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Virtua Racing (Genesis) artwork

Virtua Racing (Genesis) review


"Pushing a games console to its limits can be risky business for developers. Try too hard and the game will get panned for looking ugly and having choppy frame-rates, but games are expected to make some use of the systems potential. Efficiently making the most of the systems resources whilst still making a decent looking, playable game that doesnít get swamped by slowdown is perhaps one of the greatest challenges in developing a game. "



Pushing a games console to its limits can be risky business for developers. Try too hard and the game will get panned for looking ugly and having choppy frame-rates, but games are expected to make some use of the systems potential. Efficiently making the most of the systems resources whilst still making a decent looking, playable game that doesnít get swamped by slowdown is perhaps one of the greatest challenges in developing a game.

Hence Virtua Racing is quite an interesting case study. This is an arcade Formula 1 style racer in polygonal 3D. The Mega Drive is a 16-bit console that would run-off if you shouted 3D down the cartridge slot. Solution? The Sega AM2 division developed the Sega Virtua Processor that was built into the cartridge, consequently making the cartridge 50% bigger, very expensive and hence the first and last game to use the SVP.

From a technical standpoint, this title is a pretty impressive achievement. First off the bat, this game is not pretty. Trees and rock-faces are represented by great big triangles, the pit-stop guys look like floating cubes and the stand is a big grey block. Compared to its arcade mentor the amount of polygons has been significantly scaled down, and the limited colour pallet makes for a lot of dithering. But this is 3D on the Mega Drive. 3D. Got that? Considering the sheer pace of the cars, this does a remarkable job of maintaining a stable frame-rate with little slow-down, and at least makes features the graphics try to represent distinguishable.

In terms of options, there isnít much to this, with a Virtua Racing grand prix mode with three courses that ascend in difficulty. The easiest is a forest track with triangles for trees. Next up is a course running through a bridge represented by more triangles, and the hardest is a take-on some greek ruins, complete with squares for rock faces. Nah, just kidding, theyíre triangles. In each course there are fifteen other cars and you must make sure the timer doesnít run out before reaching a check point. Other than that, thereís also a time-trial and 2-player mode. Well, why not.

Despite its impressive speed and graphics, Virtua Racing just hasnít aged well on the track. Zipping down the track with the camera set far high-up above the car can be fun, but the physics here are absolutely atrocious, making this game near-impossible to grind wins out of. Every time your car collides with another car it does a full 360 skid before going back on track. If it collides with a wall the car does a double-backflip, as if the suspension undertakes an epic malfunction for scraping the wall. Even sliding onto a grassy patch will make the car do a 360 skid without fail. All of these collisions waste a hell of a lot of time and you can forget about catching up with the rest of the pack.

These ailments in the physics make any race on Virtua Racing impossible to win unless you take every corner absolutely perfectly without crashing. But the low-resolution visuals make other cars hard to notice at times, alongside narrow tracks, and thus collisions are unavoidable. Heck, you even get punished for being hit from the rear end. The novelty of playing through the four different camera views and whizzing down the track in the Mega Drives only polygonal 3D game is fun for parts, but this game doesnít fail because itís overly-ambitious. It runs fine, but its failure lies within the actual racing engine thanks to its clumsy physics.

Virtua Racing is a technical manifest for the Mega Drive, but thatís the extent to which this title goes. Itís not unplayable and is fairly entertaining to zip through for short bursts, but apart from the limited depth with regards to options, you canít win. Itís disappointing really, as without much effort this game couldíve been pretty good. Unless youíre willing to practise for hours getting every corner perfect, itís hard to recommend this other than a casually mess around to awe at the novelty of polygons being outputted from a 16-bit workhorse. This once good arcade-hit doesnít serve a great deal more than a retro tech-demo, long surpassed by plenty of arcade racing games that donít send your cars double-back-flipping every-time you scrape the wall. With some real trees as well. How about that?

Rating: 5/10

bigcj34's avatar
Community review by bigcj34 (December 06, 2008)

Cormac Murray is a freelance contributor for HG and is a fanboy of Sega and older Sony consoles. For modern games though he pledges allegiance to the PC Master Race, by virtue of a MacBook running Windows.

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