Go, Street Racer!
Naturally, the greatest aspect of our job is that amongst all the stinkers - all the really dreadful titles that we're forced to play - is that we occasionally get to play some of the greatest games ever to grace gaming-kind. Without beating around the bush here, we'll put one thing straight: Metropolis Street Racer is truly one of the greatest driving games ever conceived. The one thing that makes MSR so fabulous, so unmistakably brilliant, is its unerring originality. When I first read the rave previews about MSR, I couldn't possibly imagine what could differentiate this one driving game from all the hundreds before it, aside from perhaps some improved physics, more cars, better graphics, yadda yadda.. so what? However, upon finally playing the game, after an hour or so we could see exactly how Metropolis Street Racer would conquer the racing videogaming world - Kudos. Kudos is (in the most simplistic term) MSR's scoring system. To explain this can be quite cumbersome and tricky, so please bear with us. When you start the game, you begin a chapter consisting of 10 races. From those 10 races, you must gain a set total of Kudos points in order to proceed to the next chapter. Everything in MSR, how you drive, how fast you drive, how well you corner, how many walls you scuff, effects your Kudos rating at the end of a race. So not only do you have to worry about beating the clock or the other drivers, you also have to worry about taking on the role of a flash git in a convertible, joyriding around the streets of London and impressing your mates by power sliding round 90 degree corners without even coming close to the barriers. Needless to say this is a Hard Thing™ to do, and your progression in the game relies wholeheartedly on your ability to pull this off, but the Kudos system lends the entire game an unmatched sense of originality in the genre… we think maybe the best way to describe it is that it's a kind of driving RPG.
But that's not the only challenge you face, because from the outset you're forced to compete for your first car before you're even allowed to start the game proper. So, you're given a list of car models which are unlocked by default, and pick which one you feel you'd like to try your hand at "winning" so you can add it to your garage. The challenge takes the form of a time attack, where you pit your driving skills against a par time for a certain circuit, on which you have unlimited laps until you beat the time or give up. Once you've won the car you must customise it as you see fit, which is the point at which we realised just how much attention to detail MSR has. You can customise your number plate with any combination of letters and numbers, choose what kind of roof you would like in which type of weather night or day, choose the level of tint for your windows and, of course, pick which colour you want your voluptuous bodywork… it's this that made us realise that MSR simply oozes class. The sheer level of thought poured into every single aspect of this game is simply tremendous. The locales, which are set in streets dotted throughout London, Tokyo and San Francisco, are astoundingly detailed, with notable landmarks such as the Houses of Parliament modelled and textured with loving accuracy. The cars themselves are also incredibly beautiful, not just in looks but also in feel. It's not often that a driving game fully manages to accurately recreate the handling of the vehicles, but Bizarre have clearly put a lot of time, research and development into getting exactly the right handling for each car - the only other game to come close to this kind of detail is the ageing Gran Turismo on the PSX, and MSR beats it hands down, no question.
Of course, being critics, we must point out where this standard-setting title falters and although being slight, it does have its faults as can only be expected. For example, the game immediately shuns the pick-up-and-play gamer in one fell swoop as in order to do anything at all in the game, even the split-screen multiplayer, you must unlock a car in one of the time challenges. Picture the scene; you're out with the little lady, picking up Christmas presents or something, and on a whim you dive into the local games emporium and snag a copy of MSR. Upon your return home from the pub with associated mates later that evening, you fire the thing up and fancy a bit of spur-of-the-moment multiplay, but alas, you can do just about nothing because you haven't unlocked the right vehicles yet. Disappointment should not be the first emotion that follows a £40 outlay, and there ought to be a dummy's mode or something to compensate, rather like Gran Turismo.
My other gripe would have to simply be the sheer difficulty of the game… we had enough trouble getting through the first chapter, let alone how on earth anyone is supposed to progress through the next 25 in order to be gain the status of World Champion street racer. Certainly, it represents a challenge for even the most hardened gamer, and should keep the game spinning in most gamer's Dreamcasts for many months to come, but should a game really be that challenging? Perhaps the addition of varying skill levels or separate competitions of graduating skill to take part in could have levelled the learning curve a little. The final, and definitely the most insignificant problem I personally had with the game was the "radio stations", which resemble something like those of Grand Theft Auto but without any of the class or humour, which is instead replaced with mountains of cheese in the form of dreadful voice actors posing as DJ's… and that's before the actual music kicks in, which is just as odious. They offer many style for you to choose from, from Rock to Trance to Jazz, but none offer anything particularly toe-tapping, especially after you've heard them once before. Cleverly, you can listen to music in radio station form, or in the guise of a CD player… you can even compile all the tracks you like into your own "CD", which is neat, but they needn't have bothered. The sonics of the cars themselves are excellent, and each car has been recorded and fine-tuned specifically which lends the crucial audible authenticity.
Metropolis Street Racer is most definitely not for the quick-fix gamer, however if you're out for a challenge and you haven't yet found a racer to steal your heart (and let's face it, there isn't one that could steal it better than this) then you'd be a fool to miss out on the opportunity to own possibly the best driving game ever made.