THIS IS HARDCORE 3 - April 1999
|Sob. (Hello viewers!) Despite their being often
criticised for a lack of mature emotional content, sometimes videogames can make
you want to cry.
For a case in point, take California Speed. Midway's latest attempt at an N64 racing game looks, at first, an awful lot like all their others - the bright, cartoony graphics, big square cityscapes and wide open roads full of secret routes and shortcuts could all have come straight out of Cruis'n USA, San Francisco Rush or even Offroad Challenge. On closer examination, though, California Speed is a much more impressive effort. The graphics are in fact much better this time, but the actual design of the tracks is little short of genius. As you hurtle along rollercoasters, across aircraft carriers, into underground railway lines, through the insides of volcanoes, up the suspension cables of bridges and down the escalators of shopping malls, the designers' invention, imagination and sense of fun seem almost limitless, and it's a real disappointment when you finally reach the end of each course. One can only start to imagine how bitter they must feel, then, when they look at the travesty of a game their beautiful creations have ended up in.
A movie-loving colleague of mine, sick of let-down Hollywood blockbusters, once suggested that what all films needed was a Common Sense Wrangler. The CSW would be somebody who'd just hang around on set and go "No, that's a really stupid idea" whenever the director came up with some obviously boneheaded plot development (like, for example, having a 200-foot-high Godzilla being tracked by an entire army suddenly just disappear in the middle of San Francisco), and hence stop them from totally ruining the movie. It's a brilliant idea, and one which is long overdue in gaming too. Because it's difficult to see any half-decent CSW letting some braindead monkey get away with anything as cretinous as the car handling which totally crucifies California Speed.
If you want to know what it's like to play CS without actually buying it, try this. First, get any other racing game (ideally one of the ones mentioned above, but anything will do) and load it up. Now, get a friend to sit directly behind you with one hand clasped firmly to each side of your head. As soon as the game starts, get them to violently wrench your head alternately left and right by an angle of about 40 degrees, at two-second intervals until you either finish the race or throw up. THAT'S what it's like to play with California Speed's unbelievably dreadful nothing-nothing-nothing-nothing-CATASTROPHIC HANDBRAKE TURN interpretation of "analogue" steering.
The real tragedy is that Midway's designers obviously recognised this problem, because they've made sure the game has as few major bends in it as possible, and that the consequences of even a head-on 90-degree smash into a cliff face are no more serious than a little bit of speed loss. But rather than taking an extra week to get it right and make CS an all-time arcade-racing classic genuinely capable of holding its head up alongside Ridge Racer 4, Sega Rally 2 et al, they just stuck it out in World Of Motion Sickness format and left all the good work done by everyone else to rot. I know if I'd been the course designer, I'd want to kick their useless faces off. Because in the end, it's not just the eye-watering constant lurching of the screen that's enough to make you weep, it's the pain of seeing a thing of great beauty grotesquely violated by some oafishly feckless imbecile. It happens far too often. Somebody make it stop.