"Some of my best memories are from the summer of 1994, when a good friend and I spent a hefty portion of our vacation listening to Green Day and playing a little-known driving game for the PC called Stunts. The game was remarkably simplistic; accelerate, brake, turn, one car, and a handful of tracks. What made the game so memorable was the track editor, which allowed us to fill the course with as many banked turns, jumps, and loops as the old Pentium 486 could handle. I still have the Gree..."
Some of my best memories are from the summer of 1994, when a good friend and I spent a hefty portion of our vacation listening to Green Day and playing a little-known driving game for the PC called Stunts. The game was remarkably simplistic; accelerate, brake, turn, one car, and a handful of tracks. What made the game so memorable was the track editor, which allowed us to fill the course with as many banked turns, jumps, and loops as the old Pentium 486 could handle. I still have the Green Day albums, but the game mysteriously disappeared long ago. Since then, we both wished, year after year, for the spiritual successor to Stunts. One decade later I heard about HSX and its track editor. Could the wait finally be over?
In the vein of Wipeout and F-Zero, HSX is a hovercraft racing game; a subgenre that Iím not particularly fond of. Something about the lack of wheels, suspension, and real-world physics. I would much rather spend a few hours tuning my Lancer in Gran Turismo, but I decided to try HSX anyway. The first thing I noticed was the speed. The game isnít the prettiest, but it moves. Think of a nitrous-injected Ridge Racer 4 and you will get the idea. There is a good selection of hovercrafts available to pilot, each with different stats like top speed, acceleration, weight, and grip (hovercrafts grip?). The stats donít seem to have any real sense of organization, as some crafts are obviously superior in all aspects. None of this really matters on the track though. The A.I. races with unforgiving precision, so even when I thought I had a perfect run, I still ended in 3rd or 4th place. There really isnít much substance to the racing portions. Go fast, hold the boost button constantly, keep losing, and repeat. Overall, itís a rather bland and aggravating experience.
All together there are 30 different races, but it is very apparent that the real draw of HSX is the track editor. At the beginning of the game and at the end of every race the editor option pops up. The manual even forgoes some of the basics, like explaining the boost power-ups, in favor of in-depth editing instructions. The learning curve is somewhat steep, though not due to a poor interface or controls. The hardest part was readjusting my thinking to incorporate all 360 degrees of movement. Whereas Stunts had you lay out roadways like pieces of a Hotwheels track, the HSX editor moves one craft-length at a time, allowing you to twist, turn, and bend in any direction. With so many controls, creating a good track can be a very time consuming process.
For all the attention given to the editor, it still has two glaring problems. First, is the lack of an aerial camera. I wanted to make a course that formed a circuit, but abandoned the idea out of frustration because I had no way to see where my track began. Second, is that some of the most exciting features, like underground sections, jumps, pre-built loops, and track textures, need to be unlocked by beating the game. *sigh* I feel like somebody told me there is ten dollars buried beneath my feet, but the shovel is buried with it. By the time I unlocked all the editor functions, I really had no desire to race anymore.
So did I find the game I was looking for? Yes and no. HSX is excitingly fast and frantic, but the racing portion is a stain on the entire experience. My recommendation would be to head directly for the editor and forget the extra functions even exist. Unfortunately, this also means skipping out on some of the best track sections. All I wanted was a simple racing game with a track editor. I got the editor, but too much baggage along with it. Even so, HSXís heart is in the right place so Iíll give it an extra point for effort.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (March 15, 2006)
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