff.
In an interesting twist, success in a Vanishing Point race doesn't depend on your ability to overtake your opponents' vehicles, but on your ability to beat a series of preestablished top times. Indeed, as the game's realistic cityscapes pass by at over 100 miles per hour, commuter traffic is there for one reason and one reason only: to slow you down. They're pretty good at it, too, especially considering how they're mostly immune to the same laws of physics that hinder you. They'll swerve at you, crash, and recover in a second--you won't. Get used to that. If it sounds like a bizarre crossing of 4 Wheel Thunder, Crazy Taxi, and Daytona, that's exactly what Vanishing Point is--in the beginning, at least.
Although the game's controls are hypersensitive, especially in the PlayStation version, the game quickly opens up once you've adjusted. The Ford Explorer and Mustang Cobra give way to vehicles better suited to the task at hand, such as the BMW 325i and Toyota Supra, while a series of much-needed tune-up options, namely tire pressure, damping, and brake bias, give the game the sense of handling that it initially lacks. In many ways, it's as if the game's designers want you to experience the perils of a cookie-cutter arcade racer before they reward you with a forgiving simulation. The PlayStation version also has a few uncommon CPU recovery bugs not found in the Dreamcast version, such as teleporting rivals, but these don't get in the way of the overall experience.
Like the Dreamcast version, Vanishing Point for the PlayStation is a beautiful game, even if it is missing a few details from and the crisp resolution of the DC release. The courses are mostly oval in nature, but they possess the kind of crafty corners and sweeping curves usually found in rally racing games. As a side effect, Clockwork has given the game a decent level of environmental detail. Buildings and trees flow by with a kind of fluidity that you can almost touch, while a number of active objects, such as airplanes and monorails, give the game an almost lifelike sense of existence. There are a few missing light standards, radar dishes, and other assorted bric-a-brac when it's compared with the Dreamcast version, but the game is still quite on par with anything Sony or Namco has put out. Car models are realistically reproduced here as well. The Plexiglas distortion and mirror reflection effects from the Dreamcast game are gone, but there's enough body detail and shading to honestly make the experience of driving a Ford Ranger, Mercury Sable Wagon, Dodge Viper, or any of the game's 32 vehicles a realistic one. Other than a horribly placed rearview camera and some harsh choppiness during two-player games, Vanishing Point looks impressive.
If you're into European- and Japanese-influenced techno music or loud sound effects, there's also much to like about Vanishing Point's audio. The soundtrack itself is similar to Namco's efforts with the Ridge Racer series. As for sound effects, every engine, skid, and impact reverberation for each of the game's 32 vehicles has been realistically re-created. The number of ambient effects, such as airline exhaust and chirping cicadas, is pleasing as well. Sound effects in the PlayStation release seem muffled when compared with the effects in the Dreamcast version, but this isn't a fact that you'll mind unless you've played both.
In the end, Vanishing Point is one of the most original and enjoyable racing games to come around in a long time. The arcade and simulation aspects seem to fight against each other at first, but the road rage wears off once you unlock a few cars and tune-up options. If anything, the number of tournaments, single races, time trials, stunt courses, rally races, and two-player competitions is such that you'll be busy for a long, long time.