Retro Game Reviews

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Stephan

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WWE Smackdown Here Comes The Pain! or Exciting Pro Wrestling! 5 for Japan (2003, PS2)
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I didn't know Torrie Wilson was in the cover when I got HCTP for the first time.

WWE Smackdown Here Comes The Pain is the 5th Smackdown! game to be featured in THQ's WWE games. This is also the first time where any of the Rock's quotes was not used in the Smackdown title and the last game to use Smackdown! name before replacing it with Smackdown vs Raw which was used until 2011.

This game was also the benchmark for every wrestling fan saying that this and WWF No Mercy on the N64 (We'll get to that soon) are the best WWE/WWF games. So let's jump right in to HCTP.

This game is the sequel to Smackdown! Shut Your Mouth and right away when you play Here Comes The Pain it plays like Shut Your Mouth but improved. Introducing new matches like Elimination Chamber and Bra and Panties (I know you guys like to play that match a lot especially when stripping Trish Stratus), HCTP completely brought out what Ruthless Aggression is. Of course the Hardcore match was improved as well and like its predecessors it has different stages to play on.

Now let's go to the positives and negatives:

Positives:
- Improved gameplay from Shut Your Mouth.
- Legends now added such as Deadman ver.1 Undertaker, Sgt. Slaughter, The Road Warriors, Jimmy "Superfly" Snuka, and more.
- Season Mode has been improved.
- New match types added such as Elimination Chamber, etc.
- Improved controls on grappling wrestlers.
- New movesets
- Better roster than Shut Your Mouth (You get access to Goldberg, Scott Steiner, ABA Taker, Thuganomics Cena, and more.)

Negatives:
- The last WWE game to feature Steve Austin and The Rock as active wrestlers before Austin came back as legend for future WWE games while The Rock came back as part timer but updated for WWE '12 and featuring his Rocky Maivia and Attitude Era Rock for future WWE games.
- Limited creation suite for entrance sets such as music, videos, etc.
- No title matches. You can only have title matches at Season Mode. But title matches would later come back for SVR '06.
- No commentary from either Jerry Lawler and Jim Ross or Michael Cole and Tazz. Just music.

Conclusion:
This and No Mercy are the benchmarks for wrestling games and I have to agree. No Mercy offers better gameplay and career progression while HCTP has fun and faster gameplay. Of course once the SVR name started that's where they started falling down a bit in terms of quality (Only SVR '05 was the bad SVR game) and once they were bought by 2K Games, their quality hasn't been the same since HCTP (TBH 2K17 was not really a good game). So for this one? 8.5/10.
 

Stephan

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Since this next game that I'm about to review is about to become 10 yrs old during its release, maybe a game review is now plausible?

Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights (2007, Xbox 360, PS2, Nintendo DS, PSP, PS3, PC, and Java)
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Juiced 2: Hot Import Nights is the sequel for Juiced and the third game for the Juiced series.

Juiced 2 completely changed everything that Juiced 1 showed us. The physics were completely changed and it made the FR cars easier to use. This also introduced HIN sponsorship which means...sexy girls. But then again HIN is still one major car show in the US so I'm guessing either THQ must've paid HIN to sponsor Juiced 2 or the way around with HIN asking THQ to sponsor Juiced 2 with a price.

Back to the game, with Juiced 2 having multiple platforms including last gen consoles such as PS2, PSP, and DS there's always exclusives features that are present and aren't present. Before we get to the positives and negatives, let's list down features that are not present in the PS2, PSP, and DS versions:

- More customization options (Widebody kits, headlights, taillights, custom plates, roof scoops, interior customization, window tints, more wheel options, more front and rear bumper options, more side skirt options, more spoiler options, ride height, and more hood options)
- Cars (Cars that are not present in either version are Aston Martin DB9 Volante, Aston Martin Vanquish, BMW M3 GTR, Honda S2000 '06, Toyota Celica GT-Four, and Mitsubishi 3000GT '98)
- Opponents having better livery compared to the last gen versions in which they are simple.
- Spectator betting. Also a game killer.
- Maximum grid is 8.
- First person view. Nuff said.
- Your own avatar and avatar customization.
- More dialogues from your opponents.
- There's a post race show where the top 3 is being shown.

Positives
- Revamped physics and it made the unplayable FR cars playable.
- New cars added with the inclusion of BMW, Koenigsegg, Pagani, Ascari, Aston Martin, Melling, etc.
- More customization added.
- Driver DNA being accurate and following your every move such as cornering, powersliding, spooking, etc.
- New tracks added.
- Avatar customization.
- Improved spooking. Once you fill up an opponent's spook meter, they'll spun out which is very helpful especially in close races.
- Damage system improved plus you don't need to worry about hitting your opponent because the respect system from Juiced/Juiced Eliminator is gone.

Negatives
- Heavy amount of girls being shown especially when choosing a race for Career mode which makes it weird to play especially when someone watches you play.
- The crew system was completely watered down. I rather have Juiced/Juiced Eliminator's way of getting crew members and how to improve them for races.
- Some cars might not have customizable parts (I'm looking at you MR2. You don't have side skirt options which forced me to use bodykits instead. This also goes at you BMW M3, M3 GTR and Z4. Only wheels can be customized plus it's also BMW wheels only. Same goes for performance parts.)
- AI too easy for the last gen versions.
- Spectator betting. Once you know how to do spectator betting that's where it easier to earn money. You can even get 500k+ on spectator betting. For last gen versions if you want grind more cash then bet on Bobby Sawyer when racing against him. Pick the highest amount of money then bet on Bobby. He'll also go all in.

Conclusion:
Having played the PS2, PSP, and currently the PS3 version, all them have a unique gameplay experience from what I've gone so far. The PS2 and PSP offers faster gameplay plus it felt like a revamped Juiced with HIN sponsorship, improved physics, new cars, and always nighttime races. For the PS3, X360, and PC versions, it felt like a new Juiced game. Graphics were obviously better plus it has exclusive cars for next gen versions and other features that are present from what I mentioned.

Is it recommended to play?
If you're looking for a game that has good amounts of customization plus racing on close tracks then Juiced 2 is the perfect game for you. I can also recommend this for those who are into customizing cars and those who played NFS Prostreet before.

So my score for the versions I played is:
PS2 and PSP= 7/10
PS3= 8/10
 
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Matej

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Ford Racing - Demo (2001, PC)


The Ford Racing series of driving games gained decent recognition for featuring a variety of driving challenges and cars dedicated to a single manufacturer. The series spawned total of five games on various platforms, two of which were released during period when the series was at its peak. Most of these games were met with mediocre critics, in spite of offering several curiosities you wouldn't expect from budget games.

Everything started with Ford Racing back in 2001, the root of the series. Although it packs the least number of cars and tracks, as well as seemingly very straightforward gameplay, certain details I found while playing it did attract my attention.

For instance, The Ford Puma I was given for a test had a nice paint scheme, and so did other Pumas driven by my AI colleagues. It may sound like a triviality, but good livery designs are good livery designs, they help the cars look very authentic.

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This particular paint scheme resembles a Puma Kit car.

Brake pads glow when braking hard, and you can actually flip the car if you dive into a corner too aggressively. Unsettling the car occurs abruptly, but it can be prevented, even on a keyboard. The physics engine may not be anything special, but I like how the car's rotation point is positioned on the car's front axle (as it should be), not in the middle of the car's body. This significantly improves the joy of driving and allows you to occasionally convince bystanders the game tries to be realistic. An overall grade of the engine would be "okay".

Additional controllers do seem to be supported, though my regular controller obviously wasn't one of them (I could assign buttons on the menu, but in the actual game nothing worked). It doesn't matter though, the game can be played on a keyboard easily.

My biggest complaint goes to the sound effects and car's tremendous stopping power. Let's deal with the audio first - Puma's exhaust tune and sound of the engine climbing across revs are artificial and not convincing at all. And when you skid, you get to hear that really cheap tire screeching sound that certainly doesn't improve image of the sounds on this demo. Well, at least that one track I was listening to was passable.

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Ups! Did I do that?

Speaking of the car's stopping power... if you try to decelerate by raising thumb of the button, it will be as you have applied brakes. Try braking, and your car will stop even quicker. Going reverse-mechanics weren't even finished, don't even try to let go off the button until you have aligned the car properly because the car will stop like instantly! Don't worry though, in normal circumstances you won't notice such issue actually exists. Players used to arcade games won't complain about the stopping power either, it will be like a simulation for them.

Oh, and... difficulty sucks. "Hard" wasn't hard at all, I could catch up and overtake my opponents several seconds after crashing severely way too easily. Maybe higher-ranked races featuring faster cars are tougher, but the single one I played with the Pumas just wasn't.

As far as I could tell from videos on the internet, the PS1 version offers several groups of one-model races dedicated to each Ford in the game. Detailed car tuning is also there, and I noticed you can qualify and do test runs prior any main event. Yeah, the GT1 legacy, exactly. If you care about the elements I have mentioned, check what the PC version has to offer, the demo I played was limited.

The PS1 version seems to have problems with the sense of speed (tachometer displays ridiculously slightly lower values than the speed you're actually moving at) but it also seems to have slightly better physics model... I'll leave that for you to judge. Personally, I would prefer the PS1 version mostly because the environment atmosphere reminds me on GT2.

All in all, an average racing game supporters of Ford vehicles could at least consider. The rest of us aren't missing anything. Stay tuned for more Ford Racing Demo reviews, I have more of these to present. :mischievous:

PC gameplay example here.
 
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Matej

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Ford Racing 2 - Demo (2003, PC)


I decided to review the three Ford Racing demo games I have played. The review of Ford Racing 2 demo is about to commence. If you would like to read my review of the first Ford Racing demo, click here.

...

Made on a newly developed engine, Ford Racing 2 brings significant increase in car count and substantial changes to the gameplay. Switching focus from a traditional career mode to driving challenges and car collecting made the game so much different and interesting. But there is more to the improvements than meets the eye.

As far as the graphics are considered, there is nothing to complain about. The game looks very good and can easily be compared with titles from wealthier developers. Sounds have seen improvements as well. Although terrible tire screeching from the last game remained intact, the same cannot be said for the exhaust tunes. They have been improved considerably, to a very realistic degree. You can now even differ one V8 from another! Each track has a different set environment sound effects that trigger when you reach specific point of the track. This helps you feel the atmosphere of each location you race on. The developer obviously invested lots of effort in the sound portion of the game, and it shows.

With a better engine comes better controller compatibility. The game automatically recognized my controller, I had no issues with calibration of the sticks or button configuration, everything worked properly.

Ford-Racing2-Demo.jpg
This is how it should be done - interesting cars and beautiful open environment.

The physics engine deserves a good grade, though you'll need to adapt to minor changes in the way it works. While car's rotation point is still positioned on the front axle as before, now it seems that on every turn-in cars somehow tilt to one side at unusual angle, almost as rotation of the car's body doesn't work as you would expect. Intensity of the motion increases in relation to strength of your steering inputs, and type of car you're driving (the demo offers two cars). Don't worry, it's not nearly as bad as it sounds. I actually think the driving is quite good and often addictive since you're encouraged to steer smoothly.

The idea behind the new gameplay concept is simple: complete a set of challenges with given cars in order to unlock cars and use them in your own custom races. No purchase system or tuning your rides either, it's just "pick and play" style. This could disappoint drivers who are used to car ownership and tuning or drivers that have played the original game.

On the other hand, it's a refreshing change from typical racing games. Players seeking a driving title that puts your skills to the test with a list of diverse challenges could love this system. Honestly, the game occasionally reminds me on the Driver series and its "driving games".

Ford-Racing2-Dirt.png
Off-roading is also part of nothing-but-Ford game.

It quickly became apparent that the developer heavily improved the difficulty system, at least judging the demo. If you select Hard, you get hard. This was no longer a walk in the park like in the first Ford Racing demo, I had to drive really fast in order to keep up with my opponents. For the most part the AI is aware of your presence on the track and will avoid contacts. Yeah, mutual respect. But I have seen AI cars making mistakes and even knocking other cars out when all of us were clogged together. And as far as I could see, you can now adjust difficulty before every single challenge and thus, from the very first miles of driving, dictate pace of your gaming. Very nice, I give difficulty a very high grade.

CONCLUSION

The demo swept me off my feet, the full Ford Racing 2 game could be a really great budget-driving game. I like everything I have seen so far, especially the new difficulty system and variety of driving challenges. I dare to say collecting cars has never been so fun before, I may just consider purchasing a copy!

OR... we could review the last Ford Racing demo and see can it get any better than this. Stay tuned!
 
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Ford Racing 3 - Demo (2004, PC)

The third instalment in the Ford Racing series is essentially a big update to the previous game, with more cars and more challenges on disposal, in both size and variety.

With the exception of the slightly redesigned HUD, I haven't really noticed any big changes in the graphic or audio department of the game. I don't think this is a problem at all considering how Ford Racing 3 focuses primarily on expanding the gaming material, rather than dealing with the make-up. Only players who expect big step-up in presentation (like one they experienced after moving from the first game to the second) could see this as a sign of either laziness on developer's part or lack of funds to upgrade everything. Their pick. Personally, I'm not bothered with it.

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Escort Cosworth, Mondeo ST220, and Capri are some of the newest Ford additions FR3 offers.

What does bother me is what they did to the physics engine. I can't say the physics engine in Ford Racing 2 was great, but it was certainly better than the one in Ford Racing 3. This time the point around which car rotates penetrates directly through the centre of the car's body, not the front axle as it was the case in previous two games (and as it is the case in real life). To further fuel the fire, the developer made all cars feel very light on input. Bad combination. I think very few games have worse physics than this.

For the love of Ford, why? At first I thought it was a pre-production kind of thing that ended up in the demo, but then I carefully checked several videos of the full game on the internet and noticed how cars in these videos moved exactly how mine did.

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First-person camera angle. The arc-shaped gauges are nice touch.

I won't say the driving can't be fun, though. Sometimes sliding around corners does deliver very modest fractions of joy, especially if you manage to pull it without scratching nearby objects or cars (thanks to good controls, it can be done). As an overall package however, it is a step backwards from what the last game offered. I can accept they spent good deal of funds licensing all the new Ford cars, but surely copy-pasting the physics from the last game can't be that expansive?

If only Ford Racing 3 had the same physics from the last game, it would have been a true hit. Really, apart from the physics, everything else is either good or great. Sadly, in the current state you have no other option but to choose what is more important for you: physics or content. Because at the end of the day, that's exactly where Ford Racing 2 and Ford Racing 3 differ.

Gameplay video example here.
 
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Gran Turismo 4 (2005, PS2)
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The 4th entry in the critically acclaimed Gran Turismo series, Gran Turismo 4 is considered by some to be the start of the downfall of the GT series, despite it featuring the best career mode in the series, due to it being the first GT game to feature an emphasis on car collecting. It was the 2nd GT game to have more than 500 cars, featuring over 720 cars from 80 manufacturers, including obscure cars such as the Oullim Spirra, Lister Storm, Chrysler Prowler and Jensen Interceptor.

The "simulation mode" in GT4 was perhaps the strongest in the series, with new innovations such as "A-Spec Points", which players recieve based on how much of a disadvantage they have over the AI, B-Spec Mode, which allows the player to play the role of a crew chief and have an AI driver win races for them and Driving Missions, which offer different types of challenges to test players knowledge of different racing techniques, such as overtaking and slipstreaming, rewarding them with extra rare cars.

There were a number of firsts for the GT series with GT4, such as the inclusion of the Nurburgring Nordschliefe and Le Mans, 24 Hour endurance races, and 1080i HD compatability (NTSC only). The HD compatability, combined with the game disc being one of the only PS2 games on a dual-layer DVD, caused a number of technical issues such as black screens before the intro and the infamous "red clock" glitch. It is speculated these issues crop up due to the PS2's laser being worn out, and that some GT4 copies don't work at all on slimline PS2's.

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POSITIVE

Over 720 cars including the Audi R8 LMP, Toyota GT-ONE, Chapparal 2D, Nissan 350Z and Lamborghini Diablo GT-1, and even a Nissan Skyline GT-R Pace Car, and a fantasy F1 car.

Over 50 tracks, both real and fantasy, including Nurburgring Nordschliefe, Le Mans, Laguna Seca and Suzuka Circuit

Amazing career mode featuring hundreds of race events custom made for specific vehicle types, including pickup trucks and supercars.

Endurance racing with dynamic tyre wear and fuel depletion.

Challenging AI that provide tense racing, even in the earlier events.

Licence tests that lets new drivers learn the basics of motor racing, which also give access to better race events and gives the player useful prize cars to get them started in beginner and amatuer race events.

Ability to reset event progress to win duplicate prize cars.

B-Spec mode that allows the player to control an AI driver to guide them to victory.

In depth Arcade Mode, allowing the player to drive any car they have unlocked in simulation mode, among hundreds of other vehicles.

For a 12 year old game, GT4 still looks amazing to this day, with amazingly detailed cars and circuits with the graphics being improved considerably from GT3, but it can look a little dated if you're playing a non-HD version on a newer TV.

Photo mode, allowing the player to take pictures of their cars, either in dedicated photo mode locations or in the replay of any of their races.

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NEGATIVE


Worse handling model than GT3, with cars being much more prone to understeer and it being very difficult to reliably drift, despite there being drift cars in the game.

Some game breaking glitches due to how demanding the game was, especially for HD NTSC copies.

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CONCLUSION


Gran Turismo 4 is one of the best GT games out there, with the best GT Mode, challenging AI and a great arcade mode setup, only let down by its poor driving phsyics, that seems to really love making even powerful RWD cars understeer, but the game is still incredible and is well worth going back to.

9/10

 
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Richard Burns Rally - Demo (2004, PC)


Richard Burns Rally is one of those reputable driving simulators that could never age out given the trends in the video game industry. It is challenging and utterly different from other rally games.

In RBR you can't just pin the throttle and Scandinavian flick every single corner at 100 kph while steering full lock. The track modellers have worked very hard to accurately simulate all the hazards real environment presents to a rally car and the driver operating it. Every pothole, bump, bush or log can greatly affect your progress on track. You have to concentrate all the time and carefully estimate where and how much to accelerate, partially because the stages are really narrow (or at least the one I was driving on was).

Most people say the physics engine is highly advanced, but it is very unlikely you're going to experience it in full-scale on the verge of test driving a car. During the time I spent with the demo I learned the physics are highly dependant on the controls and the way you set them.

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Innocent environment awaits for the naive ones...

Be prepared to spent some time on tweaking the controls. Assigning controls to buttons or sticks is easy, but that's just the first step. You need to tweak what the game calls "filters" and alter certain parameters that affect speed of the input and sensitivity. Pretty much all these parameters exist to help the players using basic controllers (like a keyboard) to be on par with the players using advanced peripherals, but if not properly configured, they can quickly ruin the driving regardless of what device you use.

Basically, depending on how well you have configured the controls, you'll find the cars either drivable in a very realistic manner or completely uncontrollable. Configuring is basically a trial and error principle, but it's worth going through all that. After finding a decent setup for my controller, I started to appreciate the challenge and the hazards the game posed.

The sense of speed can trick you, you'll be often moving much faster than the flow of the environment suggest. Maybe that had something to do with my demo testing being conducted under the lowest settings to help my PC breathe, but I highly doubt it. One particular detail I loved was the "help assistance" option. If you get stuck, activating it will trigger a cut-scene showing bystanders bringing you car back on track. It costs time, so make sure to use it only if you can't do it by yourself.

All in all, this is a great rally simulator that will keep you busy like never before. If you plan on buying a PC version, check the demo first and focus on setting the controllers right.
 

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Tokyo Xtreme Racing Zero (2001, PS2)

The streets are calling, will you respond? Of course you will, who would resist the temptation? But beware of the danger out there. The battles will be taking place at stretched highways at night and only the most extreme drivers... pardon me, only the most xtreme drivers will be able to survive and come out on top.

Did you find the opening a bit meaningless? Perhaps it was hard to understand? If so, that's great, because now you know how I felt when I first learned of the game's existence. Tokyo Xtreme Racer? What could that mean anyway? Maybe it's referring to Tokyo's most extreme racer... which could be you...? Or someone you have to beat to become that...? I really don't know, couldn't they come up with a more graspable title? Or at least something that is catchier than this. Mind you, an entire series of games stands behind it.

But what is Tokyo Xtreme Racer anyway? It's a series of budget street-racing games developed by Genki. Don't think low of yourself if it doesn't ring any bells, it was so easy for these games to slip beneath your radar back in the days when Gran Turismo 3 was drawing all the attention. The game we're talking about today - Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero - is a PS2 port of the second game released on the ill-fated Dreamcast platform. Genki allegedly planned to keep the series exclusively for the Dreamcast, but they probably realized that wouldn't be a good idea with the console scheduled for discontinuation in early 2001, not even three years after it got out.

Much like its relatives, the Zero was known for its semi-open roam gameplay and 60 frame rate display. Let's see if that's all you can expect from it.

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This is how a typical battle in TXR0 looks like. Get used to those SP bars as you will be looking at them all the time.

The concept of the game is to cruise around the highway in search for rivals. Until you find a rival you want to battle, you can dictate the pace of driving on your own and do whatever you want to do. The sad truth is that you don't really have anything specific to do but to drive from one rival to another, and you're very limited to where you can actually drive. Still, the sole fact you can visit parts of the map without loading screens interfering mimics an open-world game fairly good.

Once you find a rival you want to race against, get behind him and flash your headlights. This will initiate the battle. The driver who remains in the front for long enough to drain his opponent's Spirit Point bar wins the race. Earn money, buy better parts, return to the highway, conquer some more rivals, and repeat the process. And that's it, that's the whole game. But in spite of repeatedly doing the same thing over and over again, the game never becomes boring. As a matter of fact, it becomes surprisingly addictive very soon. I remember my earlier hours with the game, I literally spent from 60 to 120 minutes with the game on every gaming session. The reason for this could be the sense of freedom you get to feel while driving around, or the fact that the battle system itself prevents any pauses or loading screens from getting in your way. The races usually last from 60 to 120 seconds, and that keeps the play dynamic all the time.

The cars look aesthetically presentable and I like what they did to the paint codes to make the metallic ones look so natural. As for the environment, well, there isn't much to say since everything around you is pitch black (you always drive at night, remember?). There is a lot of concrete around you, that's for sure. I guess it looks okay, I mean, it's a concrete, how could you mess up a concrete template anyway?

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This is your garage, it takes some time to learn where each circle leads to.

Most common special effect you're often going to spot are the brake glow and air planes flying over you.

I guess the biggest achievement regarding the graphics is the fact that the game runs at 60 fps without ever slowing down. The sense of speed is great and it makes the driving rather exciting, especially once you unlock the Wangan portion of the map.

The game has around 160 cars. How does a budget game get up to 160 cars? By not obtaining any licences of course. Strip off the badges and make up names from their chassis codes and there you go - 160 cars, GT level of car quantity. Even Porsche makes an appearance, which is really hilarious. But I have to say they had to be really daring to do such thing because the cars look almost perfect for the time, it is only a miracle nobody filled lawsuits against Genki. I guess marketing wasn't the strongest for this game, they had to keep a low profile for sure.

After you beat the game, there is not much else left to do. There is a Quick race mode where you have to beat several (the game says 100) rivals in a row without losing your SP bar. Sounds tempting, but in theory you'll be only able to finish it if you drive something fast. I tried it once, and never got back. Maybe I will someday. Maybe.

You can also challenge beaten rivals to a head-to-head battle. Not a bad idea, but without receiving any prize money, it gets boring rather quickly. There is also a standard time trial mode. If you want to see how fast you can loop the Wangan or C1 section without the traffic getting in your way, this is the mode for you.

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Each rival has two info pages - one for his "CV" and one for his driving manners. Lots of text that rarely helps you.

Finally, you can engage into a 2-player battle with your friend. It's a bit disappointing because both drivers are limited to 1st-person view and traffic cars are absent. Regarding usage of garage cars, there is a little problem you probably won't like. Whoever is in possession of the port 1 controller can only choose from port 1 memory card and vice versa. I have seen that crap in GT1 and it's really impractical unless you know someone who plays the game, lives in your vicinity, and has a stash of cars stored in his memory card.

The artificial intelligence has several lines of codes built in. Some rivals will block you when you get near them, some will brake-check you, some will wave around like mad drinkers, while some will simply put the pedal to the metal and try to leave you in dust. Nothing special overall, but they don't all drive equally, like robots, and that's what matters most. If only they could corner well, the racing would be even more exciting. It is fairly easy to beat faster cars when there are corners ahead, they like to slow down more than necessary. That's why it's recommended not to pick the fastest cars available if you want a proper challenge.

And let me tell you something about acquiring a car, it is a pet peeve of mine. In order to buy new rides, first you have to unlock them by beating certain rivals. At first, nothing seems to be problematic about that until you start noticing that some of the cars you could have used earlier in the game have appeared now when you have already gone too far to put them to proper use. It messes with your mind, too. You think you have picked a great car, and few battles later, a better version of it pops up in the lot. Thank goodness a full list of cars is available on the internet, so you can plan your shopping in advance. Genki must have been really proud of their car purchasing system since it appears in this or that variation in every single TXR game I can think of.

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Red dots that appear far up front are tail lights of traffic cars. When you battle at high speeds you have to look at both your opponent's location and the red dots as it is only a matter of moment when the traffic car having them will appear before you. This makes driving in TXR0 challenging, and warns of the danger of illegal highway racing.

Money is very hard to come by, you can't afford to make any bad purchase because only heaven knows when you will be able to buy something else again.

The physics engine is really bad, I'm going to be completely honest with you. It's the pivot-steer engine at its best. What it means is that the point around which your car rotates is placed in the centre of the car, not on the front axle like it should be. Your steering inputs control rotation of the car's body, tire turning is only a decoration. It's ridiculous to see the car turning before the front wheels have rotated, but that's exactly how it works in TXR0. I noticed that front-wheel drive cars are more enjoyable to drive since the effect on them is lesser (I guess the pivot point is moved towards the front a bit more), but it's still noticeable when you turn aggressively. I think only Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift has worse physics than this, though that's just my guess since I have only watched videos of that game.

One thing I give my praises to is the soundtrack. It is so awesome. Some tunes are suitable for relaxed cruising, while others are for tense battling.

Anyway, this is one of the earliest TXR games with great soundtrack, long gameplay, but bad physics. Although it can be ordered from eBay for few bucks already, I would strongly recommend watching few videos on the internet to get the idea how the cars really handle before making any investment. If you find the physics drives you off, buy the DVD soundtrack and look for TXR3.

POSITIVE

- The soundtrack is kickin'
- The sense of speed
- Lots of guys to beat

NEGATIVE

- The physics engine isn't for everyone... hardly for anyone, to be exact!
- More gameplay variation wouldn't hurt


Gameplay video example here.

All photos in the review were taken from the internet.
 

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Maximo: Ghosts to Glory (2001, PS2)


A video review of Maximo: Ghosts to Glory for PS2. Enjoy!

 
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Tokyo Xtreme Racing Drift 2 (2007, PS2)


Ready for some xtreme reviews?

Tokyo Xtreme Racer Drift 2 (also known as Kaido Racer 2 in Europe or Kaido Battle 3: Touge no Densetsu in Japan) is arguably the most familiar and recognizable piece of software from Genki, one that pushed drifting and mountain driving to the foreground. We are going to shed some light on its short-lived success.

The concept of the game hasn't changed from other Kaido titles in the series (there is three of them). Your task is to earn money in daily events for parts, cars, and gambling bids, so that you can battle street racers at night. It's an ingenious concept that works great in theory, but not in realm of TXRD2 where overly mild difficulty prevents it from shining. The rivals are very cautious when cornering, they often excessively brake for no apparent reason. And since corners on these narrow mountain roads unfold one after another, it isn't unusual to see a high-performance machine crawling at pedestrian speeds. Winning is easy and you soon find yourself drowning in money, which is the opposite of what should have been the case.

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These graphics could be ported to PS3 and still look nice.

As far as the graphics are considered, Genki wasn't holding back. The environment is worth feasting your eyes on it, everything is so colourful and sharp. Special effects aren't missing either. You can see dead leaves falling from trees or raising up from a pile as you run over it, various banners moving in the wind, flame-spitting exhausts and brake pads glowing. Great presentation is backed only by minor inconsistency in car modelling accuracy and problems with colour saturation and brightness on certain cars. But on the whole, they did a great job.

Most impressive selection of cars for a budget game, though it's a bit shame several European unicorns from the previous game didn't make the cut. One of the more annoying things is that factory-tuned cars can't be tweaked or upgraded, you have to drive them as they are. What kind of reasoning was behind this, I wonder?

The game has a livery editor, though not nearly as sophisticated and detailed as the one in TXR3. Instead of having a set of tools for decorating each part of your car pixel by pixel, you can choose from a big list of predefined decals, each of which can be simply applied on a hood or side panels of your car. This makes creating something original and eye-catching way easier and faster, but forget about replicating some specific livery you have seen in real life, it is impossible to do it with this kind of editing.

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Look what I did here! Fancy, huh? And it only took me like 3 minutes.

There are several unnecessary steps to navigation in the menus that induce lots of clicking and prolong the time you spend going through the maze. The menu system wears the player rather quickly, even those who have enrolled a number of hours into the game and are supposed to be immune to its issues. The good news is that the developer improved a pop-up shortcut menu, so now you can often cut the bull by few steps, depending on where exactly you are in the menu.

The music isn't memorable, some tunes are better than others, but nothing I would listen to after I finish with the game. When you pause the game, you can hear background special effects, like engines revving somewhere in distance, crickets or wind blowing. Exhaust sounds are of average quality, the best being those of horizontally-opposed engines, depending on the model and tuning part upgraded.

The physics engine has improved substantially, the point around which the car rotates is no longer placed somewhere in the centre of the car, but on the front axle (the proper way). This was a novelty for the series back in the days, and a reason why TXRD2 received such attention. You can finally tell that the front tires are responsible for turning. Additionally, with the exception of great Enthusia, I can't think of any other driving game that models torque steer on rear-wheel drive cars. Steering wheel support is also said to work nice, especially the feedback. All in all, a significant step up from before, but not without flaws.

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The essence of ROM tuning - add more torque down there at the cost of power up there.

The problem is that the traction on either axles breaks without much progression, causing sudden and hardly controllable changes in behaviour. Cars also seem to straighten out way faster than they should. Some might say this is just the way Genki portrayed understeer, but from the way the motion occurs, my guess is that it is a left-over from previous TXR games when pivot-steer physics was still in. Drifting is fun, but you need to practice a lot to master it.

With the exception of so-called short tracks, every single stage can be driven at day or night and in different weather conditions. The game also features ROM tuning, and brake fade plays an important role during prolonged races, especially when running downhill.


CONCLUSION

To sum up, this is not the best drifting game on the market, but as far as touge games are considered, it is a great pick, probably the best you can get have you been wishing for something unique and different. To tell you the truth, just the fact you can cruise around picturesque Japanese scenery somewhere up a mountain is a breath of fresh air on its own, but the game has a lot more to offer if you dig deep enough.

However, I do have to point out that this isn't the best title in the Kaido series, at least in my opinion. The second (previous) game did fundamental things so much better and actually feels more polished or serious than TXRD2. I would recommend buying the second one, and why, you can read little review I left here.

Bonus: Some random thoughts and facts

  • Placing sponsor tickets on your car generates extra cash for every participation in daily races. To bring sponsors to your side and sign the contract you have to complete their challenges, which are often a reminiscence of the mission challenges in GT4 (image below).
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  • If you beat a rival car enough time, he will become your friend and you will be able to drive his car. You can't tweak his ride or tune it, but just the fact you can drive unique crafts from stage bosses is awesome. Plus, there is a Pokemon effect, you gotta be friends with everyone!
  • The game also comes with gymkhana events and even a standalone rally challenge. Sadly, the game's kindness ruined that one as well. Even after making tons of mistakes and stacking up a number of penalty seconds for hitting barriers, I still won the races by a mile.
  • Stopping a car is a delicate process, with no ABS one has to aim for a maximum pressure right before the lock-up. A heaven for purists.
  • BBS posts hide helpful tips, and often challenge invitations to a battle (image below).
BBS.jpg
 
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Urban Chaos (2000, PS1)


Urban Chaos is a nameless action game for which open world game fans would kill had they known what it was all about. I’m going to shed some light on it and tell you what makes it so unique. I don’t think my talking will have any effect on demand ratings for the game, but you know what they say, hopes die last.

To give you a better understanding of how the game plays, imagine combining a typical Tomb Raider game for PS1 with a 3D Grand Theft Auto, and Urban Chaos is what you will get. This is no doubt an earlier example of a free-roam action game, well built at that.

Each mission takes part in one of several areas of the Union City. You can go straight after the mission objectives or freely roam around, detain dangerous criminals (known in the game as Wildcats) and look for bonuses appearing in a form of collectibles and mini side-quests.

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Cut time by sliding down the rope from one building to another. So awesome.

Climbing up the buildings plays important role on many missions. You can examine your surroundings better that way or access new areas you couldn’t get into otherwise. A carry over from Tomb Raider games greatly affects the freedom players sense when exploring the city, and I am so thankful that your activities aren’t strictly limited to the ground.

Along the way you will often engage into hand-to-hand combat with thugs. Fighting works okay, though camera causes problems in controlling your attacks and movements because it is not positioned behind your character as you circle strafe around your enemy. For that reason it becomes hard to aim your attacks or flee from situations when you are outnumbered, the latter which usually leads to death if you do not react quickly. For spicier opponents, you can always trust your life to one of few firearms the game comes packed with. The shooting mechanics aren’t perfect, but they are more manageable than fighting. If only bullets wouldn’t fly through certain solid objects like containers or post mail boxes, it would be better.

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On several missions you'll be able to play with different characters, including crooks themselves.

The good news is that sometimes you won’t be cleaning the streets alone. Police officers in patrol are willing to assist you in getting rid of the scum that is coming after you as long as they’re nearby when you engage into combat. On some occasions they will even follow you around, providing ultimate protection regardless of where you go. If you enter a car, they will enter as well, so all of you together can drive around. Really cool touch and a reminiscence of early GTA games.

Speaking of driving, this is one part of the game that left a bitter taste in my mouth. I don’t really use cars unless I have to, because the maps aren’t that big, and for most of the time it is easier and faster to simply sprint to wherever you want to go (assuming your stamina is high enough). Even so, the main reason I avoid driving is the physics. The steering is a bit too sensitive and vehicles do not steer at their best from the very first input. I also find troublesome that you have to double-tap the acceleration button when going from reverse to 1st gear or brake button for the other way around. If the game was all about driving, it would be bad, but since this is primarily on-foot action game, I can close my eyes on this and leave it be.

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Thanks, but I would rather walk.

The main story is kinda peculiar. First you think it’s just another typical cop vs gang story influenced by a typical Hollywood action movie, but somewhere in the middle of the game it starts pulling in sci-fi elements for which I have mixed opinion. It is one of those stories that can work from beginning to end fairly well, but when you start thinking about it more thoroughly, you realize it doesn’t have its logic all figured out. For most players it will be good enough and will keep them wondering who or what is responsible for all the rumble that is happening in the city. The missions are pretty cool, and most importantly, diverse, so you won't feel any repetition or boredom.

The soundtrack deserves a good grade, though for most of the time you hear looped outdoors effects. Voice acting is pretty good. Judging the manual that comes with the game, the developer assigned lots of actors to do the job, and the final result is really good.

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Some pretty talented folks were hired to do the voice acting.

You can also play this game on PC and Sega Dreamcast. I didn’t play the Sega version, but did spend some time with a demo of the PC version. While the game definitely looks better on the Windows, the controls are difficult to get used to because the game wasn’t designed for a keyboard, and players reported several problems setting up a joypad. My advice is, try PC demo and if you can’t get the controls right, stick with the PS1 version.

All in all, if you ever wanted to know how Grand Theft Auto 3 would play if it came out on PS1, this is the answer. Urban Chaos is few millimetres below that level of production and refinement, but for most of the time, if feels and plays equally great.

Gameplay example here.
 

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Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3 (2003, PS2)

Images taken from website Worthplaying.com.


What is the most extreme activity you wish to be involved into? Bungee-jumping? Swimming with sharks? Racing against the law on highway nights? If the last one is what grinds your gears, Tokyo Xtreme Racer 3 will make your birthday wish come true… at least virtually.


The concept hasn’t really changed from the last game. You still have to roam around the highways in search for battles, you still have to stay ahead of your rivals to drain their SP bar, and you still have to use your modest earnings to tune your ride to extreme levels. Yep, a typical TXR game as we knew it. Nothing major has changed, except that it got slightly bigger this time.

Three cities instead of only one, more customization options and rivals to meddle with, and on top of all that - a nifty livery editor to try out your art skills. They also altered car selection to free up some space for exotics from Europe and the USA, I think you’ll be grateful once you see what they brought in. The physics engine grew up as well, though pivot steering hasn’t been completely eliminated.


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In my view the most noticeable improvement comes from the audio department. Genki worked on the exhaust sounds so that each engine type could produce its own distinctive sound. You can now easily differentiate V8 from a V12, or V6 from a standard I4 for instance. The engine sounds are pretty accurate, and even if some of them aren’t, they still sound damn cool nonetheless. In my opinion, they did a fantastic job here.

The soundtrack is made of several rock or metal tunes, which is a big change from the last game. In my opinion, neither of these tracks are match to the legendary beats from TXR0, but they definitely serve the purpose while you’re racing.


The game is pretty addictive considering that you’ll be doing exactly the same thing from the very first beaten rival to the end of the game. Initiate a race by flashing headlights, run away from your opponent to drain his SP bar, collect cash, and drive to next rival. Pretty straightforward system I would say, and with 600 rivals to conquer, kinda destined to repetition. You will either love this game to death or give up after few races already.


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Share your screen with a friend!

I am actually stunned they didn’t do anything to change the mechanics of the rival battling. After two games on the Sega Dreamcast and one on the PS2, they should have brought in some changes, microscopic if anything. You could argue that neither Gran Turismo 4 had much to offer, but the sole fact you could still occasionally do some gravel racing and that you were required to adapt your car according to event regulations was still something.


In TXR3 you are actually encouraged to stick with one car as long as possible. Purchasing new things too often isn’t recommended as it takes time to earn proper cash. And knowing you can unlock engine swap option for your car if it reaches 1242 miles or so, you have a pretty damn good reason to stay faithful to your ride.


Those who enjoy collecting fancy rides should always remember that the garage cannot hold more than five cars. I think such limited garage space has something to do with a livery editor and the size of liveries you create in it. It actually makes sense considering how drastically you can transform your car. The solution is to use a sub-garage for which extra space on your memory card is required, but which I don’t recommend using as I heard some complaints about cars getting deleted and scary stuff like that.

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Serious tools for serious players.

Unlocking purchasable cars is still irritating as it was in TXR0. You unlock cars depending on your victories against specific opponents. If you’re lucky and you race in the right city, you can win all the usable cars fairly quick. But if you’re like me, you’ll reach 50% of the game before even realizing how many slower cars you could have used as alternatives to your first ride had you known they were obtainable. Thank you very much. What’s the point of getting slower cars way later in the game when all of them will be no longer useful?

Tuning and customization makes for a big part of the game, especially with the new livery editor Genki squeezed in. It’s amazing, to say at least. You can edit every single spot on the car and create some true-to-life replicas. If you need extra help drawing curves, plug an USB mouse into one of the PS2 ports (yes, it works, it’s not a joke) and let the work begin! For quick results, you can always stamp stickers of beaten gangs or paint specific parts of your car in different colours, but it would be a real shame not to try doing more advanced drawing at least once.


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This is what you can do with a little bit of effort. Courtesy of JRZRacing.

Two players can cross their swords in the split screen mode. They made it better by adding an option to toggle on or off traffic cars and switch camera views during race. You can also do 0-400 or 1000 m drag stints which is awesome. It’s only shame you’re limited to SP battling on the highways, shame you can’t do classic lapping in GT style.

Your engine can overheat from extended use (which leads to reduced power), so it’s necessary to keep your eyes on cooling devices. Tires also wear progressively, even though there is no icon that tells you at which pace. Usually after 10 minutes or so racing you are forced to call it a day, whether you like it or not.

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Additional weather is a welcome gesture, but visibility ahead of you is often poor.
I left complaints for the end. My personal biggest is that AI cars rarely or never brake on corners. They prefer slamming into walls and sliding alongside them. This spits in face of all players who want to drive cleanly and politely. Wall-riding in TXR0 was out of question since reduction in speed from scrubbing against the wall was far bigger, and the AI itself was more cautious in first place. It’s funny, but I can recall several occasions in which rivals in TXR3 were way ahead of me, but somehow I managed to win because they rammed into a barrier at full speed and their SP bar could not take it. Such a shame, it kills the mood very often and makes you wonder why are you even trying to drive properly.

I would also expect a slipstream effect of some sort when driving behind someone, considering this is a high-speed game after all.


Summary:

Good and addictive racing game that does more with its little budget than big titles can think of with their wealth. From what I have seen and played, this is the best game in the highway series, though it has not carried all the good things from the last title. Give the series a try and check it out (if you haven't already).


Pros: Lots of rivals to beat, state of the art livery editor, addiction
Cons: Possible subject to repetition, AI wall-riding

Gameplay example here.
 

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Driving Emotion Type-S (2001, PS2)


Driving Emotion Type-S. What is this game? I get the “driving emotion” part, but what’s with the “Type-S”?

If someone woke me in the middle of the night and told me to describe the game based on the front cover, first I would give him a proper slapping for disturbing my sleep for such triviality, and then I would tell him that it is probably just an average driving game starring Honda Type S and R models. You know, like Ford Racing or Porsche Challenge games, one-make stuff.

And guess what, I would be right, at least about the average part. Even though the big red S logo suggests it could have something to do with Honda’s acclaimed battleships, it has absolutely nothing to do with them. It is just something the developer dropped in for to consumers unknown reasons. And frankly, I am glad that’s the farthest things went because Honda would deserve a much better game than this.


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Sometimes loading takes like forever. Why am I not surprised?


The main problem I have with the game is the controls. The steering is so unresponsive, absolutely horrible to deal with. It is hard to keep the car going straight as it constantly swerves to either left or right, forcing you to fiddle with the joystick all the time. Normally a car would stop turning once the joystick is back in its natural position, but in this game even when you let it go, the car still continues to steer for a short amount of time. In the option menu you can alter sensitivity and range of the steering itself, but it takes time to find a decent setup that would make the game partially playable. Which is a shame, because the physics engine itself isn’t bad, especially when you race in Simulation mode, where there is no auto-correct assist interfering whenever you slide.

After experimenting for a while, I found a passable setup that allowed me to focus on the rest of the content the game has to offer. This is a typical arcade racing game where progressing further means unlocking new cars and tracks by winning initially available races and events. No purchasing system or car ownership, though you can save favourite setup and appearance for each car. If you think that is pretty basic for a PS2 racing game, it is because it is. But that wouldn’t be a problem at all if only the controls were okay.


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The Japanese version of the game came out slightly earlier and was allegedly even worse

So, is there a reason to buy this game? Does it have some good stuff?

Yes, it does. I found three:

- two Ferraris and Porsches. Square must have shipped a big money bag to both manufacturers when they managed to secure these rarities

- auto-cross events. You know, in gymkhana Ken Block style

- nicely modelled cockpit view for each car (no photographed interiors)

If you think these pluses are enough for you to add the game to your collection, go ahead and buy yourself a copy. But my responsibility is to remind you that in order to properly enjoy these merits, driving itself has to work, which didn’t prove to be the case here.

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CONCLUSION

Behind a broken steering controls laid Square’s decent attempt to take on GT3 during the earliest days of PS2 life span and beat everyone to secure a leading spot in the driving genre. Unfortunately, they shot themselves in the feet right from the start thanks to what obviously was rushed development.

As a result, we’re not getting much driving from this game. If you’re concerned about emotions, rest assure there will be plenty of them, so at least they got that right from the title. The only problem is that most of these emotions will come from the bottom of the broken barrel. Frustration, sadness, rage… that’s what you’re going to feel. Quite a quest for your body.

Thank you for reading and have a happy new year! :)
 

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Test Drive 6 (1999, PS1)


I remember when I first got my TD6 copy back in 2003 how confused I was starring at that number 6. How could it be, that they already made six of these?! Where were they, on which system? Can I see them? Can I hold them? And most importantly, can I play them?!

But yes, it's true. The Test Drive series is one of the longest living racing franchises, dating far back to the late 80's. Most of us who grew in the 90ies never played any of the earliest examples until the original PS1 spread out like a tropical disease. At that time the series got advanced enough to take its gloves off and do some pinning on the Need for Speed games.

It was a good alternative with its wide variety of cars and witty point-to-point tracks. The series never side-tracked as much as its arch nemesis did, but at the same time it wasn't as popular and didn't spawn as many games. You could say that the PS1 titles were the best the series had to offer, though modern players will probably disagree in favour of the two Unlimited titles.

The sixth game was released on four platforms, of which the PS1 version is the one I played, so can't speak of the other ones. But regardless of the platform, it seems that the game was met with mixed to negative reviews by both the critics and players alike. While I do agree it isn't as good as TD5, I still think it has its own share of entertainment to provide.

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Some tracks support day to night transition.
So... what's new? There is a credit system for purchasing your cars, upgrading them and placing bets prior each race. That last is kinda neat as it allows you to chip in more if you are confident in your driving skills, but at the risk of losing more if everything doesn't go as you planned. We also got a new mode called Stop the Bombers, which expands on the Be the Cop mode and reminds me on the bomber missions from Driver 2: Back on the Streets. If you prefer spending most of your time in outlaw cars, you'll want to keep your eye on the cops as they charge fees for reckless driving in case they stop you. Pretty realistic and thankfully not even remotely close to frustrating player stopping mechanics from TD5.

The cars fell heavy enough and steer properly. High-speed stability doesn't seem to be as big problem as it was in the last game. They only thing that some of us won't like is the excessive grip tires have and overbearing response to your steering inputs. You can improve the latter by reducing controller sensitivity to minimum level possible, but for most of the time it all comes down to how fast you can accommodate. Although this is an arcade racer, there is some tuning involved, which I often use to calm the car down rather than to improve its abilities.

Strangely, the biggest and most noticeable problem is related to the graphics, on the cars specifically. Instead of explaining it to you, I am going to show you a picture. You may want to sit down...

TD6.jpg

Take a good damn look at the player's car. If it wasn't for the manufacturer nameplate, would you even guess this menace is supposed to be Subaru Impreza 22B?!

How could a car look this bad? On PS1 at that? More importantly, how could such modelling come from a renowned studio such as Infogrames? I do not mind poorer graphics as long as they don't mess up with the game's atmosphere, lightning and technical stuff like that, but here it just makes all the cool cars look ugly and repulsive. I remember the first time playing this, I would be picking cars that looked least catastrophic. I didn't even notice there were some stats I should be looking at instead.

They even messed up the colour editor. You know something is broken when you can't even get a simple white on your car!

When it comes to car selection, I do not have anything bad to point out, neither on the AI which controls them. Except they are a bit aggressive at times, but then again, this is illegal street racing, so they have a decent argument to explain all the tension.

As the case with the previous game, the music is great. A decade after I originally played the game some of the tracks car really memory storage of your brain, do the nostalgia trick you know. Many great performers have given their tunes, such as Fear Factory and their evergreen hit Cars.

If you ask me, TD6 has enough elements to keep you entertained for a while. Compared to TD5, it is easier to play and less frustrating, but with some drawbacks in visual appeal and physics that you need to adjust to.