Racing games have been one of my favorite genres ever since the mid ’90s. I didn’t play racing games all that often before that point, but since then, I’ve loved the genre, and have played a good number of racing games. I prefer more arcadey, futuristic, or less realistic racers, and not sims, so don’t expect good reviews of the top PC racing sims here — you won’t find any. Fortunately, however, there are plenty of great futuristic, top-down, and arcade-style racing games on the PC too, they’re not just on consoles. Here I will review all of the PC racing games I own, plus I will also cover all freeware, shareware, and demo PC racing games currently on my PC. The majority of titles on this list are from the second half of the ’90s. There is only one or two from before 1994. Maybe I should look up more pre-’94 PC racing games, but I’ve never done it. As for newer titles, there are some, but after the release of the Xbox the PC started fading, so the numbers of interesting titles dropped off significantly. Things did seem to get better around 2010, but in between, I only have a game or two each year, even including demos, because I didn’t see much of interest, and maybe also because I’m less likely to keep large, newer demos installed than I am small, older ones. Anyway though, this is what I have. I think it’s a pretty good collection of mostly non-sim PC racing games. On to the list!
First though, some notes. Unless noted, these games all work fine on my 32-bit Vista install (through DOSBox for DOS titles). Obviously in 64-bit I imagine that many won’t work thanks to 16-bit installers, etc, but I have 32-bit so I can’t test any of that.
This list is mostly in alphabetical order, but I rearranged it so that series are in order. Also, games are PC exclusive unless noted. Asterisks are for older titles that I only got in the last couple of years, mostly as jewelcase-only titles (there’s only one, noted, exception); other games I’ve had for much longer (and do have complete in box), or are recent. For digital download courses of course the box/disc stuff doesn’t apply, but I put asterisks by the older ones, to note that I did not buy those back when they came out. 56 retail games total. If games do not work in Vista 32-bit (my OS), I say so. All titles were tested (yes, that took a while), so if I don’t say anything, it almost certainly works in 32-bit Vista. Also, unless I say it doesn’t, presume that games do have gamepad support (for regular directinput, not the 360 controller’s xinput of course; that’d only be in a few recent titles. I don’t have a 360 controller, so I DO mention games that only have xinput, because it’s annoying, and I have to us a xinput-to-directinput wrapper to get those games working correctly.).
My overall favorite PC racing games (in no order)
Pod: Planet of Death
Moto Racer 2
The Need for Speed High Stakes and The Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) (tie)
Driver San Francisco
Honorable Mentions: Rollcage Stage II (Death Track Racing), Moto Racer, Screamer 2, Nitronic Rush, Driver, Skyroads, maybe some more (perhaps Re/Volt, Carmageddon, and Screamer, for instance)
Table of Contents -This list is broken up into five parts.
1. Games that I own the full version of on physical media.
2. Full games that I own through digital download services.
3. Freeware titles.
4. Demos and shareware.
5. Demos of games I also own the full versions of, but still have the demo of on my computer too. I played a lot of PC demos back in the ’90s, so I think that they absolutely have a place on this list. I write less about them than I do about the full-version games though, of course.
Table of Contents
Full games, have on disc
*18 Wheels of Steel: America’s Long Haul
*3-D Ultra Radio Control Racers
*3-D Ultra Radio Control Racers Deluxe: Traxxas Edition
*Carmageddon Max Pack
#Extreme-G 2: XG2
*Hard Truck II
*Hot Wheels: Stunt Track Driver
*Hot Wheels: Stunt Track Challenge
Klik & Play (Included Games)
Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament
Monster Truck Madness
Moto Racer 2
Motocross Madness 2
*Need for Speed II
*Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit
Need for Speed: High Stakes
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010)
Network-Q RAC Rally Championship
PCG CGC1: Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed
POD: Planet of Death
Racing Fever: Screamer 2
Racing Fever: Test Drive Off-Road
Racing Fever: Death Rally (1996)
Death Track Racing (aka Rollcage Stage II)
Sega Rally Revo
*Simpsons: Hit & Run, The
*Speedway Challenges: Network-Q RAC Rally
*Speedway Challenges: Lamborghini American Challenge
*Front Page Sports: Ski Racing
*Snowmobile Championship 2000
*Star Wars: Episode I: Race
*SODA Off Road-Racing
*Streets of SimCity
*Test Drive 5
Ultim@te Race Pro
*VR Sports Powerboat Racing: Pure Power
Interplay 15th Anniversary Collection: Whiplash
Twin 2 Pack: Sonic 3D Blast/Sonic R
Demos and Shareware
Bang Bang Racing
Big Red Racing
Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now
CART Precision Racing
Destruction Derby 2
Grand Theft Auto
International Rally Championship
Jeff Gordon’s XS Racing
Johnny Herbert’s GP 1998
Little Racers: STREET
Moto Racer 3
NASCAR Racing 4
Need for Speed 2 SE
Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed
Official Formula 1 Racing
Ridge Racer Unbounded
Sega Rally Championship
Sega Rally 2
Snow Wave: Avalanche
Space Haste 2
Speed Busters: American Highways
Sports Car GT
Super Laser Racer
TrackMania / TrackMania Nations Forever / TrackMania Sunshine Forever
Vangers: One for the Road
Demos I still have installed of games I now own for PC
Need for Speed III
Test Drive 5
Ultim@te Race Pro
VR Powerboat Racing
Full games, have on disc
*18 Wheels of Steel: America’s Long Haul – 2007, WinXP or above. By the same developer of the earlier Hard Truck 2 (below), this is a boring 18-wheeler driving game that I got for free. This game has okay but not amazing mid-’00s graphics and numerous American cities to drive between delivering loads from one place to the next. There are quite a few trucks to choose from too. Distances are very compressed, thankfully, so trips won’t take days. The campaign mode starts you with a truck and $20,000 in the starting city of your choice, and you get loads and bring them to places. There’s also a single-trip mode where you choose a start point, a cargo, and a destination; there isn’t any multiplayer. This game is a basic trading/transit game with simple, not very realistic handling modeling, no visible damage or onscreen damage indicator, and indeed only partial damage modeling (the truck can break, and crashes can hurt fragile cargos, but most crashes won’t do anything except slow you down, unless police are in the area in which you’ll be ticketed), and such. If the truck does break, there’s a roadside assistance line to call for repairs. Still though, don’t expect much depth or realism here in the driving model or map design. The in-truck view is nice, they put some detail into the interior. Of course the game is much harder to play from inside, though the mouse does look around to make looking at the mirrors and such easier. As for the gameplay, though, this really is what it seems like: a low-budget, simplistic truck-driving game that probably will not satisfy either sim racing fans, arcade racing fans, or transit economics sim fans. The latter group’s the only hope for this one, but I really dislike that genre, so I can’t say exactly how good this is for that market. But with the very simple driving model, average at best graphics for its time (it looks a few years out of date, for a 2007 game), basic road map which doesn’t give you much freedom at all in what routes you choose as there are highways, a few city streets in each city, and that’s about it, and more, this game’s pretty dull. There are only two songs included in the radio, too — if you want to listen to anything else, you’ll have to put files into the game’s music folder. Driving itself isn’t too hard, so this is not a full sim. The game does use a lot of buttons though, and yes, you will be ticketed if you break traffic rules around police — and this is very easy to do. Beyond that though, these economic-focused games really are not my thing at all. I don’t like delivery-based space games either (X, Elite, etc.), and this is even less interesting than those. I’m sure there is an audience for this, and indeed this game is part of a series, but I’m not it, at all. I get bored quickly. I did try one delivery, but eventually gave up when the truck refused to go backwards after I accidentally ended up against a wall. I guess that broke it somehow. Oh, and the truck wouldn’t let me go over 40MPH either. I don’t know if that was because of the load I was carrying or what. This is a slow-paced game for those who are really interested in the subject matter, and not for anyone else. Attaching to your load at the loading dock, and detaching at the end, are also quite tricky. Many runs have time limits too, so you’ll need to hurry… or as much as you can in a game as slow-paced and tedious as this, anyway. I’d rather just play something else, myself. Sega’s 18-Wheeler: American Pro Trucker may be ridiculously short, but at least it’s fun.
*3-D Ultra Radio Control Racers – 1999, Win9x or above. 3-D Ultra Radio Control Racers is a top-down racing game from Sierra. It was released as part of their “3-D Ultra” line of casual-friendly pinball, minigolf, and top-down racing games. Ironically, none of the “3-D Ultra” games actually use polygons (the cars might, actually, but I’m guessing they’re probably just sprites); they’re all prerendered sprites. This game is a R.C. Pro-Am inspired racing game with an element of Super Off-Road to it too, such as bumps and pits, so the tracks are not just flat. The overall game is somewhat like Death Rally (below) but a bit more casual in focus. Still though, even if this game’s not the genre’s best, it’s a good game that’s a lot of fun to play. It’s something that top-down racing game fans should definitely check out — it’s one most probably haven’t played, and it’s a solid entry in the genre. Death Rally is well known, but somehow this one is not… too bad. The game has eight tracks and four cars, and there are three circuits to play through in the single player mode. The first two circuits are four laps each, the last eight. There’s also a custom circuit option, but the game is a bit short due to the moderate at best difficulty. On each track you first do a three lap qualifier, then a five lap race, so that does add to it a bit, but this game won’t take too long to finish. It is fun while it lasts for sure, though. The tracks have walls along the sides, so this is more R.C. Pro-Am than Micro Machines. There are weapon pickups scattered around too. I like the track designs; each one is set in a real-world location like a swamp or a theme park, and you get a good sense that these are little cars in a larger world. The camera is in a fixed overhead isometric angle. I like this 2d style a lot more than Micro Machines V3 and V4’s confusing 3d cameras that keep spinning around and make figuring out the turns so much harder. This game does have some visibility problems on lower resolutions, but if you bump up the resolution it’ll zoom out, which should solve those. Alternatively, learn the tracks. That always helps too. Multiplayer is two player splitscreen only. This is a fun game, but it was superseded by its successor below — there’s little reason to get it, really, considering that the enhanced version also exists. I have both because I found this for quite cheap, and had always wanted to play it. It was certainly worth the cheap pickup, but the Traxxas Edition is the same thing but better.
*3-D Ultra Radio Control Racers Deluxe: Traxxas Edition – 2000, Win9x or above. This release is an enhanced version of the first game, listed above. In the Traxxas Edition, there are 14 tracks now, so they added six more tracks, a nice addition. As a result, in championship mode, each of the first two circuits are now seven races long instead of four, and the last is fourteen races instead of eight. Yes, all of the old tracks do return, so this is less than half new. Still, it was a budget title, and it adds a good number of new tracks, so that’s alright. It’s nice to have a definitive version. But yes, otherwise it’s basically that game again. Multiplayer is still splitscreen only (two players). The game also has two multiplayer battle modes, a soccer game and battle ball, which is sort of a soccer variant with a central goal everyone tries to score in. It’s nice to have some modes other than racing. The graphics and gameplay are pretty much the same as the first version, so it’s a nice, solid looking 2d overhead-view RC racing game. This is the version of the game to get — there are no real advantages to the original version over this one. 3-D Ultra Radio Control Racers Deluxe: Traxxas Edition still isn’t particularly long, but any fan of topdown or RC racing games should certainly play it. The controls are great, graphics are good, and it’s plenty of fun.
*4X4 Evo – 2000, Win9x or above. This game is sort of like a newer version of Monster Truck Madness, except with trucks and SUVs instead of monster trucks, and even more boring gameplay. Somehow I just don’t find this game very fun at all… it gets tedious in minutes, and I struggle to even finish a single race. The basics are there, though. 4X4 Evo has good graphics for its time, okay track designs which use that open-level, checkpoint-based style that dirt-track truck racing games usually seem to use, basic but solid arcade-style handling, and more, but I just don’t find it fun. The game feels too slow, for one thing. The handling’s very average too. You have quite good control here, don’t expect to lose much traction in this dirt. So yeah, the controls are quite unrealistic. Also I’ve never liked trucks, or rock music, at all. Still, truck racing games can be fun; see Super Off-Road, for instance, that’s a favorite of mine. I just find this game dull. It is better than some previous things in the genre, and the graphics are nice, but I don’t have much fun. Oh, the game does have an online network multiplayer mode, but don’t expect a splitscreen mode like the console version has, it isn’t here. Also on Dreamcast.
*Boarder Zone – 1999, Win9x or above. Boarder Zone is a very difficult, but okay, snowboard racing game from Housemarque. The game has three tracks, each with three variants of differing difficulties, so there’s a fair amount of content, but newer snowboarding games have more. There are six boarders and a good number of boards, each with different stats. There are also three courses each for halfpipe and big-air. Boarder Zone has very nice graphics for 1999, and still looks quite solid visually. The game does have draw-in in the distance, but the visuals are good. Boarder Zone has four main modes of play with its Arcade, Championship, and Versus modes. The game types are Race, Time Attack, Big Air, and Half-Pipe. Boarder Zone has simple controls, with a two-button control system. Button one charges a jump, and button two, combined with directions on the stick, does stunts in the air. And that’s it. As I said earlier, this is a game focused on the racing, not on the stunt aspect. Most snowboarding games have a lot more focus on stunts, but I much prefer the racing myself, anyway. However, as a racing game this game is, again, very difficult. There are no difficulty level choices in Boarder Zone, so you’ll essentially need to be perfect to have any chance of winning a race. Your opponents will almost never mess up, and the game punishes you harshly for crashes as recovery takes a couple of seconds, so in order to win, you’ll need to memorize the courses and not crash. This is frustrating, because there are a lot of things you can run into, and it’s not always obvious whether you’ll crash when you hit something or not. Boarder Zone is a simple game — don’t expect any rail-grinding or such here. You just board down mountains, do the occasional trick if you can, and try desperately to stay upright and not crash so you have a slight chance of maybe winning. Avoiding all of the objects isn’t easy, and staying straight on the jumps is even harder. Some things that can cause you to crash can be hard to see, too, unhelpfully. I don’t find this game very fun, myself. I can see the quality in some aspects of the game, but I just don’t like it very much. The jump-charging system does deserve mention, though — indicators on the bottom of the screen show the current twist and spin amounts you’ll do when you let go of the jump button and take off, which is great. Very nice touch, and helpful once you start learning the tracks, for sure. And the graphics really are nice. There are four times of day you can race on, too, which is cool; there are torches along the track in the night races. Late ’90s 3d games sure did love to show off their particle effects. Overall, Boarder Zone is a challenging, but somewhat content-light, snowboard racing game. Its main strength is that there just aren’t all that many snowboard games on the PC. Still, though, I’m sure that there are newer ones than this that are as good or better, and have much more substantial feature sets, and multiple difficulty levels too. Oh, and there’s no musical variety here either — it’s all somewhat annoying (in my opinion) rock. You also can’t remap the gamepad controls; button 1 is jump, button 2 is trick. Multiplayer is LAN or modem only, no direct-IP. The game also crashed on me a couple of times, and does not have patches.
*Carmageddon Max Pack – 1997, DOS. Carmageddon was a big hit, and very controversial title, when it released. The game is a futuristic 3d driving game where you can run over people gorily, as either Max Damage or Die Anna. The game’s blood and violence (“you get points for running people over!” And it’s true, you do.) made it extremely controversial, but the game is actually quite good too, this didn’t sell just on controversy. There are three ways to win each level in Carmageddon. First, if you finish the race, you win. This game doesn’t have places; if you finish without running out of time, you win. Second, if you kill every single person on the map, you win. This is quite challenging, there are lots of people on each map and you have a strict time limit. You do get more time each time you kill someone, but not very much. The third way to win is to destroy all of the other racers. This is generally the easiest way to complete each stage, and quite possibly the most fun too. The levels themselves are huge cityscapes. Carmageddon does not take place on railed courses; instead, it’s a checkpoint racing game where you go through large environments, finding powerups, running people over, and trying to not get lost. It’s easy to get off the path in a game like this. The physics reminds me of the San Francisco Rush games — gravity is a bit low, but on the ground the driving model is challenging and somewhat realistic. The Rush games are my favorite racing games ever, so that’s a great game to copy. 🙂 This collection includes both the original game and its expansion pack. There are lots of levels to play through, that’s for sure. Unfortunately in this collection the high res mode (or 3DFX and such too) don’t seem to work, which is quite disappointing — these games are ugly in low res. Still, the game’s more than fun enough to be well worth playing. Oh, on one final note, the European version was censored, and has zombies instead of humans. Get the uncensored release. Unfortunately none of the Carmageddon console games are uncensored, all of them (the N64 one, PS1 one, GBC one) have zombies. And before someone says “well the N64 one was terrible anyway”… go see my N64 thread, I actually like it. It isn’t as good as this one, though, certainly.
*Demolition Racer – 1999, Win9x or above (sort of). This is an enhanced port of the PS1 title of the same name, released in between the PS1 and Dreamcast releases. This game is in between the other two in quality — it’s improved over the PS1 original, but definitely is best on the DC. It also has some significant issues when running on modern OSes. Demolition Racer is of course a game inspired by the Psygnosis classic Demolition Derby. This game is Pitbull Syndicate’s attempt at a game of that type. They did a good job here and this game is fun, but I really would highly recommend the DC version over this one for several reasons. First, that later release has more tracks and cars than this one. On the PC the game has 8 cars, 10 normal tracks, and 3 arenas. On DC, there are 18 tracks and 24 cars — lots more content! There are more cups on DC too, so it’ll take longer to play through. Also this PC version has no multiplayer at all. Yes, it’s a single player game. Both console releases have two player splitscreen modes, which are of course great fun (on DC especially). The game is fast and fun, with decent graphics (when running on an older computer; more later), good course designs, and lots of crash-focused racing. As with, for instance, Rollcage Stage II, in this game your finishing position is based on both points scored from hitting the other cars, and from your place in the race. You will need to do well at both to succeed. This PC version adds some more ways to score points than there were on the PS1 (which only had side or rear impacts and nothing else), so the top-impact instant kill, for instance, is in, but the DC version did add even more than this one has. As a result the PC version has enough ways to get points to be fun, but isn’t the best version of the game. At least it is very fast and smooth, as it is on DC (but is not on PS1). Unfortunately, this game runs very poorly on Vista or other modern OSes. First, the lighting is all wrong — everything is very, very dark, and it’s nearly impossible to see much of anything. I don’t know if this can be fixed, but I couldn’t figure out how to do it. Needless to say the game’s not very playable this way. Second, the game won’t start because it’s missing a couple of dll files. You’ll need to download wmaudsdk.dll and drmclien.dll, and put both of them in c:\windows\system32 in order to get the game to start; links will be at the end of this review. The game also only starts in WinXP SP2 compatibility mode, so set it to that. Third, the CD audio didn’t work for whatever reason. And last, my gamepad didn’t work either. The game menu recognized it, but it doesn’t actually function ingame. Yeah, not good. Overall, Demolition Racer is a good racing game, and is one of the better Destruction Derby style games, but don’t play this version, it has far too many serious flaws. Play it on the Dreamcast. The PC version is more playable on an older, Win9x PC, but still, the DC version is better by a significant margin. Also on PS1 and DC. dlls needed for vista: http://www.dll-files.com/dllindex/dll-files.shtml?wmaudsdk http://www.dll-files.com/dllindex/dll-files.shtml?drmclien
*DethKarz – 1998, Win9x or above. DethKarz was a fairly popular game at the time of its release, but I’ve never liked it much. I’ve also always had technical problems with the game. Unfortunately, in both the demo and the full version, I’ve always had horrible crashing problems with DethKarz, on both my older or newer computer, so I can’t give this a fully fair review — it’s hard to like a game which is incredibly unstable. But even beyond that, while I’ve always wanted to like DethKarz – I love futuristic racing games, after all – I just never have. The graphics are nice, but the controls are somewhat frustrating, and I don’t really like how most tracks are on wallless floating courses — this makes the game quite tough, as any mistakes are harshly punished. I’ve never gotten too far into DethKarz; either it crashes on me, or I give up because of the frustrating handling and track designs.
Drome Racers – 2002, Win9x or above. Drome Racers is a Lego Drome Racers-licensed racing games from ATD, the same developer as Rollcage Stage II. This game is not as great as Rollcage Stage II, but it is a good, solid, and fun futuristic racing game. In the game you race as Drome Racers cars through realistic environments. Unlike the Lego Racers games, you can’t customize these cars — they’re just preset models, full scale versions of Lego cars. Of course, the Drome Racers line itself worked similarly, so that’s understandable even if a little disappointing; part of the fun of Legos is building your own things. Drome Racers is a good game, but its biggest issue is that there’s nothing really special about it. Don’t expect any originality here. What the game does have, however, is nice graphics, a good selection of well-designed, varied tracks, some fun weapons to shoot the other cars with, and a surprisingly good physics model too. Remembering that this same team did Rollcage Stage II, that makes sense. This game has several different kinds of vehicles, and each type handles completely differently, as they should. The racecars have much skiddier handling than the off-road vehicles, for instance. Some cars are easy to control, and others require precision to keep going straight. The tracks are well designed and fun, too. This game uses a branching system, so each course has several different variants which go through different sections of the track, as in the Ridge Racer games or XG2. The gameplay, though, is focused on the driving and the shooting. I like the weapons, the game has some fun ones. Drome Racers is a somewhat underrated game, and it’s one that futuristic or combat racing game fans should not miss — it’s good. The game has two player splitscreen and network play. Also on Gamecube and PS2. I’ve played it on GC, it’s pretty much the same as on computer except at lower resolutions of course.
Driver – 1999, Win98 or above. Driver was a very ambitious open-world racing game for the Playstation and PC from Reflections. While this game was also on consoles, though, this PC release clearly got a lot of attention visually, because the game looks great for the time. All turns are 90 degrees in this game, which is kind of silly, but apart from that it looks great. As good as the graphics are though, the gameplay’s even better. There is one important catch, but it’s a great game. Driver is an open-world driving game set in the 1970s where you, playing as Tanner the undercover cop, have to do point-to-point driving missions through a sequence of four cities. You start in Miami, then go though San Francisco, LA, and New York. The story is a somewhat average crime story, but is solidly told with FMV video sequences at plot events. Unfortunately the cutscenes are VERY low resolution, so it’s quite hard to make out much of any detail. It doesn’t matter much, though, as the gameplay’s the real star here. But first, that one catch: Driver is a rock-hard game. This game is infuriatingly difficult for several reasons. Despite the insane difficulty, though, it’s very, very good and keeps pulling you back again and again until you finally either give up, or beat it. The difficulty does start right from the very beginning, though: Driver has perhaps the hardest tutorial sequences of any game I’ve ever played. I imagine some people gave up there, and never saw the actual game… it’s just crazy difficult for a tutorial. Stick with it and master the driving controls, though, and you’ll eventually get out of that garage. At first things seem to ease up, but after not too long, that difficulty comes back, and never goes away. The first reason for this is that this game does not allow you to save after every mission. Instead, you’ll have to do three or four missions in a row before the game allows you to save. You can continue, sure, but can’t save. This is horribly annoying game design and probably ruins the game for some; it really is a problem, when you combine that with the strict timer, constant police presence, and car damage systems that will cause you to fail missions again and again. Yes, this is a very, very challenging game, and that’s true even on Easy police difficulty. In each mission, your goal is to get from one point in the city to another. There are two main variants of this. First, missions on a timer. These timers are strict, so you’d better hurry. Second, missions with no timer. For these you can slow down and perhaps even obey the traffic laws — this will keep the police off you. Some missions have special rules, like having to chase someone or break things at the locations you go to, but those are just variants on the two basic types. The police system in this game really is very well done — the police don’t just chase you mindlessly, they only do so if you break the rules. If you speed, hit cars, go through red lights, and such while police can see you, the police will start chasing you; occasionally, because of story events you’ll start being chased, and have to get away. You can see police locations on the onscreen minimap, so you can tell when they’re nearby. Even so, once you’re being chased escaping the police can take some time, so be careful in missions with strict timers where you have to be free of police at the target location. Yeah, when the game combines that with long distances and tight timers, it can get frustrating. I got this game shortly after its release, and loved it, but it was simply too hard for me at the time, and I never managed to get past the first mission in San Francisco, the second city. And the first SF save point is AFTER that mission, not before it, so I didn’t get to the first SF savepoint until when I was playing the game again for this review. Yeah, I had that much trouble with it.Still, I loved the game as far as I did get, and it’s still a very good, addictive game — I will surely be playing this game more. Driver is one of, or maybe the, best open-world racing game I’ve played. I liked the gameplay and cities to explore a lot. This game is nonviolent (apart from some cutscenes, of course; you are undercover in the criminal world, after all) too, which is great. No other Driver game has been entirely gun-free as this one is, and that’s really too bad — somehow Reflections has completely forgotten what made the first game so great, and keeps making Driver games full of shooting and violence instead. That wasn’t any good in Driver 2, and it still isn’t. Driver isn’t GTA, and doesn’t need to be ike it; it’s its own thing, and is just as good (or better). Fortunately the most recent Driver game, Driver San Francisco, finally gets back to the nonviolent style of the original. Great game! I like how you can’t run over pedestrians in this game, either; when you try, the flatten themselves against the nearest wall and cannot be hit. It’s kind of silly, but hey, this is Driver, not Carmageddon (or GTA). Driver San Francisco does this as well. I remember sometimes wanting to be able to run the people over, but it’s fine this way. Overall, Driver is a great game. It’s just too bad that almost every title since in the franchise haven’t been. Also on PS1, though the graphics are better here. It’s impressive that they pulled it off at all on PS1, but the visuals sure don’t look nearly as good.
Extreme-G 2: XG2 – 1999, Win98 or above. Extreme-G 2 for the PC is a somewhat rare PC port of the N64 original. For anyone who doesn’t know the game, read my review of the N64 version in that thread. I played this version first, though, and absolutely loved it. XG2 is a fantastic game, and is one of my favorite futuristic racing games. I actually do like XGRA (GC) even more, so this is my second favorite Extreme-G game, but XG2 isn’t too far behind that exceptional classic. First though, for those who know the N64 game or read the other review, I’ll mention the differences between the two versions again. First, there is a great CD audio soundtrack on the PC. XG2’s CD audio remix is really good, and is worth listening to on its own — this is one of my favorite futuristic racing game soundtracks around. The music is really changed from the N64, and every change is much for the better; just listen to the new Eschaton and Lumania music, it’s great! It really blows away the N64 version’s music. Second, there’s no multiplayer at all, sadly. They gave some excuses for that, but ultimately, what matters is that it was cut, and the whole battle mode went with it. It’s really too bad, that was pretty well done on the N64, and network modes would have been great here (as well as splitscreen of course). Most PC racing games have one or the other. Third, the game supports much higher resolutions than you’ll get on the N64. You can adjust the resolution through command-line switches, and the game looks fantastic at high resolutions. The text starts breaking up at or above 1024×768, but the actual game looks just fine, and that’s what matters. Of course the game is a product of its time, so don’t expect the polygon counts or detail levels of 6th gen console games; this is an N64 game at heart, and you can tell. Still, the visuals are pretty good. XG2 has twelve tracks, each with three different variants, and there are at least six or seven championships to play through, too, so there’s a lot here to do. The later championships get very challenging, so this game will not be easy. Making that harder is the save system; yes, just like on N64, you can only save progress every four races (or three, for 6-race championships), and you have limited lives. That makes the later races of each set of four quite challenging, when one failure means you go back several races. The track designs themselves are fantastic though, some of the best in the genre, so I don’t mind that nearly as much as I would in a worse game. I love how complex and detailed the tracks are. These aren’t just Wipeout cooridors, they’re real environments, or as real as they could do at the time XG2 was made. Oh, and the box is really cool, too. It looks like a huge version of the N64 XG2 box, and I love the resulting look. This version of the game is not common, and complete it won’t be easy to find, but fortunately loose copies don’t cost too much; this game isn’t too highly in demand. Still though, I would put this up as one of the two or three best ever futuristic racing games on the PC, right up there with Pod. The only disappointment is the missing multiplayer. Also on N64.
*Hard Truck II – 2000, Win98 or above. This is another tedious 18-wheeler sim that I believe I got for free. It’s an earlier title in the series that also includes 18 Wheels of Steel: American Long Haul, so a lot of the basics of the game are the same as in that title. As expected, the game is an open-world driving game with a business sim element — you buy and sell cargoes at the different towns, and will make or lose money depending on how in demand those places are in the various towns. There are also some races, though they occur at preset times, so you’ll have to be at the right location at the right time to compete. So the game does have some interesting ideas, it’s just not the kind of game I’m going to enjoy… I like business games significantly less than driving sims. The main differences between this and the later one is that this one has weaker graphics, of course, and isn’t on a nationwide map — instead of traveling to dozens of cities around the country, in this game you drive around one, smaller area with a network of towns and businesses. In each town you can get jobs at the depot, dealing with the economics side as described above. The driving and gameplay is very much like 18 Wheels of Steel, just not as nice looking. So yes, it’s tedious, slow, and boring, and is only for trucking sim fans.
*Hot Wheels: Stunt Track Driver – 2001, Win95 or above. This game is a Hot Wheels racing game by Semi Logic Studios where you race on Hot Wheels cars, on those plastic tracks you could buy, in rooms in a house setting. Yeah, it’s a mini car racing game, with full-size animals, furniture, and such in the background. The game runs with polygonal cars and maybe tracks running on what clearly has to be an FMV backdrop. The game has six tracks to race through, all one way courses and not lap tracks. There’s also a track builder mode where you can put down tracks to form your own track. In the six predesigned ones you’ll see stuff in the background such as a cat or dog, fishbowl, couch, etc, but of course the ones you make yourself are done with a bland, empty-garage background — of course with FMV backdrops, it’d be impossible to allow you to place tracks in environments like the other ones, but it’s nice that they put in the option. This game didn’t make a good first impression, as you’re driving down extremely narrow paths with FMV backdrops so it is an incredibly railed game, but it’s actually not easy, and was a little fun, I think, overall. The game gives you a very strict time limit for each track, and you pretty much need to be perfect to finish. So, the challenge is getting or turning and braking right, to pull off each jump and turn without a crash. This isn’t a good game, but it’s moderately amusing. Fans of mini-car racing games should check this one out, too — many Hot Wheels games don’t actually use mini-car settings, oddly enough, but this one does.
*Hot Wheels: Stunt Track Challenge – 2004, Win98 or above. This second Hot Wheels Stunt Track game is from Climax Studios. No, not the Japanese one, a British company of the same name. This game has you playing as a competitor in a futuristic, Hot Wheels-themed TV racing gameshow. This game is a simple, but fun, arcade-style futuristic racing game. It’s entirely different from the game above — this one has you driving what appear to be full-scale versions of Hot Wheels cars through full-size (usually), outdoor environments. You’re not on those plastic orange one-car-width tracks that you’re driving on in the above title, and you’re not a tiny car in a large world either. That doesn’t mean it’s worse at all, though; it’s better, really, it’s just a bit less obviously Hot Wheels. The vehicles you drive are all of course Hot Wheels vehicles, though. The game’s clearly inspired by other futuristic racing games like Extreme-G or Rush 2049, but this game’s not as complex as those — it was clearly made for kids, so this game is easier and more forgiving than most such titles. There are no alternate difficulty levels, either. The game is a fairly standard “extreme” style racing game, with tracks full of jumps and obstacles you’ll have to avoid. The main unique feature here is that it’s not just about races against other cars. Stunts are done Rush 2049 style — it’s all about spinning and flipping in the air with the analog stick. It’s not as varied or deep at that game’s stunt system; indeed, it’s quite simple, just spin or flip — but still, it’s entertaining. Instead, each of the six championships is made up of ten events. Three are races, but the rest include two top-down sections (with small cars) where you have to collect five items and then find the exit, and a variety of other games including races where you have to go along a narrow track, sometimes without walls, going through hoops or checkpoints as you head towards a goal, a stage where you play pool (by knocking giant balls into holes in the corners), stunt-jumping challenges where you go through a short course and then over a jump, and more. Excepting the topdown bonus stages, which just exist to allow you to unlock more decals, the other events are all scored in a bunch of categories, including stunts, time, position (for races), etc. The person, of the six competitors, with the most points at the end of each championship is the winner. You’ll be rewarded for finishing second with a new car, or two if you win the championship. The game doesn’t have weapons, but does have turbo. You can build turbo either by doing stunts or collecting turbo powerups. The graphics are solid early-’00s stuff. Stunt Track Challenge looks quite average for the time, but it’s a good average, not a bad average — this is a reasonably nice looking game. Each championship’s environment is different from the last, and the themes, from a pirate ship to a hive of spiders, are varied and fun. to attack your rivals with. Overall, Stunt Track Challenge is a fun game, but the easy difficulty holds it back a bit — this game is just too forgiving. For instance, when you fail to finish spins before landing, no problem; you won’t get the points, but it won’t punish you in the race itself at all. Actually winning every challenge actually would be difficult, but you don’t need to — a mixture of top-3 finishes should easily win every championship. Still, the varied challenges, from racing to jumping through hoops to going over jumps to the topdown bonus stages, keep the game fun. Stunt Track Challenge is a good game, I just wish it lasted longer and had some more depth. But for what it is, it’s good. Also on PS2.
*IndyCar Racing – 1993, DOS (though I have the 1996 CD re-release). IndyCar Racing is an early Papyrus racing sim. As expected from Papyrus, the game is realistic, detailed, and a very good game for its time and genre. As the title suggests, this one is an IndyCar game, so it’s open-wheel racing. Papyrus later became famous for their NASCAR games, but this is one of their earlier titles; it’s only their second racing game. As with all Papyrus games, it is a high quality, accurate sim. I find such games somewhat boring, of course, but for 1993 this is a very good open-wheel game. The game has very good graphics for a 1993 racing game — indeed, I was impressed with the visuals here. The polygonal visuals are nice looking, and the game runs fast and smooth on any modern PC. This game isn’t as technical of a sim as later Papyrus games would be by default, so it’s quite playable by anyone. The game has assists such as automatic gears and the option to turn off damage modeling that help make the game simpler for people who don’t want the full experience, and you can set race lengths too so you don’t need to do 150 laps. The game has fifteen tracks from the 1993 IndyCar season, so it’s got all the courses too. Unfortunately as was common in sim racers the game has no ingame music, only sound effects. As with most F1 and IndyCar games I find this game somewhat boring, but that says noting about its quality. This is clearly a good early ’90s racing sim.
Klik & Play (Included Games) – 1995, Win9x (does not work in Vista, not sure about XP). Klik & Play was the first of a series of innovative and brilliant game creation programs from Clickteam. This first one was published by Maxis, and I loved this in the mid ’90s. Sadly because I was really stupid I lost just about all of the games I made back then by the early ’00s, but still, KNP was great. It has limitations — scrolling is nearly impossible to do for instance, so almost all games are single-screen, and you can’t really do any kind of 3d or first-person stuff — but it was really fun to play with. Anyway though, this isn’t here for the game creation side. It’s here for the included games. KNP includes 15 small games built in; the later Clickteam programs don’t have anywhere remotely as many, maybe just a couple each. KNP, though, comes with a full suite of little games. Relevant to this topic are the racing games. They are top-down, because I don’t think there’s any way KNP could do first-person (2d or 3d) or faked-scaling titles. The first is Racing Line, a Super Sprint-esque game with F1 cars. It’s got one or two player support. In one player mode, you play against a really hard to beat computer which drives along one specific line, probably faster than you can. You bounce off the computer car if you hit it, too. Yeah, it’s kind of lame in 1p. Two player is a lot more fun, though; I liked this one a lot. Setting lap times was fun too, though it doesn’t save them (KNP only supports password saving, pretty much; later Clickteam titles would add in save-file support). The game has five tracks, each a bit harder than the last. Fun little game. This is the only true racing game of the included titles, but there are two two player only car combat games included. First is Quads, an ATV game where the goal is to bump the other player into holes that are scattered around the playfield. It’s okay, but not one of the better packin titles. Maniac Racers is the second one. In this one you shoot the other car, and each player has a health bar. There are three maps, and it’s better than Quads. These two are not anything I’d call a racing game, though; just combat. Overall though, some decent options. I liked KNP’s built-in games. They’re very simple, but can be fun.
*MegaRace 2 – 1996, DOS. The first MegaRace was and early attempt to do a futuristic racing game, sort of, on the CD medium. The game was FMV-heavy, and indeed was more of an on-rails FMV shooting game than a real racer. The live-action video segments and fancy CG-rendered backgrounds drew people in, but in retrospect the game’s pretty awful. Well, MegaRace 2 is a bit better than the first one, but not by enough. Like with the first, MegaRace 2 has you racing on prerendered CG tracks that play like movies in the background. They improved the illusion somewhat here, and the graphics look fantastic in screenshots, but actually play it and you’ll see just how limited it actually is. Because the background is video you don’t have full control over your motions or what you can see, unlike most games, which is very frustrating at times. I just don’t like the style much as something I have to play. The combat is similarly limited by the technology. The host from the original game does return, and he’s moderately amusing, sure, but he can’t make up for the badly lacking gameplay. Oddly enough while the first and third MegaRace titles had console ports, this one is PC only. It’s two discs, too — lots of track video there for the game to stream. Great. Futuristic racing games are one of my favorite genres, and are my favorite kind of racing game, but MegaRace 1 and 2 are two of the worst futuristic racing “games” I’ve played. I know that MegaRace 1 and 2 have some fans; people who are interested in FMV racing games might want to try this. I’m not one of them.
Micro Machines 2: Turbo Tournament – 1996, DOS CD version. Micro Machines 2 is the second, and maybe the best, game in a great racing game franchise. As with the first one, in MM2 you drive tiny little Micro Machines cars in real-world environments. You aren’t railed to the road, so one of the major challenges is learning the tracks so that you turn correctly so as to stay in the path, and not fall off the table or run into something or what have you. It’s a great system, and works extremely well. The first Micro Machines was a fantastic top-down racing game, but the sequel’s bigger and better. There are lots more tracks, more modes, more multiplayer, and more in this title. Micro Machines 2 has a surfeit of modes, including single race, championship, Super League, a track editor, and a large collection of user-created tracks as well. Those last two options, the track editor and user track collection, aren’t in the console versions of the game. Super League mode has you in a series of four leagues. Each league plays a set of races, and at the end the bottom player is dropped, while the top player moves up a level. Your goal is to make it to the top. This is much easier said than done, though. Super League is a great mode, and was my favorite one here. Championship mode works just like the original game — play through all the main tracks one at a time, with limited continues. It’s tough, but of course is great once you learn the tracks. The large collection of user tracks is a great inclusion as well. Micro Machines 2 has a really cool reflective silver box, too — it really stands out. MM2 is a tough game, though. Your little cars go faster than in the first game, so you have less time to react to the upcoming turns. I think I like the first game’s speed a bit better, personally — this one can be hard to deal with sometimes. You get used to it, but it’s a fast, tough game. This means that the game is harder than the first one, and memorization is even more important. The PC version is probably the best version of this game out there (it’s also on Game Boy, Game Boy Color, and, in Europe only, Genesis and Game Gear), but the handheld versions are extremely difficult due to the short draw distance. The Genesis version is good, but it’s probably even better on PC. The game saves your times and such too, of course, something not all of the console versions do (the handheld versions do not, for instance). I have mixed feelings about the 3d cameras in Micro Machines V3 and Micro Machines V4, but MM2 is an outstanding game and stands next to the first Micro Machines near the peak of top-down racing greatness. Oh, and yes, it’s a fantastic four player multiplayer game too. The first MM was two player only, but this is the one that introduced four player to the series. It stuck, in a big way. Oh, for anyone with an older machine, this game is extremely incompatible with Windows — it really needs to run in pure DOS mode, without Windows running in the background, to function. This doesn’t apply in DOSBox of course. Also on Game Boy and Game Boy Color (in the Micro Machines 1 & 2: Twin Turbo package, on the latter), and in Europe only also on Genesis and Game Gear. The handheld versions don’t have saving, while the PC and Genesis (Megadrive) versions do.
Monster Truck Madness – 1995, Win95 or above. Monster Truck Madness was Microsoft’s first major entry in the racing genre, as the company got into PC gaming in a big way in the second half of the ’90s. Of course they would later ditch this for the Xbox, but for a while they were focused on the PC. MTM is a fairly simple game, with okay graphics for its time (1996-1997) and decent gameplay. The monster truck theme is silly, but the gameplay, which is a checkpoint-based racer in large open levels, works well. This game is simple, but fun. There are two level styles, lap-based races with circuit tracks, and longer point-to-point races. This is far from a great game, but it’s decent for the time, and is kind of amusing to play even now. I’ve never cared about monster trucks at all, but this game’s not too bad. It’s certainly not great, and gets old after a little while, but it can be fun. The game has a sequel, but I haven’t played that one. I have played the N64 game, which is based on the second one, but don’t like it as much as this one.
Moto Racer – 1997, Win95 or above. Moto Racer was released in late 1997, and was one of the best, and best looking, arcade-style PC racing games released up to that point. It is on GOG. The game as quite popular, and for good reason: this is a very good arcade-style racing game. Moto Racer has 3DFX and Direct3D support for nice 3d graphics, and it is indeed impressive both visually and in the gameplay. The game has some issues on modern computers I will address at the end, but regardless it’s a great game and is playable. Moto Racer is both a superbike and dirt bike racing game, so you have both the dirt racing full of jumps and tricks of dirtbike racing, and the high speed road racing of superbike racing. Moto Racer’s gameplay is arcade through and through, and I wouldn’t have it another way. The goal here is to get through each race without hitting the walls, because hitting the sides will cause a significant loss of speed or, worse, a crash. You can wheelie for additional speed, but it greatly reduces turning, and makes you much more likely to crash if you hit anything. These simple controls work very well and results in a fast and thrilling game. The game does have turn indicators before turns, but they’re not really necessary. This game has unrealistic courses that are fun in the best ways, and each one has a different setting, too. One’s on the Great Wall of China, for example. The tracks are railed paths, so the scenery is just that, but it works. I like the track designs in this game, they’re designed well. There is a timer, but you will only run out of time if you’re doing badly. All you have to do to move on is finish in the top 3. There’s no points championship or anything, so the only reason to finish first would be personal satisfaction. The game is short, with only eight tracks and a short campaign mode that is easy to finish in a short time, but if you get into it there there is some replay value. Once you beat all 8 races you unlock Reverse mode, for a second run. You can also try to improve your lap times. Still, the one flaw here is the somewhat limited amount of content. Apart from that, it’s fantastic. The music is good, but somewhat unmemorable. MR1 has great graphics (640×480 max resolution, but it looks great for ’97), great gameplay, fantastic arcade-style handling and controls, nice visual variety, and more. Moto Racer 2 has even better graphics, but the first one does look nice. Also, while there are only eight races in the game, there are three difficulty settings, reverse mode, and you can play with 12 or 24 bikes. More bikes adds to the excitement, but also to the challenge. Still, it IS short; this is where the sequel comes in. Moto Racer’s multiplayer is LAN or Direct-IP only. Overall though, Moto Racer is a classic! As for the performance issues, in order to get the game to run, make sure to install the patch 3.22. That will get the game working. Moto Racer does require Windows to be set to 16-bit color to run, but once done it’ll work. In addition, the “mototrac” patch adds in the two demo levels. Unfortunately it just has them replace two of the races in the circuit (as an option, you can still use the originals if you wish), but still it’s nice to have. GOG’s release comes with the patches pre-installed. This game has performance issues on modern computers, but they are mostly fixable. First, it doesn’t work with USB gamepads, only gameport. I don’t know if the GOG release fixes this. Second, I already mentioned the 16-bit-color-only issue. And last, the game is tricky to get working in Direct3D mode — the game will dump you into the not as nice looking software mode at the start of each race, by default. The fix is to use command line parameters. The full set of command line parameters I use is ” -D3D -ZBuffer -FrameRateMax60 -TextureVideoMem268435456″ (after the address in the Target box, in the Start Menu shortcut’s properties). There are some other options you can enable through these parameters too, such as different framerates (the default is 30; I chose 60; setting it to 0 will unhook the framerate, for no limit, but I’d recommend using a limit. You can set it up to 99.). -CorrectRatioTextures and -nodither might help too. -h displays the list of parameters you can use, though that -TextureVideoMem one that fixes D3D is hidden one found by a guy in the GOG thread linked below (thanks! It’s awesome!). If you want to use software mode for whatever reason (no command line parameters), there are graphical issues, so turn graphical detail down to 3 (of 5) before dirtbike (motocross) tracks; otherwise you’ll see lots of game-killing slowdown when making sharp turns. Superbike tracks work fine at detail 5 in software mode though, but of course there’s no reason to be using it. Just use hardware, with the command line parameters above. See this link for more info on the parameters and how to use them in the GOG release (it’s slightly more complex than with the disc release, you have to make your own shortcut to the game (moto.exe) and then put the parameters on that shortcut), see this page: http://www.gog.com/en/forum/moto_racer_series/direct3d_problem/page2 Finally, to install the game in 64-bit Windows, follow the instructions in this link: http://gamebender.wordpress.com/2010/01/02/moto-racer-1997/ GOG’s release includes the patches and of course replaces that 16-bit installer. Oh, there’s also a PS1 version, but its graphics are pretty bad compared to the PC original. Finally, I didn’t put an asterisk on this game, but I didn’t buy it when it came out; I just have this as a disc only title, and got it in the mid ’00s. I’ve had it much longer than any of the titles with asterisks, though, and also I played this games two demos a lot when it released, so it’s one I did play some of back then. The game is just as great now as it was back then, impressively.
Moto Racer 2 – 1998, Win95 or above. Moto Racer 2 is essentially just like the first game, but more and better. While the series changed dramatically after this title and became a generic, not particularly interesting sim racer series, these first two are fantastically fun arcadey motorcycle racing games with nary a realistic racecourse or bike customization option in sight. The controls and handling are nearly identical to the first game, which means that they’re great. Turn indicators have been removed from the game versus MR1, but I don’t miss them; they were never needed anyway. Track designs are very similar to MR1 as well, except now there are a huge number of courses, instead of very few, and multiple championships. The controls, just turning and wheelie/stunt, are simple but deep,and there’s a lot more to Moto Racer 2 than you might think at first glance. In order to get good at Moto Racer, you’ll have to learn the numerous courses, learn the types of turns, and figure out how to take them at the best speed possible. I, at least, think that this is a much better game style than the later ones. I got Moto Racer 2 when it first released, and it’s been one of my favorite PC racing games ever since. This game really is that good. I even don’t mind the rock music soundtrack, which is saying something. Moto Racer 2 takes the core of the first game and makes it better. The graphics looks very similar, but better. The game supports higher resolutions, too, up to 1024×768 (and does have a 16:9 option). MR2 is a very good looking game for 1998. The game has four player splitscreen multiplayer now, as well as the LAN and direct IP modes the first had, so multiplayer is easier and better. The game doesn’t have as many environments as the first game — there are only six this time, instead of eight — but it makes up for it with an essentially infinite number of tracks. The game has a good 40+ built-in tracks, and four different championships to try to win. If you beat all of the included championships, you can make your own too, using tracks you make yourself in the track editor. The track editor is simple, easy to use, and works great. You simply place the connection points, and then curve the track in between those points. Moto Racer courses are entirely railed paths, so it works well. You can’t customize the scenery, but can regenerate it until you get a look you like, and you can choose the setting, from the five available for each bike type (one environment is exclusive to each type, and four are shared). I was slightly disappointed that there are fewer environments than the first game, despite having so many more tracks, but otherwise this game is a huge improvement over the first title. Highly, highly recommended! Moto Racer 2 does have some of the first game’s problems, but fewer of them, and they are fixable. This game is on GOG.com too, but GOG removed the original annoying and yet perfectly fitting punk rock music and replaced it with some bland and generic rock. I assume some rights issues were involved, but it’s very disappointing — a disc copy is best. First, to fix Direct3D (this is required in either version of the game, disc or GOG, the only difference is how you input command line parameters), use the command line parameter “-KeepAvailableVram668435456” (use what’s inside the quotes) in order to get the game working in the far better looking D3D mode. As with MR1, there are more command line parameter options, if you wish. Use the command line parameter -h to see the full list. Similar to MR1 the -KeepAvailableVram one that fixes D3D is hidden, thanks GOG thread below! It’s great that D3D can be fixed, because software mode doesn’t look nearly as good. If that command line parameter does not work for you, see this thread and try some others. -KeepAvailableVram268435456 works for some people. http://www.gog.com/en/forum/moto_racer_series/d3d_solution_for_mr2/page1 Also, for the disc release, two patches will be required to get the game working; GOG of course comes prepatched. First install the official 1.34 patch, then download and install the unofficial 1.36.3 xp patch which will get the game working. See here: http://gamebender.wordpress.com/2010/01/03/moto-racer-2/ Fortunately, this time you won’t have to set your desktop to 16-bit color to run the game, and Moto Racer 2 WILL recognize USB gamepads, unlike the first one. Also while software mode doesn’t look as good, at least it runs smoothly, unlike MR1’s software mode. So yeah, there are some issues, and they’re annoying, but at least there are fewer this time. Despite the problems, Moto Racer 2 is an outstanding, must-play arcade racing game. A must play for arcade racing fans. Like the first this is also on PS1, but expect awful graphics from that version. It’s fast, but looks like a hideous moving sea of pixels. Buy this on disc for the PC — again, avoid the GOG release if at all possible because they removed the original, better music.
Motocross Madness 2 – 2000, Win9x or above (sort of; read below!). Motocross Madness was Microsoft’s motorcycle series, and quite unlike the above two games, this one is a sim at its core. I went from Moto Racer 2 to this, and my first reaction to this one was not good. This is a much, much harder game, and it does get frustrating. Still, it does a lot of things right, and is very good for its genre. Motocross Madness is, as the name suggests, a dirt bike racing game. The game has tough, fairly realistic handling and will take quite some time to get used to. You also need to learn to not go off of all jumps at full speed — often there are obstacles in the distance, so be careful. There are a lot of bike configuration settings too. If you do get used to it there’s a lot of content here, but at the time I was disappointed by this because I had such a hard time trying to figure out the controls and how to do well that it made me just want to go back and play Moto Racer 2 again. Still, even if it wasn’t quite my thing, Motocross Madness 2 has good graphics and good gameplay. The game has three basic types of races: first, checkpoint races in large open levels. These are pretty cool, and really are the highlight of the game. Second, Supercross races (indoor, tight-turns courses). And last, stunt arenas. There are a few other variants, but those are the basic types. Riding around in the open levels particularly can be fun. Of course I crash constantly — this is a difficult game after all — but it’s fun anyway. This is better than most other dirtbike racing sims I’ve played, for sure. I like the large, open courses, and when working correctly the graphics are nice as well. Oddly however there is no ingame music, just engine noise, which is kind of boring. On the graphics note, though, this game has one significant problem: it doesn’t work right on modern computers. Specifically, on systems with more than 2GB of RAM, you can’t play the game in anything other than Software rendering. Needless to say, Software mode is very ugly. Looking around on the net, I can’t find any way to fix the problem other than limiting Windows to only 2GB of RAM, or physically removing the RAM and then editing the game’s config files to reflect the change. Yeah, not good. Instructions: http://www.tomshardware.com/forum/103457-13-motocross-madness Overall, Motocross Madness 2 is tough but good, though that graphics issue is quite unfortunate.
*Motorhead – 1999, Win98 or above. Motorhead is a somewhat unique looking racing game. The game has a simple polygonal look, but uses lots of visual effects to have a very shiny, reflective look to it. This game definitely shows off the visual effects that video cards could do for the first time in the late ’90s. I imagine some find it garish for sure, with all that lighting. I think it looks reasonably good, but there is better. The polygon models are fairly basic, and the draw distance and fog are a bit too close — and you can’t get rid of it, unfortunately. Was this designed for the PS1 first or something? As for the gameplay, this is a fairly straightforward arcade-style racing game. It’s got solid arcadey controls, a good track selection, and plenty to do. Nothing to argue about here — Motorhead is a good game. It’s not great, but it’s definitely good, and worth a look. The visual effects are perhaps overdone though. Those shiny, 3d-accelerated visual effects are all over the place; the designers were showing off what they could now do, and went pretty far with it. Still, it is a quality game with solid, stylized visuals. Also on PS1.
*Need for Speed II – 1997, Win95 or above. In Vista, set compatibility to Win95 or Win98 for the game to work properly. The demo of NFSII was the first Need for Speed game I played, and it left an impression on me — I thought NFS2 looked great, back in early 1997, and the game seemed to play well too. The idea of racing very expensive supercars, such as the eight in this game, was a fun one. I didn’t buy the game until much later, though. Looking back on the game now, the game has aged for sure. The graphical difference between this and NFSHS, released three years later, is huge, indeed almost generational. This one looks a lot more like NFS1 than any of the later titles, though it does have much improved car models versus that game. Overall though, NFS2 is a transitional title. It doesn’t have the point-to-point races or more simmish design of NFS1; instead, it’s got all circuit tracks, and and a bit more arcadey feel. However, just like NFS1, the game does have nice interior views for all of the cars, based on the real looks of those vehicles. The driving model is also okay for the time; sure, it’s a bit simplified from NFS1, but braking and turning certainly are still important. Overall the game looks dated, but plays like something in between the first NFS game, and the third or fourth ones. NFS2 is a good game. My main problem with it is that I think that the next two were even better — more cars, better graphics, better controls, wider courses, and more. NFS2’s track designs are good enough for the time, but definitely have that walled-in feeling that racing games usually did around that time, in order to reduce the polygon counts. Areas where you can drive off of the road, even just into a grass shoulder, are rare. The next two games are quite different in that regard, and I think that that was a real improvement. The graphics also get much better, as I said, though there is a second release of this game, NFSII SE, with 3DFX support (emulateable, of course, with a Glide wrapper) and another track. Maybe I’ll get that one sometime. Still, while NFS2 is a good game for its time, and I do find it more fun than NFS1 (yeah, I’m not one of the NFS1 devotees; it’s good, but I like the later ones more.), it’s outclassed by its successors. The game’s fun to play a bit, and there’s certainly some challenge here as you learn the tracks and try to avoid crashing, but overall I’d rather play the newer ones. Still though, this game does have some nostalgia value for me for sure. Also on PS1.
*Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit – 1998, Win9x (not sure about XP). Does not work properly on Vista, unfortunately; I need to play this one on my old computer. NFSIII was the 1998 NFS game, and it’s a great one. The game has good graphics, good track designs, and great fun gameplay. The game’s main problem, apart from not running on Vista, is that NFS High Stakes includes all of its tracks and cars (as unlockables), and has very similar graphics and gameplay too, except better all around. That leaves NFSIII as something of a relic, a good game that was completely superceded by its sequel. This game doesn’t have much of a single player campaign, just like the previous two NFS games, either. You choose a car, choose a track, and go. I prefer racing games with more substantial campaigns, like High Stakes has. NFSIII does introduce some great new features like being able to play as the police, though, which is cool. Still, as good as this game is, and as fun as it is — and it is very fun — I struggle to come up with reasons to play this one over its sequel. Is there anything at all in NFSIII that’s not also in NFSHS? Plus, it doesn’t work on Vista, either. Has two player splitscreen and IPX network or direct IP multiplayer. Also on PS1, but far better on PC.
Need for Speed: High Stakes – 1999, Win9x or above. The 1999 entry in the series, NFS High Stakes is one of the best games in the Need for Speed franchise. The game runs on an improved version of the engine that ran NFSIII, but this one looks even better, and runs fine on Vista, too. NFSHS is still a very good looking game even now. NFSHS has, for the first time in the series, a significant single player campaign mode. Also for the first time in the franchise, NFSHS has car damage that is both visual and affects performance. Car damage is broken down into four different categories, so this isn’t just your basic damage meter, it’s got more depth than that. And on that note, you want to avoid damage in this game, if you take too much winning will be very difficult. This is a major factor in the campaign mode too. So, you start out by buying a car. Then you can enter the first circuit. The first one is free, but all other circuits have entry fees. You’ll need to make money by doing well in the races in order to get anywhere here. You spend that money on repairs — yes, if your car is damaged in a race, you have to pay out of your winnings to fix it; entry fees for circuits; and new cars and car upgrades. There are quite a few circuits to race through as you work your way to the top. I found this game hard when I was younger, but in retrospect it’s not quite so bad. Still, if you get in trouble, this game can be harsh — you can’t back out of races you’ve entered, so the only way of restarting a disastrous circuit is to alt-tab out of the game and force close the program, and try again. The game has a lot of tracks to race on, too, with a full new set of tracks as the main game, and every track from NFSIII also present hidden away as unlockables. This is probably the most feature-rich classic NFS game. There are lots of cars for this game, and EA released more as downloads too. Again you can play as either the police or the speeders, and both have a sizable array of sports cars and supercars to choose from. With beautiful graphics, lots of tracks and cars, car damange, and a full single player campaign, NFSHS is my favorite Need for Speed game. It has two player splitscreen multiplayer as usual. When released it had online play too, as well as IPX network and direct IP, but EA shut down the online servers after a few years, unfortunately. The online play was fun while it lasted though. Also on PS1, but the PC version blows away the console release.
Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (2010) – 2010, WinXP or above. Criterion’s NFS Hot Pursuit is an interesting game. Finally getting away from the tedious tuner-style games that in my opinion had ruined the NFS series and had made it irrelevant for years, NFSHP plays like a cross between one of the classic NFS games, Hot Pursuit II perhaps (that’s the one it reminds me the most of, within the NFS series), and Burnout. Coming from the developers of the Burnout series this is to be expected, but it is true — this is about as much a Burnout game as it is NFS. I like the Burnout games, though, so that’s not a problem at all. NFSHP may be slightly annoying for using a name nearly identical to a previous game in the series, but as far as the gameplay goes this game is great. The game is the first (non-tuner; I haven’t played most of those) NFS game since the original one to center around races along one-way courses, instead of circuits like NFS II through HPII all used. It works well enough, I like this style of racing too. The game is played on a road network map, and each race will take you through a certain chunk of this road network. This reminds me of some old Road Rash games; Road Rash 64 works exactly like this, and Road Rash 3D too I believe. This is a far better game than those though of course. You can’t just drive around the roads freely, you can just do the races, so this is not an open-world game. I prefer this style, myself. The game has a great variety of races and missions, with different goals in different races and lots to do. You play as both the police and the speeders separately, which is great. The game’s car selection returns ot the style of NFSHS and before — it’s all sports cars and supercars. Classic NFS cars, just how I like it! This game doesn’t have a car damage system as detailed as NFSHS’s, but that does make the game a little less frustrating, so I guess it’s okay (though it’d be a nice option). The courses have shortcuts and long-cuts too, so memorization is important. The graphics are of course fantastic, too. The courses are full of great scenic vistas, towns, forests, deserts, and more. The game has some minor performance issues on my computer, but is quite playable. NFSHP is the best NFS game since the ’90s. The game has online-only multiplayer, no splitscreen. Also on PS3 and X360.
Network-Q RAC Rally Championship – 1996, DOS. I got this game in 1996, because PC Gamer gave it a good review and it claimed to have a lot of tracks, but I didn’t really know what I was getting into. I’d never played a rally racing game before, and this one taught me that the genre wasn’t for me, at least not when it’s done semi-realistically like this. This game is time-based, so you’re not really racing directly against others, but instead are racing against their times. I prefer to race against opponents and not just a clock, myself. The huge course selection was a disappointment too — almost all of them look identical, so sure there are a lot of tracks, but they’re all variations on the same thing. Still, Rally Championship isn’t all bad. You can’t go off-road, either. You’re railed to the course. I may often have been bored, but I did play it a good bit, and had some fun with it. The graphics are nice, particularly from the in-car view; I used it rarely because I find in-car views make racing games harder, but the in-car view is nice. It even has working wipers while its raining, something I though was really cool at the time. The rain effect, with the wipers, looks impressive. The game has plenty of options too, with several difficulties of a basic arcade mode, as well as the full championship tour, all available. The game’s sequel, International Rally Championship, looked more interesting thanks to its addition of a much greater variety of places to race in, but I wasn’t quite interested enough to buy the game, so I’ve only ever played the demo. I did like that you could race somewhere other than England, though. The graphics of that one look quite similar to this, but slightly improved.
PC Gamer magazine (US) had a collection of about 15 classic (’80s to early ’90s) PC games on a second, subscriber-only bonus disc from late 1999. One racing game was in the collection. The acrynym is for “PC Gamer Classic Game Collection 1“; they didn’t do another full collection, but did include Duke Nukem 3D on an issue in 2000, and then Wolfenstein 3D on an issue in 2001. Anyway though, it included this one racing game.
PCG CGC1: Road & Track Presents: The Need for Speed – 1996, DOS. The first NFS game is a good racing game, but I never spent much time with this. By the time I got this collection in ’99, I had many newer racing games after all, and I prefer the gameplay of NFSIII or NFS High Stakes to this one’s slightly more simmish design. The graphics are a lot worse too, of course. I found the game hard, with tougher controls than I was used to in the series (II, III, HS). Sim racer fans surely like that, but I don’t. Also it has fewer tracks than the later titles, with only three circuits and three 3-part one-way courses. Still, it’s a good racing game. This isn’t the best version of the game though — there’s an SE version with an additional track, but unfortunately that’s not the one in the collection. Also PCG had to cut the car videos in order to fit everything else on the disc, but I don’t mind, because I don’t watch those anyway (even in the version I own which does have them, for Saturn, I mean). Also on PS1 and Saturn, enhanced from the 3DO original.
POD: Planet of Death – 1997, Win95 or above. See my thread. Pod is a futuristic racing game from Ubisoft, and it is not only one of my favorite racing games ever, and my overall favorite PC racing game. I would say a lot more, but well, I already did… Pod is incredible! I love the music, I love the graphics, I love the gameplay, and I love the huge track and car selection too. After all of the available downloadable addon tracks, Pod has 40+ tracks and 50+ cars, and they’re all great. The game has two player splitscreen too, along with network and modem multiplayer. It had online play at release, but that was shut off after several years, unfortunately. Still, this was one of the early online racing games. The graphics were very impressive for the time, too — this game was a showcase for Intel’s new MMX technology, and it really showed off (as few games would) what MMX was. Pod has outstanding art design to go with those great track designs and good graphics, too. The game has everything from simple circuits, to incredibly complex and confusing mazelike tracks that you’ll spend hours memorizing before you can even hope to compete. I love that variety. Pod really has just about everything, unless you want weapons in your racing game that is; this isn’t a combat racing game, it’s focused on the driving itself. In some games that might be boring, but not here; it works great. Pod’s as good as arcade-style racing games get, in my opinion. I know this isn’t an opinion shared by everyone — I remember PC Gamer giving the game a 70-something percent, for instance — but it’s mine. I’ve loved this game since I first got it as a packin with a new computer in 1997, and it still holds up extremely well. My Pod thread I reference here is at this link: http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=328773
*Powerslide – 1999, Win95 or above. Powerslide is a challenging drifting-heavy post-apocalyptic futuristic racing game with a fairly realistic driving model, great track designs, and some pretty nice graphics too. This game made a bit of an impact when it released, and it’s still a great game. Sadly the developers, Ratbag, didn’t last long after making this (and only also made a couple of short-track dirt racing games), but at least they made this one great title. Powerslide is a game which will take a while to learn, but is very rewarding once you do. Learning the powersliding technique, and getting the turns right without crashing, will take some practice. The game’s well worth the effort, though. I really like the graphical design in Powerslide, and the very realistic physics model was unique in the genre too.
Racing Fever: This is a 4-pack of DOS racing games that I bought at some point in the late ’90s.
Racing Fever: Screamer 2 – 1996, DOS. Screamer 2, the second game of this series, was the first one I played. I’d heard of the Screamer games, but hadn’t played them when they were new. Going back and playing this one a few years later, though, I could see why the series had been successful. Screamer 2 is a great good car racing game. I think on consoles this game would have been quite successful, but on PC it’s been somewhat forgotten, unfortunately. Games this good shouldn’t be forgotten. While Screamer 2 is a lot like the first game in some respects, they mixed things up in several important ways. First, instead of being Daytona crossed with Ridge Racer and some original elements, this game is more Sega Rally crossed with Screamer. Yes, this game has an unmistakable Sega Rally feel to it, from the fast speeds you drive at, the super-skiddy, drift-centric controls, and the four car races and selection of rally-style cars. The track designs are more like Screamer tracks than Sega Rally, but you can see some influence there too. Turning arrows showing you the direction and severity of upcoming turns have been added, too, like in a rally game. The graphics are fantastic in this game — this game looks really good for 1996, in high-definition 68,000 color mode particularly. Sure, it has blocky textures, but otherwise looks great, and is nicely improved over the first game. Car models look particularly improved. The controls are better in this game, too — analog responsiveness options have been added in the config program, and on Medium the game plays perfectly with an analog gamepad, unlike the first game. However, a few bad things from the first game do return. First, the massive amounts of catchup do return, and worse than ever because of how the races have only four cars in them this time, instead of ten like the first game. That means that you’ll almost certainly stay close if you fall behind, but can’t really get any kind of a lead either, so one significant slipup late in the last lap of a good race can doom you. Yes, the degree of the catchup is a real pain. Apart from that though, this is a great game. The graphics are very good, with nice detail and fun, varied course designs. The music’s great this time, too — instead of rock music, this game has a more techno/videogamey sound to it, and I think it’s much better. I like Screamer 2’s music. It could use some more tracks, as once again there are only six, but they are about twice as long as Screamer 1 tracks, so they have expanded on the amount of content in that way at least, so it’s probably enough. The gameplay’s great, apart from that catchup. And there’s certainly plenty of challenge too, for sure. There are four championships to race through in Screamer 2, and three difficulty settings on top of that, so this game is longer than the first one. Again though, the biggest problem are technical issues that you need to be aware of. Like with Screamer 1, in DOSBox you’ll need to set the CPU cycles to a fixed number, instead of Auto or Max, in order for the config program to work. Do something similar to that game (see below). In addition, Screamer 2 will only recognize your first CD drive, no matter what you try setting screamer.cfg to, so if you normally use something else other than the first-lettered disc drive for your games, you’ll need to change your DOSBox config to put this one in the first slot in order to play the game. Yeah, it’s a bit annoying. However, this game is more than worth the trouble. The Screamer games are well worth going back to! There is one more Screamer game from the same studio, Screamer Rally, from 1997, but I haven’t played it. After that the name was used in 2001 for a generic-looking 4×4 racing game, but that’s unrelated to the earlier ones in every way except for its name. A sadly weak end to a very good arcade racing game series.
Racing Fever: Test Drive Off-Road – 1997, DOS. This game was the worst racing game I owned in the 1990s, I thought at the time, and yes, it isn’t any good. TDOR is a bad, ugly looking racing game that doesn’t work well either in DOSBox or even on my older computer. This doesn’t bother me much because the game’s so bad that there’s no reason for me to want to play it anyway. TDOR is an attempt at a checkpoint-based truck racer like 4X4 Evo or MTM, but the tracks are hemmed in with lots of walls of impassable cones and trees. As a result, while the levels are large open 3d spaces, you’ll spend almost all of your time on the road if you want to get anywhere. The frequent checkpoints also encourage sticking to either the path or the few, fairly well marked shortcuts. The level designs are quite bland. TDOR has deep problems beyond this, though. For one thing, in DOSBox the game runs at an unacceptably low framerate. I’m not sure if it even hits 15fps reliably. I don’t know if it’s a game problem or a DOSBox problem, but either way it’s distracting. I did get used to it after a few races, but it never becomes okay. In addition, the analog controls are broken and unconfigurable — up is accelerate. With a joystick. Yes, this means that joystick controls are useless, and you’re relegated to the keyboard, unless you want to use a wheel with the game. Great. The game has four licensed trucks to choose between, but that’s all you get — only four. That’s not much. At least the truck models look okay. Seriously though, for 1997 this is pathetic. This game released after Screamer 2, but looks like it should have been out well before it. Another major problem is the draw distance. While you can see the ground going out far enough, and trees appear a fair distance away, those omnipresent walls of cones pop up right in front of you, often with no warning (unless you’ve already memorized the track). The draw distance on cones is extremely short, and you can’t drive through them, that’s for sure; they are impassable obstacles. This does help keep you on the path to the next checkpoint, but come on, why can’t I see them coming at me? Where’s the draw distance slider to let me push them farther back? This game’s Playstation roots couldn’t be much more obvious, and it wasn’t a good game there either going by reviews. The truck controls are very loose and slippery, too — you’ll be all over the track all the time. Maybe this is an attempt at slightly “realistic” dirt handling controls, but in this game it’s just a cause for frustration. Constantly crashing into walls or going off track because your truck is so hard to control is no fun. The only multiplayer is a two player splitscreen mode, but only play this with someone you want to torture. The graphics, controls, and gameplay are all bottom of the barrel. The game does have two player splitscreen, but why would anyone want to play this with a friend over much better games? The game has several sequels, but I’ve never played any of them. I gave this game a 1.8 when I scored it back in the early ’00s. That was probably a bit harsh — the game is playable, despite all of its major faults and serious lack of fun — but it doesn’t deserve a passing grade, anyway, certainly. Also on PS1.
Racing Fever: Death Rally (1996) (1996) – 1996, DOS. Death Rally is a great racing game developed by Remedy, and was their first game. There recently was a remake of this game for iPhone and now PC, but I’m talking about the original DOS release here. Death Rally is a top-down racing game, a classic style that I like a lot, but with a heavy combat focus. The game has great graphics, with nicely drawn cars and some 3d-esque track graphic elements, very good track designs, and lots of fun action. The game does keep you on the track, so this is no Micro Machines. It’s also not one of those topdown racers where you have to memorize the whole course in order to do anything because of speeds that have you going too fast to see what’s coming at you; speeds are much more reasonable here, so you’ll have no problem with the upcoming turns. This is essentially exactly how a topdown racer should look, and should play. About the only flaw is that the game seems to end too quickly, and replay value is a bit limited. Part of that’s because of how much fun it is, but it is a bit short. Oh, and yes, since it was published by 3D Realms, Duke Nukem does make a cameo as a playable racer.
*Re/Volt – 1999, Win98 or above. Great version of this RC car sim classic. Re/Volt is as close as I’ve ever seen to a true RC car sim. The game has a very difficult handling model, and realistic physics as well. These cars are small, and feel it — control in this game is very tough. Re/Volt is NOT an easy game, that’s for sure. It is a great one, though. Re/Volt left an impression when it released, and it’s still at the top of its class — I don’t know of anything else that seriously competes with it in the RC car game field. Its PS1/PS2 only sequel, RC Revenge, certainly doesn’t — that one’s an arcade game. Re/Volt on the PC or DC is the better title. Re/Volt has a good selection of tracks, all set in real environments. I love these games where you drive through the real world with tiny cars, they’re great. This one even has stuff like bouncing balls, moving doors, and stuff — the tracks aren’t just static. The tracks are all complex and very well designed. You will have to take Re/Volt seriously to do well at it, though. While there is an easier handling option, even in that mode, this game is tough and realistic. Re/Volt isn’t all sim, though. The game does have weapons to use, and they’re fun stuff when used correctly. These follow the physics model too, though, so be careful where you drop that bowling ball — it’ll roll around depending on where you left it. Overall, Re/Volt is an outstanding game, and the best game ever in the RC car subgenre. If you haven’t played Re/Volt, you should. It’s a hard, frustrating game, and I lost many times on the early races before I got any good at the game at all, but with patience and skill, you will eventually get better. The game’s well worth it. The game has LAN and TCP/IP (direct-IP) multiplayer. Also on DC, N64, and PS1, but only the DC and PC versions are really worth playing.
*Road Rash – 1996, Win95 or above. A port of the popular 3DO game, Road Rash is a combat motorcycle racing game. This is also the only Road Rash game that ever was released on the PC. Fortunately, it is a good one. This PC version is certainly the best version of the game, too, with better visuals than on consoles, and a network multiplayer mode too; none of the console releases have any multiplayer at all. There’s still no splitscreen, unfortunately, but at least there’s something. As for the gameplay, for those who don’t know, Road Rash is a point-to-point combat motorcycle racing game. You drive along through lenghty levels, avoiding traffic and obstacles while beating up the other racers. It’s a good game, and popular too, but while I do like it, I’ve never loved it. I didn’t really like the Genesis games all that much, either. This one is certainly better than those, but I still find it a little boring… the levels are long, and it’s very frustrating when you crash because you need to run all the way back to your bike, just like in those three games, and that can take a while — crashing near the end of a race dooms you. Some later Road Rash titles would add in things like respawning in order to reduce the challenge a bit, but this one doesn’t. I imagine the Genesis Road Rash fans love it for that, but I don’t. Also on 3DO, PS1, and Saturn.
*Rollcage – 1998, Win95. Rollcage is Psygnosis’s other futuristic racing series, sadly forgotten now in favor of Wipeout. Actually developed by ATD and published by Psygnosis, the game’s outstanding. Wipeout is of course an incredible game, but Rollcage was just as good. It’s really too bad that they abandoned this series after only two games. As expected from Psygnosis, the game is beautiful looking for the time. Play this in OpenGL mode I think, it looks fantastic for 1998, with flashy visuals and lots of stuff going on. The soundtrack is a decently good techno-style soundtrack. Getting to the gameplay, though, Rollcage is a quite different game from Wipeout. Instead of driving hovercars along often floating roads made of preset parts, in Rollcage you drive two-sided wheeled cars which have tires taller than the vehicles, so they can drive either rightside up or upside down. This is a key game mechanic, and you’ll have to get used to driving upside-down in this game too, as you can drive on walls and ceilings, and can blast through many buildings too, provided that you’re going fast enough of course. Rollcage also has a weapons system, with some fun weapons to blast the other cars with including missiles, speed boosts, warps, and one that slows down everyone who isn’t you, but the cars are invincible, so you can just delay, and not destroy, them (and the same goes for you).There are also buildings in the environment that you can blow up either by ramming them with your indestructible car, or by shooting with some of the weapons. It’s great fun to be able to blast through stuff without a scratch. Cool stuff. However, Rollcage isn’t an easy game. The driving model is tough, and it’ll take some practice before you can drive around the courses without constantly spinning out — these cars spin very easily. Only the best players won’t spin; really, the best thing to do is learn how to drive well enough that you won’t spin very often. When the cars get out of control, as happens often, they can go flying in all directions, spinning into the air, and more. One crash late in a race will certainly end your chances of winning. And though all that destruction is fun, you don’t get anything for it in this game; points in the championships are only earned for your finishing position, nothing else. As a result, in the first Rollcage it is best to focus on winning races, and not the destructible buildings, unfortunately. But yes, the controls are unique. Turning is very, very sharp, and that’s something players will need to get used to. At first, the controls may seem awful, but they’re actually good, or at least work exactly as intended; it just takes some time to get used to them, but I actually like Rollcage’s controls, even if it s frustrating when you go flying around because someone hit you. Rollcage is a great game. There are a fair number of tracks and cars, and lots of fun and challenge to be had. The game has four player splitscreen (it’s only two on PS1), and network and modem multiplayer too. Also on PS1, looking nice for the system but a lot worse than the PC version does for sure.
Death Track Racing (aka Rollcage Stage II) – 2000, Win9x or above. From ATD and Psygnosis. I got this game back when it released, and it’s fantastic. While the title changed for its US release, the game inside did not: This is Rollcage Stage II, the second and sadly last Rollcage title. Rollcage Stage II is everything the first one was and more. They improved on the first game across the board here, and addded lots of features too. Rollcage Stage II has more tracks, more cars to unlock, more destruction, and better graphics than the first game. The single player campaign will take quite a while to get through, as just with the first game this is a tough game, and learning the tracks, and how to get through them without spinning out too much, will be tricky. One major element is added this time, though — now destruction counts for points too. At the end of the race, the winner won’t just be the person who finished in first, but instead you’ll get points for your finishing position and for how many destruction points you earned, and the two will be added together. I like this, it adds some variety to the game and the destruction is just as fun as the racing, too. The game also adds a new platform-esque mode where you have to get through a stage within the time. This feels a lot like a Rollcage version of what you can also see in Super Monkey Ball — you’ve got narrow floating pathways to carefully navigate before time runs out. I loved this mode, and played it until I beat all of the challenges. The graphics are even better than the first games’ are, too. Whichever title you find it under, Death Track Racing/Rollcage Stage II is a must-have title. Also on PS1.
*Screamer – 1995, DOS. Screamer is a great racing game from Grafitti. The game was clearly inspired by classics like Daytona USA and Ridge Racer, and plays something like those titles. The game has graphics that are as good as or better than anything on consoles at the time, and gameplay and controls that are just as good as any of them too. The game has only six tracks, and they’re short at under a minute per lap each, but this game is far too good for that to hold it back very much. There are ten cars to choose from, each one either manual or automatic only. Races have ten cars in them. There are three difficulty levels to play on, with championship circuits on each. The game autosaves between races, so you won’t need to replay the circuit if you’re struggling on a later track. Nice touch. Much like Screamer 2, Screamer 1 does have lots of catchup, so it’s hard to get out with much of a lead, and computers will quickly pass you if you make any kind of mistake. You can build up a lead, but only very slowly, and it will vanish in an instant. Still, the game is very good. The graphics are pretty good, the car handling is a great, arcadey design that makes the cars fun to drive, the tracks are well designed if short, and many people will probably like the rock soundtrack, though I find it bland. Really the only problems Screamer has are technical — this game has some issues in DOSBox. First, you’ll need to run the Setup program to configure your controls, or if you want to use a joystick or gamepad instead of the keyboard. However, the setup program won’t work with DOSBox CPU cycles set to max, so you’ll have to set it to something lower. 150000 cycles preset works well in both the config program and the game. Either use a custom startup for this game, or remember to set the DOSBox config file back after playing Screamer. In addition, with a gamepad the analog controls are extremely touchy. This game was clearly designed for a joystick, not a pad. I’d recommend a joystick or wheel. The game is playable with an analog gamepad, but the extreme touchiness of the controls is somewhat frustrating at times. And finally, Screamer has high and low (SVGA and VGA) detail modes. The game looks great in SVGA, so make sure to set it to SVGA in the config program, but track five crashes frequently on that setting. To fix this (thanks, DOSBox Compatibility page), you need to make a copy of the MAP5L.DAT and rename it to MAP5H.DAT, after backing up that file under a different name. That is, make it so that the game loads the low detail background instead of the high detail one that is causing the crash. It won’t look at nice, but it’s just one track, and it won’t crash now. So yes, Screamer has some technical issues. Don’t let that hold you back, though — this is one of the best arcade-style car racing games on the PC.
Sega Rally Revo – 2007, WinXP or above. Sega Rally Revo is an arcade-style rally racing game. This third Sega Rally game unfortunately isn’t anywhere near as good as the first two. While each Sega Rally game has more tracks, more cars, and lengthier championships than the last one, in terms of gameplay, the progress has unfortunately been in the opposite direction — the first Sega Rally game pretty much perfected things, gameplay-wise, and it’s been all downhill from there. Indeed, Sega Rally Revo doesn’t really play much like Sega Rally. It does have a nice terrain deformation engine, but that’s really the only notable thing here. This is more like a B-grade rally racing game with the Sega Rally name on it. Think of it that way and it’s not too bad; this is no RalliSport Challenge, but it’s alright. But I would not recommend playing it over either of the original Sega Rally titles. I’m glad I only paid a dollar for this. Also on PS3, X360, and PSP.
*Simpsons: Hit & Run, The – 2003, WinXP or above. The Simpsons: Hit and Run is a Grand Theft Auto-inspired mission-based driving and platforming game. It is considered one of the better Simpsons games, and when it released was the first good Simpsons game since the Konami arcade game. In the game, you play as the four Simpsons, plus also Apu. Each one has a separate level, which consists of a part of Springfield. There is no full, connected city here, only these seven levels, each only accessible for its character (Bart and Homer each have two levels). The levels are largely linear; most side streets come back to the main path. Each level has only a few truly branching areas. As a result, this Springfield doesn’t feel like a real city, it feels like a videogame. Kind of too bad. Still, Hit & Run is a pretty good game that’s a lot of fun to play. The game has a wide variety of missions. There are races, timed missions where you must collect objects along the road, missions where you have to destroy certain other cars, missions where you have to run around on foot and kick things, and more. The game does a good job of mixing up the mission types. The platforming element is interesting — you expect this game to be mostly a racing game, and it is, but you do spend a fair amount of time on foot too. And yes, there are some jumping puzzles. Each level has seven main story missions, one bonus mission, three races, some other special missions/races, and a bunch of collectables to find. You CAN go back and re-enter levels you’ve beaten, so don’t worry about finishing a level without getting everything — you can go back. The game has a story written by the Simpsons writers and voice-acted by the real voice actors, which is cool. The story’s a silly story about these robotic bees with security cameras on them that have appeared all around town. Then, even worse things start happening, and it’s up to the Simpsons to figure out what, find and destroy the robotic bees scattered around each level, and save the day. It’s not a great story, but it’s good enough to keep you going. Overall, The Simpsons: Hit and Run is a simple, but fun, mission-based driving game. It has good graphics which really look like the Simpsons world gone 3d, good controls (presuming that you have a dual-analog gamepad, you’ll want one for this game), and plenty of fun. The main story isn’t particularly difficult, but some of the side missions are harder, and there’s a lot of tricky collecting to do too, so this game has replay value. Overall, pretty good! Also on PS2, Xbox, and GC.
*Speedway Challenges – 1996, DOS. Two game collection, on one CD, of Network-Q RAC Rally and Lamborghini American Challenge. See below for reviews.
*Speedway Challenges: Network-Q RAC Rally: 1994. I got Rally Championship (below) back in 1996, but hadn’t played this earlier title until recently. It’s interesting to see, because it’s clearly a predecessor to that game. This is a simple rally racing game set in England, just like its followup would be. This game isn’t 3d like its predecessor, though; instead, this is a somewhat ugly looking fake-scaler game. It’s in-car only, so there’s no external camera unfortunately. The game has narrow tracks full of tight turns. Go too fast on the turns and you’ll spin or flip over. In a couple of races, I found myself flipping constantly, but finished in decent positions anyway. The visuals are simple, with a track lined with objects that mark the sides (and slow you down even more if you hit them), as in 16-bit console racing games of the time. This game is pretty mediocre and, for me at least, not very fun. There’s no ingame music, either, so the audio presentation is boring; it’s just engine noise and sound effects. The game claims to be in stereo, but Soundblaster mode only had audio in one ear of my headphones, so something doesn’t work right. Overall, this game isn’t awful, but I’d much rather play something else that’s faster, more fun, and looks better. This game does not hold up well. Play one of its sequels instead; Rally Championship may be a bit boring, but it’s a much better game than this across the board. There are as expected a lot of tracks to drive, but that doesn’t help when the game itself is this generic and uninteresting. Oh, this game has speed issues too, so Max cycles in DOSBox won’t work well. Set it to 10,000 cycles or something; try various values, and try to get something decent. No matter what I set it to, I felt like the cars were too slow on straightaways, but turned too quickly at the corners… maybe some settings could deal with that, but yeah, I don’t really like the handling either. This one isn’t really worth going back to I think.
*Speedway Challenges: Lamborghini American Challenge: 1995. This is a PC port of Titus’s SNES game of the same name. I have that version as well, and it’s very similar here. The graphics are slightly improved, but unfortunately in-race music is gone — there’s menu music, but ingame it’s just engine noise. How annoying. At least they did add saving, so you don’t need passwords to save your progress. By default this game runs straight off of the CD, but does create a config and save file on the C drive. They also cut out the SNES version’s unique light-gun mode; this is just a racing game. Apart from the music and visual differences, though, this is for the most part the same game it was on the SNES. As with the SNES, the two modes of play are championship or two player splitscreen. The SNES game is an okay, but somewhat bland, fake-scaling, behind-the-car racing game, and that’s what this one is too. The game has various races around the US, as you drive your yellow Lamborghini and try to win the championship. And no, you can’t change the color. Each race requires an entry fee, so, though you can choose your driver picture. Because of that fee and your limited starting funds, a couple of lost races early on will lead to a quick game over. Yes, this game is unforgiving. Your main competitors are twenty ranked opponents, each with an image, but only up to four (including you) will be in each race; the rest of the 20-car fields will be local drivers. The main advantage here is that there’s a lot less competition on the PC in this category than there is on consoles, I think — unlike the Amiga, which was loaded with these fake-scaling racing games, I don’t think the PC had nearly as many. It’s nice it did have this one. Lamborghini American Challenge is average for its genre, but it can be some fun. The game’s a decent challenge, as well — winning races is hard and will require skill. There is a lot of traffic on the roads you have to avoid, because if you hit it you’ll slow down a lot. It won’t take many touches before you’re completely out of it. Those little slowdowns might not seem like much at first, but in fact you really do need to get good at this game and try hard to avoid both the trackside obstacles and the other cars. The game has the betting element from the SNES version as well — in LAC you can bet on races against your main competitors, and the one who finishes on top gets the money. If you think you can win, it’s a good system to get some bonus cash. Overall, LAC is a decently good fake-scaling racing game. It’s average for the genre, and doesn’t have in-race music on PC, but the PC doesn’t have all that many games like this, I don’t think, so it stands out a bit more here than it does on the SNES because of that. At least the graphics are better than on SNES, and the game’s very smooth too. That helps. Oh, one odd thing — despite being set in America, your car only displays speeds in KPH. No option for miles. Um, what? So yeah, I have no idea how fast these cars are actually going. Also on SNES in the US. There’s also a Game Boy version, though of course it’s not a straight port. LAC is an enhanced version of Titus’s earlier Amiga game “Crazy Cars III”. The game, often under that title, was released only in Europe on many more platforms – Europe had Amiga, Amiga CD32, Atari ST, Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and PC releases of CC3. It’s similar to LAC, but has no multiplayer, and a red car instead of yellow.
*Front Page Sports: Ski Racing – 1997, Win9x. This game does not work at all on my Vista computer. The first of two ski racing games from Sierra, FPS: Ski Racing is an okay game. This is very much a sim for its time, though — if you miss one gate that’s it, so you will need to spend time memorizing the courses in order to progress. Controls are fairly realistic as well. The graphics are quite bland and generic; don’t expect much visually from this game. I don’t think this is a bad game, but don’t like it all that much either. It’s not fun enough, and the bland look doesn’t drive me to want to spend the time to learn how to play it well either.
*Snowmobile Championship 2000 – 1999, Win98 or above. Snowmobile Championship 2000 is an extremely bland and low-budget snowmobile racing game from Infogrames. With a bare minimum course selection (there are only five tracks), bland and mediocre at best graphics, and very average gameplay, this game’s about on par with other low budget, mediocre snowmobile racing games like Polaris SnoCross for the PS1 and N64. Actually, that game’s probably better than this one. This one has even fewer tracks and you’ll finish it even quicker, for two points, and that is a short game. Graphics might even be worse too. This game actually is moderately amusing for maybe a half hour, but don’t expect anything more than that — there’s very little to do here, and nothing to draw you back. The actual races are moderately amusing, as I zip around in my snowmobile through the white snow, but with so little gameplay, and such a bland, featureless presentation, there’s not much reason to play this game unless you really love snowmobiles or want to try every arcadey racing game you can find. The game has keyboard-only controls too. If you want a good snowmobile racing game, though, get SledStorm for the PS1.
*Star Wars: Episode I: Racer – 1999, Win9x. I don’t know about XP, but this game does not run in Vista. Now there is an asterisk by this game, but I did get it for the N64 back in 2000, and played the demo of the PC version too, so I did play it back then. This PC version is pretty much the same as the N64 release, except with better visuals of course, and network multiplayer options. Otherwise it’s the same as that game, which I review in my N64 thread. And yes, that means that it’s a pretty good game, but is also extremely frustrating in the later parts thanks to the long, challenging tracks and the cruel AI that is nearly impossible to catch once you fall behind. The smooth framerate helps some, versus the N64 version, but the game is, overall, just as hard; I’ve always had love-hate feelings for Ep. I Racer. On the one hand I like the intricate track designs, the Star Wars theme, the graphics, the music, and more, but on the other hand I hate the too-hard gameplay, the fact you can never catch up once you fall behind, some of the crueler track designs (Abyss, seriously, what were they thinking…), and the too-long races. Also, it’s annoying that it doesn’t work on my newer computer. Also on N64 and Dreamcast.
*SODA Off Road-Racing – 1997, Win95 or above. SODA Off-Road Racing is Sierra’s off-road racing simulator. The game was developed by Software Allies, with some assistance from Papyrus. The game is licensed by SODA, the Short-Course Off-Road Drivers Association, a truck dirt-track racing series that existed at the time (I don’t know about now). The game looks about average at best for a 1997 PC game — they’re very simple and bland. However, the gameplay here is not simple, that’s for sure. SODA is a hard, hard game, with some of the most difficult turning control I’ve ever seen in a game. Essentially, this game is about trucks slipping around in the dirt, and unlike most such games (4X4 Evo, TDOR, etc.), this one tries to get the physics, and thus the slipperyness, right. As a result, just going in a straight line is quite challenging. As I’m not one for sims, I don’t know if I can see myself spending the time to get good at this game, but if you want a realistic, and by that I mean really, really frustratingly (but realistically) slippery, offroad truck racing game, certainly, try SODA. The game does have a demo, if you want to experience a bit of it. This game has one of the most realistic driving models ever in a dirt-racing game, but that means that it’s a very difficult game to get a handle of. It will take some time before you’re even remotely competitive in even the first race. Needless to say, getting good at this would take patience, and a love for car sims of course. A wheel is highly recommended. I do have a wheel, but not the love for car sims that that would require… still, good game.
*Streets of SimCity – 1997, Win95 or above. Streets of SimCity was a SimCity 2000 3d spinoff title. By that I mean that this game is compatible with SC2k courses. Yes, in Streets of Simcity you can drive in cities that you made in SC2k – pretty cool! Unfortunately, the game got awful reviews; this game was from Maxis’ low point, at the end of their days as an independent studio, and wasn’t that great. It’s also buggy, but was never patched, so expect the game to crash sometimes. The other SC2k 3d spinoff title, 1996’s SimCopter, is supposed to be a better game, but unfortunately I’ve never played it. This one is a combat racing game where shooting has more emphasis than racing. The game is a mission-based game where you can either freely roam around your SC2k towns, or the 50 included ones, or play missions in campaigns in the included maps. The missions include combat missions where you have to stop robbers, aliens, or post-apocalyptic mutants, delivery missions where you go from point to point, and things such as that. Unfortunately, while that sounds like it could be interesting — an open-world racing game, from 1997! — the game doesn’t really work. First, on Vista, or XP from what I’ve read, and maybe even on Win98 or ME (I will test this game on my ME computer and see what happens), all other vehicles just bounce up and down, very high in the air, instead of actually driving anywhere. This is somewhat amusing to watch, but certainly doesn’t make for a very functional game. You’re the only car on the road. Win95 compatiblity mode can help, but the game still has serious bugs. In addition, you must play this game in 256-colors-only mode — tell Windows to limit it to 256 colors (in street.exe’s properties menu) or you’ll get constant color problems. Also this game doesn’t seem to have any analog controls at all; it’s digital only. Of course since this is SC2k, all turns are 90 degrees as well. I didn’t run into any program crashes, at least, but that’s probably because I didn’t play for very long; the game’s notoriously crash-prone. But even if the game does technically work, those reviews it got back when it came out (Gamespot gave it a 4.4/10, for instance) suggest that it’s probably not very good even so. And yeah, that is the impression I got; playing it a bit did not make me want to spent more time trying to get it working better. SimCopter’s probably the better option, if you want to go around SimCity 2000 cities in 3d. Or if you want a good mission-based open-world driving game, try Driver or Driver: San Francisco.
*Test Drive 5 – 1999, Win9x or above. Test Drives 4 through 6 were by Pitbull Syndicate, the same developer who also did Demolition Racer. A somewhat under-rated arcade-style racing game developer, Pitbull’s racing games are certainly not sims, but they are fun, simple arcade-style racing games. Test Drive 4 was a very difficult, oldschool arcade racer, with point-to-point tracks and a focus as much on avoiding traffic as on the turns. Test Drive 5 builds on TD4’s success, except now for the first time in the main series there are six circuit tracks, in addition to the 11 point-to-point races. It’s nice to have the variety, because both kinds of racing are fun. As usual in the series point-to-point races are broken into five segments, each timed. In this game it’s not hard to meet the times, so I think they eased up on the difficulty versus TD4. Still though, the game’s certainly got some challenge to it; the tracks will take some practice to get good at, and between the turns and the traffic, there are plenty of ways to mess up. The game has a somewhat light, floaty physics model, so when cars hit eachother the cars go spinning around wildly. It’s fun to watch, unless you’re involved. The handling is slightly realistic, though, so do expect to have to learn when to slow down and when to brake — you won’t do well in this game if you just hold on the gas, that just results in constantly running into walls. I like the controls in this game, it’s a fun balance between arcade and hints of sim. There’s a Sim handling mode too, for greater realism. As for the game, circuit races are on closed courses, but the other races are in cities, so as usual you have to deal with traffic. I really do think that the Burnout games took some lessons from TD 4-6, there are some definite similarities… though they added plenty more, such as the boost meter, and all the ways to charge it. These games aren’t as good as Burnout, but they are good, fun arcade racing games. The game has a licensed rock soundtrack. I find some of the music obnoxious, but I’m sure many people will like it. Overall, like TD4 and TD6, TD5 is a fun arcade racer that too many people overlooked, particularly on the PC. And the PC is where you want to play this game — it runs fine on Vista 32-bit, at least, even in DirectX mode, and looks a LOT better than the PS1 version, graphically. TD5 isn’t a great looking game, but the visuals are certainly good enough to do the job. TD5 is a solid B-grade arcade-style racing game. (Oh, I have TD4 for PS1 and TD6 for DC.) Also on PS1.
Ultim@te Race Pro (packin with Creative 3DFX Voodoo2) – 1998, Win9x. This game never worked on my WinME computer, but does work on Vista through Win95 compatibility mode. The game and installer both need to be in Win95 Compatibility to work at all, but once set will work fine. Ultim@te Race Pro is a game that was primarily inspired by Ridge Racer, along with some Daytona USA. It’s not as good as either one, but the influences are obvious, and the graphics and gameplay come straight from those series’ formulas. Controls are extremely skiddy, and the cars start sliding with only the barest touch of the turning controls. This is somewhat annoying, I’d like tighter controls at least as an option… you can make them a bit tighter, but this is a drifting-centric game for sure. The game has nice visuals, and is a decent to good game. However, it has one problem: limited content. Ultim@te Race Pro has only five actual tracks. The game tries to pretend that they are “seventeen” tracks by changing the weather, mirroring, and reversing them, but unfortunately you can’t choose each of these separately. One track, the oval, is forward daytime only, too. The weather effects, including day, night, fog/rain, and stormy night, are nice, and the night races definitely can be tough, when it’s hard to see anything not in your headlights’ view. Still though, the fact is that the four versions of each track are all preset and unconfigurable. Say one is regular, one is night and reverse, one is raining and mirrored, and the fourth is reverse and mirrored. You can’t change the weather effects independently of the track version, unfortunately. Also there isn’t any kind of championship here. You simply choose time-trial or single race, and race it. You’re only playing for best times and finishing positions and nothing else. That may have been vaguely acceptable on consoles in 1995, but on PCs years later it was not okay. The game was criticized for its lack of content at the time, and rightly so — this game’s fun, but needed something to keep you coming back beyond just trying to get better racing lines and faster times. It doesn’t have it. The option to turn on an ideal racing line, which actually puts a physical line on the track showing wher the best driving line is, is a cool one, though. You can save replays too. Multiplayer is network, direct ip, or modem only – no splitscreen. Overall, Ultim@te Race Pro is a fun game which looks nice for its time, but the skiddy, somewhat average controls and lack of single player content hold it back.
*VR Sports Powerboat Racing: Pure Power – 1997, Win95. This is a retail demo, essentially — or rather, limited version. You get more tracks than the demo, but it’s not the full game. But honestly, that doesn’t matter. VR Sports Powerboat Racing is an awful game, and even just playing it long enough to finish this “Pure Power” edition is a chore. Interplay was one of my favorite game publishers, but they had their share of poor titles, and this is most certainly one of them. The game’s graphics are ugly, first. Even back when I first played the demo of this game when it was released, I thought the game looked bad. The sheets of water that shoot up from the sides of your boat obscure your view from the standard behind-the-boat view, too — no transparency here! It’s painful to look at. Unfortunately, the gameplay’s probably even worse. This is as generic and bland as arcadey racing games get, and it’s no fun. Go around the circuits, and try to win… or don’t, it doesn’t matter in a game this poor. This is one of the worst PC racing games I own, along with TDOR. Also on PS1.
Interplay’s 15th Anniversary Collection is a fantastic 6-CD collection of 15 classic Interplay games from 1999. It only has one racing game among the fifteen, though, but it is a good one.
Interplay 15th Anniversary Collection: Whiplash – 1995, DOS. Whiplash is an “extreme” but modern-day racing game from Gremlin. That is, the game has all kinds of jump and trick-filled tracks. The game’s graphics are fairly average, but in SVGA they look decent for a mid ’90s title. Fortunately, the gameplay holds up better than the visuals. When I first played this in the late ’90s I thought it looked ugly (though that the game would not let me go into SVGA mode certainly didn’t help either, VGA mode is quite blocky) but played well, and that impression holds up. Whiplash, called Fatal Racing in Europe, is so mid ’90s it almost hurts, but darnit, why did they ever stop making games like this anyway? We could use more fun racing games with interesting tracks! Whiplash’s sixteen tracks are varied in designs. Some have jumps, others loops, others twisty segments. Fun stuff. There are always walls on the sides of the tracks, in that polygon-limiting mid ’90s style, but otherwise the track designs are good. I like the variety, and that they’re not just plain circuits. There are a lot of tracks for a game from 1995, too. Many races are too long, though. Ten laps on some tracks, really? And you can’t customize race length, either. Apart from that though, the driving is just as good as the tracks. This isn’t a drifting game; handling is quite tight, giving you good control through the turns. This is not one of the great racing games, but anyone who likes racing games with somewhat low gravity, bashing other cars, solid car modeling, and some decent tracks should probably give this a try; it’s a solid B-grade effort. One note though — as I said earlier, I never could get VGA mode working after I got this game in the collection mentioned above, which was quite annoying. However, I’ve finally figured out how to do it — I needed to install the patch in “whipadd.zip” available on Patches-Scrolls. This patch was for the Creative Labs 3D Blaster (Rendition Verite card, I believe), but for some reason, installing it and running that wl3d.exe executable finally makes SVGA mode appear. It’s been way too long, I wish I had discovered this back in 1999 or 2000, but I don’t believe I ever did. SVGA certainly makes the graphics sharper. Also, to fix the audio glitching you get in DOSBox, use Soundblaster (not SB16, basic Soundblaster) as your sound source in the sound setup, along with CD Audio for music. That’ll fix the problem.
*Twin 2 Pack: Sonic 3D Blast/Sonic R – 2002, Win9x, doesn’t work well on modern PCs (as with most of Sega’s ’90s PC games). This version of the PC version of Sonic R isn’t worth playing — it’s got no music! Yes, Sonic R’s … unique … soundtrack is absent from this disc, for no apparent reason, and wasn’t released with anything either. If you want Sonic R for the PC, get a version that has the music on it. There are some. The game itself is intact, and is a fine version of this fun racing game, but without the music I’m not interested. Also on Saturn and Gamecube (and PS2 in Japan).
Digital Download (note: dates here are for the games’ original release dates, not the date they became available on digital download services, for games not available on them at their original release.)
Blur – 2010, WinXP or above. Blur was marketed as a kart racer for people who don’t like the cutesey graphics in kart racers. Well, there is some kart racer in this game, but really it’s a good, solid arcade-style racing game with weapons. Blur didn’t do that great, but actually is a pretty good game. The game has nice graphics, mostly solid track designs, a good selection of weapons, and plenty of fun. It is kind of odd to have these realistic modern-day cars in a game with weapons, but you quickly get used to it, and it works well enough. They should have marketed this game diffrently, it’s actually quite good, something I was not expecting given the ads. Blur does have a few issues, including some somewhat bland visual design and the slightly odd pairing of driving licensed cars in a weapon-based combat racing game. They probably would have been better served making a more standard combat, or kart, racer, though — this concept, with real-world environments full of sometimes drab, current-gen colors that also shoot colorful weapons at eachother just didn’t catch on. It’s too different I guess, real-car games aren’t usually like this. I really did dislike their ad campaign, and if that was the real reasoning behind the design, then maybe they should have failed — I don’t like that attitude. On the other hand though, the game itself definitely is good despite that, so perhaps not. It isn’t great, due to the sometimes mixed quality of the track designs (they’re never bad, but aren’t always great) and the visual design issues mostly, but it is good, and fun for sure. It’s worth getting if it’s cheap. Online only multiplayer. Also on PS3 and 360.
Death Track: Resurrection – 2009, WinXP or above. Death Track: Resurrection is a Russian-made sequel to a 1989 Dynamix title, Death Track, that I haven’t played. Like that game, this one is a post-apocalyptic, weapons-heavy racing game. Death Track Resurrection is a very fun game which makes a great, visceral first impression, but it does suffer from extremely random gameplay and no multiplayer at all. In the main Story mode (and yes, this game does actually have a story), you play as a new racer on the Death Track circuit. The story is told through CG-rendered video sequences between races. The circuit has been dropping in the ratings recently, so the mob boss type guy who runs it is trying to increase ratings. His solution is to kill off one of the racers in an “accident” after each race. Absurdly, somehow no one ever questions these accidents. No racers stop racing because they don’t want to be next, the media in the news segments shown in the cutscenes never challenge the “accidents”… it’s all quite odd. The story is kind of hard to figure out, probably because of translation issues from the original Russian (the lip-synching isn’t very good either, on that note), but it doesn’t really matter, because this game’s about the action anyway. There are ten tracks in Death Track Resurrection, so the Story mode is ten races long. You have to finish first or second in each race to progress. Between races, you can spend your winnings upgrading your car. The first race has ten racers, and of course each race after that has one fewer. There are several other modes available, too, including a story-free Tournament mode where you go through a standard circuit of races, a single race mode, a mode where you have to accomplish a specific objective on a track to win, and a drag-race mode. Again though, no multiplayer. The game has a pounding hard-rock (or something) soundtrack. The menu music is awful, but the in-race music’s appropriately energetic. The visuals are quite nice; this game looks great, it’s current-gen and looks it. There are a few signs of its low budget, but overall the game looks quite nice. All ten tracks are set in ruined cities, and they’re all a lot of fun to drive through. The tracks are full of branching paths, and there are destructible objects in the environment too. The tracks are very long — races will be 9-10 minutes total — but stay fun throughout, thanks to the constant action and the good track designs. Your car is armed with three weapons at a time: two top-mounted guns (primary and secondary), and mines/spikes you can drop behind your car to hit people behind you. You do have limited ammo, but can replenish it with pickups on the track. You also have Nitro, also refillable from pickups. The same goes for your health, though in this game if you get blown up it’s not race over; instead, you get respawned, after a bit of a delay. Your guns will auto-target enemies in front of you, so shooting is simple and fun. However, this is where that frustratingly random element of the game comes into play too — you’ll get blown up, a LOT, and most of those deaths will be unavoidable. Death Track Resurrection is as much a game of luck as it is a game of skill. I see that reviewers criticized the game for this, and rightly — it is indeed random, and luck is indeed important to winning. Still, the game’s a lot of fun to play. The visceral thrill of the driving and combat keeps it fun, even when I’m getting blown up yet again. Death Track Resurrection has some issues, but overall is an above-average combat racing game that anyone with an interest in this kind of racing game should pick up. Also on PS3 PSN.
Driver: San Francisco – 2011, WinXP or above. Driver San Francisco is an impressive, and very fun, game. Probably the best Driver game since the original, Driver San Francisco is an open-world driving game with nice, current-gen graphics, good, fun arcadey driving gameplay, and some unique design elements that make this game unlike any other. This game clearly is a Driver game in ways that many of Driver’s sequels weren’t, but it’s also something new. There’s a bit of Burnout in this game as well. This game has only one city, instead of the four that the original has, but it’s a large, detailed city, so that’s okay; there’s a lot of road here, and more opens up as you play. The driving itself is great fun. There are a variety of different mission types, including traditonal Driver timed “get to point X on the map within a certain amount of time” challenges, races, taxi missions, stunt missions where you have to do certain tricks (speed, crashes, etc.) at certain points, and more. The game’s not nearly as immediately, crazily difficult as the first Driver is, so don’t expect that kind of stratospheric challenge. Police seem a bit harder to annoy, and the game doesn’t start out nearly as hard. That’s good, the first game really was overdone in challenge. This one saves after every mission you do, too, of course. Of course though, it does get harder as you go through the game. The game’s most unique element is its Shift feature. In the story, you again play as Tanner the undercover cop. He’s recently caught the dangerous criminal Jericho, but the guy escapes on the way to jail, and Tanner tries to stop him. Unfortunately his car gets hit by a truck, and he goes into a coma. While in this coma, Tanner imagines himself still in the city, exept this time he isn’t just himself; instead, he’s a spirit of sorts and can possess anyone driving a vehicle in the city. So, you possess specific vehicles in order to do a mission in that vehicle. The Shift button jumps you into and out of vehicles, and you can scroll around and zoom in and out of the map to jump into any car you want. You can buy cars of your own, too, for other missions or what have you. This Shift system is very unique, and really is a lot of fun. Some people make comments about the crazy things you just did while driving in their car, too, which is fun; of course they can’t see Tanner and think that the original driver did all this stuff. It’s quite amusing. The story plays on this well. Of course, Tanner’s ultimate goal is to catch Jericho again, since he escaped in the accident at the beginning. This game looks like it’s set in the present day, but Tanner doesn’t look any older than he did in the ’70s… huh. 🙂 His car does look like a ’70s vehicle, though, which is cool; I think it’s one he’s had in previous games too. On that note, all of the vehicles in the game are real, licensed vehicles. Nice. There are really only two significant negatives that I can think of. First, the game is 16:9 only, annoyingly, which means black borders on my monitor. Bah, other recent games like NFS Hot Pursuit have 4:3. There’s also no DirectInput gamepad support; it’s X360 controller (xinput) only. Stupid Microsoft, you should require everyone to support both! I had to use the xinput-to-dinput emulator in order to make the game playable. You can find the x360ce wrapper here: http://code.google.com/p/x360ce/ Once that was in place, though, the game’s great. Driver San Francisco really is a great racing game. Driver San Francisco really is a great racing game. It’s got good graphics, good, simple controls, a nice variety of missions to take, free-roam fun if you want to just drive around, no guns or running pedestrians over (just like the original Driver!), an interesting story with a unique concept, a fun city to drive around in, and more. Highly recommended, this game’s just pure fun and is one of this generation’s best racers. Online only multiplayer. Also on Mac, PS3 and X360. The Wii version is an entirely different game.
Ignite – 2011, WinXP or above. Ignite is a low-budget, PC-only racing game. It’s also widescreen only, which is annoying — this is one of only two widescreen-only racing game that I own, everything else has 4:3 options, which matters to me because my monitors are 4:3. Apart from that though, this game is simplistic fun. Ignite is a basic arcade-style racing game. The central mechanic is boosting. You can build up boost (“Ignite”) power by drafting or collecting items that are scattered around the courses. The graphics are nothing amazing, certainly, but are decent enough to do the job. Track designs are similarly solid; they aren’t incredibly impressive, but are fun to drive around on. This game isn’t expensive, and for the money it’s probably worth it for arcade-style racing game fans. Don’t expect anything amazing or original, though.
*MegaRace 3 – 2002, Win9x or above. MegaRace 3 is the first MegaRace game that’s actually fully 3d, instead of being mostly prerendered video backdrops, and not cooincidentally is also the first one that I actually think is a good game. MegaRace 3 clearly is a somewhat low-budget title, and is average in many ways, but it does enough interesting things that I think it’s worth playing. First, yes, Lance Boyle, the live-action-video host of the first two games, does indeed return. He’s weirder than ever this time, and is amusing at least some of the time. Again you’re in a futuristic gameshow as an Enforcer, and have to win races to succeed. The game has very basic menus and a simple, unpolished onscreen interface, but the track designs are better — there are some pretty cool visuals in the courses themselves. This game has a lot of morphing lifeforms and pulsing alien things in the courses — this game isn’t set in sterile cities, but instead is in a organic-looking biological hazard zone pretty much. The interesting visuals help hold up the otherwise bland game. Controls are average. The various hovercars you drive are floaty, as expected for hovering vehicles like these. Collision detection is very average to annoying; it’s easy to get spun around, which will force you to stop and turn straight again. Let go of the accelerator on sharp turns if you want to make them. Your car has three forms, Speed, Attack, and Defense. Each has a single, dedicated item, so the Speed mode can use turbo, Attack can shoot homing missiles, and Defense can use a shield. All cars, yours or the enemies’, have low health — two good hits from missiles will kill, so watch out. Items use up your special bar, which can be replenished by the blue pickups, but also slowly regenerates over time. Now, MR3 has no difficulty levels; you’ll just have to play it as it is. The difficulty is decent, but some options would have been nice. There are four main modes in this game: Practice, Arcade, Survival, and Multiplayer. The game has a total of 30 tracks in eight environments across the various modes, so there’s a good amount of content. Practice is a training mode. There are three different practice races, one each for each of the three ship forms. In Attack trials you have to kill enemies to win, in Defense you have to survive, and in Speed you have to hit certain lap times. There are four cars in each race in this mode. You’re required to go through this on the easy setting in order to play the other two modes, but the higher difficulties in Practice mode are optional. Learn to attack here — the key is to only shoot after the enemies’ shields go down. The second mode is Arcade, a straightforward mode where you have to win a series of races. This mode won’t save after each race, so don’t back up to the menu between races — you’ll lose your progress (and no, the game doesn’t warn you about it — poor design!). There are eight vehicles in each race in this mode. The last mode is Survival, and that’s the new one for this game. Survival is a gameshow mode where you have to save the human race from certain extinction at the hands of genetic mutations and such. Somehow, you can accomplish this by completing races through affected areas and destroying some mutants in other races. These races have some cool concepts and are as fun as this game gets. Multiplayer is LAN or direct-IP only, no splitscreen. Overall, MegaRace 3 is an unpolished game of average quality, but is a decent game overall even so. It’s certainly not great, but it’s okay, and the crazy, biological nature of the visual design is interesting and makes for some fun moments. Also on PS2, though the PS2 version was only released in Europe.
Skydrift – 2011, WinXP or above. Skydrift is a semi-futuristic plane combat racing game. In the game, somewhat reminiscent of the late ’90s title Plane Crazy for the PC, or perhaps Freaky Fliers (PS2/Xbox/GC), you race planes around in the air in a simple but fun, and combat-heavy, racing game. Skydrift has a bunch of different weapons to use, and you can have two at a time too. Collecting a second of a powerup you have will upgrade the weapon, if you don’t use them in between. Combat is at least as important as actually navigating the courses here. The courses are well designed track full of branching paths and obstacles, and have some challenge to them, but I found myself when I lost losing more often to enemy fire than the tracks. The game starts out only moderately challenging, though, so it’s a game more focused on fun. It didn’t take long before I started regularly winning races. The graphics are good but annoyingly 16:9 only, with a good current-gen look. I like the parts where events happen such as rockfalls and such, for you to avoid, too. There’s a good amount of content in Skydrift, with plenty of tracks to race through and events to challenge. The game has several race types, including standard races, knockout races where the player in last is knocked out every minute or so, and speed races where there are no weapons and the tracks are full of speed rings to fly through. The game has a pounding soundtrack that helps keep things exciting. Skydrift isn’t one of the best racing games ever, but it is a pretty good, fun game, well worth playing for any combat or arcade racing game fans. Just know that this really is a very weapons-heavy game, and that can lead to some random losses when you get hit by missiles late in a race. Of course though, you can do the same back to them. Fortunately the weapon and upgrade systems are done well and keep the game fun. Also, it’s great seeing something a little different, and there aren’t that many airborne racing games. The game has online-only multiplayer. Also on PS3 PSN and X360 XBLA.
*OutRun 2006: Coast 2 Coast – 2006, WinXP or above. Outrun 2006 is a PC port of this Sega classic, and it’s every bit as good as the game is on consoles. Outrun 2006 is one of Sega’s best ever racing games, and this is a great version of it too. Unfortunately the online play was taken down after not very long, so the game has no multiplayer, but the console versions don’t have any either, so it’s even. As for the gameplay, this is classic Outrun 2 through and through — the game is a drift-heavy arcade racer with zero realism and insane amounts of fun. Outrun 2006 is the most feature-rich Outrun title ever. It’s got all of the courses from Outrun 2 and Outrun 2 SP, both of the original arcade modes, lots of cars, a wide array of stuff to buy in the shop, great music including many original and remix versions of classic Outrun songs plus some new works, and a full set of campaign modes too. These include four increasingly difficult Flagman modes of races against other cars, and three Girlfriend modes where you race with a girlfriend next to you in the car, doing challenges. You’ll have to play through arcade mode first, unlocking different stages, before you can play them individually. You’re graded on each stage too, and move on to different tiers of the next stage depending on your score on the previous one. As a result, you’ll need to get quite good in order to unlock all of the stages in a level. At least the game will automatically unlock all tiers of a stage below the one you just completed, so if you beat the hardest version of a stage on the first try it will unlock the easier ones (in single race Girlfriend mode). There’s a huge amount of content here, and between Flagman, Girlfriend, and the arcade modes, Outrun 2006 will keep you racing for a long time. Oh, the graphics are good, but the console roots show a bit; this isn’t one of the best looking PC racing games from its time. Still, it looks more than good enough to do. Also on PS2, Xbox, and PSP.
*WRF: World Rally Fever – 1996, DOS. World Rally Fever is a somewhat mediocre scaler-style kart racing game from Psygnosis released in 1996. The game looks like it took its primary inspiration from Sega’s classic racer Power Drift, and the game plays very much like that title. Unfortunately, it’s not quite as good as Power Drift. It’s a frustrating game, too. The game is broken up into three four-race championships, with a standard points-based system, but if you finish out of the top three, you have to try again, and you only get one continue. And with tracks as tricky as these are, that makes finishing even the first championship tough. The graphics look rough, too; perhaps in 1996 this looked good, but the very blocky scaling sprites this game uses have aged. I was not impressed with this game, and struggled to get anywhere near the top three on the fourth track of circuit one, too. It’s easy to fall behind in this game, with obstacles everywhere (in that case, pits to fall in, parts where you can go off the side, and more), and very hard to catch up — you’ll need a clean race to have a chance, and you only get two tries before it’s back to race one. Not so good. Also, this game must be run through its custom DOSBox executable; it won’t work at all through normal DOSBox. That’s annoying, because I much prefer to run games through a single DOSBox install (and navigate to the games through the DOS prompt), instead of having separate configs for everything.
Freeware (these are DOS games unless noted)
Astro Rally – 2000, Win9x or above. Astro Rally is a single-screen freeware racing game from Aggressive Game Designs. The game is a very simple single-screen racer, but it shows enough promise that I wish there was a more complete version of this game out there. You see, Astro Rally has two major flaws that take away a lot of the fun of this otherwise pretty good single-screen racer. First though, the good side. Astro Rally has sixteen built-in tracks, in four groups of four. Win all four tracks on each group to move to the next. There’s no ending when you beat all of them, though, just little trophy icons next to each track. The game is played with tiny sprite spaceship cars driving around on tracks made of white lines, over a black starfield background. It’s funny how the tracks are just made of connected lines, but the cars actually are sprites. There are powerups in the game too, some good (green) and some bad (red). The good powerups include a speed boost, and the bad ones include one that reverses direction, and another that kills the engines for a few seconds. All powerups activate when hit — the only controls here are left, right, and accelerate. Oddly accelerate is X, not up, even though left and right turn. I like the handling — it feels like you’re in space with how the cars float on the turns. Controls are not configurable. There is a track editor, though, and you can import your own car pictures too. There is no music, but each car has a unique engine sound – nice touch. The two flaws are huge, though. First, this is one of the only single-screen racers I’ve played that has no multiplayer. Multiplayer is perhaps the primary staple of this single-screen, top-down racing genre, so it’s very odd that this one doesn’t have any, even if it’s freeware. And second, the game is easy. Once you’ve practiced with the game a bit it’s not hard at all to beat almost every track on the first try, and there are no difficulty settings. Yeah, this game won’t last long, that’s for sure. Still, for a free title, it’s decent fun for the hour or so it’ll last you.
Nitronic Rush – 2011, WinXP or above. Nitronic Rush is an indie racing game done as a project, initially. Well, this game isn’t just a project — it’s an outstanding racing game, and one of the best PC racing games in years. The game is inspired by Rush 2049 and other ’90s futuristic racing games, but it has something of its own character too. While the name and car graphics will make you think Rush 2049 (yes, the car in this came would fit right into Rush 2049, visually), in fact in gameplay and controls, this really is its own thing. First, this is not a circuit racing game. It is in fact a point-to-point racing game, and your goal is to get to the end of each stage as fast as you can. The levels are varied, and you’ll dodge falling obstacles, fly through the air, and drive down curving roads, tunnels, and tubes, as you try to save the world or what have you. You’re not racing against live opponents, just the clock or a ghost. They were inspired by the Rush 2049 obstacle course stage for sure, but this isn’t just a sequence of challenges like that; that is the core of the game, but you also do some point-to-point racing too. It does have a very Rush 2049-inspired obstacle course mode, though. Pretty awesome. In addition, while the cars do have wings here, you actually have real flight in this game, not just gliding. Yes, your car can fly. It’s pretty cool. Handling is also not just like Rush; this is a different game. Nitronic Rush also has a very cool glowing-lights visual style, very reminiscent of something out of Tron. The game looks very cool visually. Everything glows. Nitronic Rush looks great, and plays even better. The levels quickly get challenging, and I always want to go back and try to get a better time. This is a game which richly rewards practice and perfection. Nitronic Rush is an incredible game, and was easily my favorite racing game of 2011, freeware or no. The only complaint I can really make is that story mode is short. However, there are more, harder challenges to attempt after you complete story mode, so really finishing story mode is just the beginning. Most of the challenge comes later, in the harder stages. The pulsing techno soundtrack is great as well. There’s only one other qualifier I need to mention — Nitronic Rush is an xinput only game. That is, it only supports 360 controllers. Stupid designers, put in directinput! Fortunately you can correct this mistake with an xinput-to-directinput wrapper like x360ce, found here: http://code.google.com/p/x360ce/ Download it now, for anyone using a regular gamepad. And yes, you want a pad for this game, certainly. Overall… I already said it: it’s outstanding, and one of the best PC racing games around! The game does have online support for ghosts and such. There are four updates to this game, each with more tracks, music (all techno of course), and even stunt arenas added. Make sure you get the latest version, which currently is version 4.
Race the Monkey – ~1997, Win3.1 to 9x. Race the Monkey is one of PC Gamer’s little Coconut Monkey minigames. These are games starring PCG’s mascot Coconut Monkey. The first batch, including this one, are very simple games made in Klik & Play. Several later titles use other engines that are a bit more capable, but the KNP ones were fine examples of Coconut Monkey’s budget styles and innovative gameplay. That is, they’re blatant clones of the built-in Klik & Play games but with Coconut Monkey in them, and look like they were made on a zero-dollar budget. So yeah, it’s just as you’d expect! This one is actually Racing Line. The game doesn’t run on Vista, naturally, like all KNP applications. Quite unfortunate.
Rolling Ball 3D – More of a techdemo than a game, this little game made as an example game for Clickteam’s Jamagic 3d game creator has you zooming down a randomly generated, straign path trying to avoid falling in holes. The only point is playing for score since once you reach the end — and that won’t take long — you just loop around. The game does keep track of your current, last, and best scores of the session, based on how far you got before falling into a hole. There are some powerups which alter your jump, but some are over pits. The perils of randomized level design. The first joystick button jumps, making this feel like a fast, autoscrolling version of Dschump or other games of that sort. The game moves almost too fast to be playable. It’s right on the edge of that. This probably isn’t worth checking out.
*Kosmonaut – 1990. This is the first of the Skyroads-style games. It’s quite primitive compared to its successors, and is mostly only maybe worth a look to see the origins of the great title below. It’s not nearly as good a game. The graphics are EGA, and look somewhat mediocre, with not many colors. PC Speaker audio only too.
Skyroads – 1993. Skyroads is a real early ’90s PC classic. This game is sort of a racing game/platformer cross. It’s set in the future, and you’re a pilot of a spaceship/racing vehicle. You have to get through many courses, each made up of 3d polygonal objects. Your car is a sprite, but the graphics are flat-shaded polygons. The game has Soundblaster audio and nice VGA graphics. The visuals have a nice look to them. You have to keep a look at your fuel and oxygen, too — run out of either and you’re done, just as much so as if you fall off the track. While most parts of the track are just “road” to drive on, some colored floor sections have different effects, so one color kills you instantly (avoid that shade of red!), among other things. Learn the floor colors that have special effects if you want to complete the courses. Skyroads is a brutal game, full of extremely challening platforming puzzles which you have to get through quickly if you don’t want to run out of fuel. You need to carefully control your speed, as too slow can leave you with not enough oxygen to finish, or not enough speed to get over longer jumps, while too fast will leave you running into walls frequently. Each stage has a different gravity level, too, which affects how high you can jump. Oxygen can deplete at different rates, too. Skyroads has a lot to consider, and a lot to learn, so each track will require memorization and near-perfection before you will get through the stage. You can play the levels in any order, but they do get harder from upper left to bottom right. The game records how many times you’ve finished each track. Each set of levels has a different, nice looking space background, too, and there’s a different music track for each background as well. This is a great, classic title that platformer and futuristic racing game fans should consider a must-play, if they haven’t already played it. It may be highly challenging, but it’s very much worth it.
Skyroads: Xmas Edition – 1994. Christmas Editions were a somewhat popular theme back in the mid ’90s, and games such as Jazz Jackrabbit, Jetpack, Lemmings, and Skyroads all got Christmas Editions. Unlike some though, Skyroads Xmas Edition isn’t just a reskin with Christmas-themed backgrounds — it’s a new game, with four new areas of three very challenging levels each to play through. The other six areas return from the original game, but still, yes, this is really Skyroads’ sequel. The visuals are the same as the first game in quality, and the game plays exactly the same as the original, but the tracks are all new, and are even harder than the original game’s are. Skyroads Xmas Edition is a very hard game, but it’s fantastic to have a sequel to that classic. It is funny seeing Skyroads gameplay with Christmas music and backgrounds, though, I think of it as a space game…
Tube – 1995. Tube is a game by Bullfrog that never saw full development or a release, and may have started out as a test. Whatever its origins, though, Tube is a pretty cool futuristic combat tunnel racing game. Tube has decent graphics, and the tunnel effect is great. The game reminds me somewhat of Skyroads but with combat and flat, or perhaps something like Dschump (PC), but with cars… or maybe most appropriately, the “follow the green track” minigame from Tempest 2000, except without instant failure if you leave the course. That means that in this game, in each stage you go down a long tunnel. The tube is made up of a sequence of connecting pathways. When moving on ground, you go fast. On space, however, you go very slowly. Jump panels jump you over gaps. There are enemies and barricades to impede your progress. Barricades must be avoided, but enemy ships can be blown up with your gun. Powerups will make it stronger. The game has multiple levels, but not multiple lives — run out of health and it’s game over. The game does have two player splitscreen, though, which is cool. The game has gamepad and Soundblaster support too. Overall, Tube is a pretty cool futuristic racing game that’s well worth playing. It’s too bad that it didn’t get a full release — this could have been pretty good, expanded into a more complete game. Even as it is though, it’s fun for sure.
Turbo – 1987. Turbo is an early, and CGA, freeware racing game in the style of ’70s or early ’80s racing games like Turbo (the early ’80s Sega game) or Speedway! for Odyssey 2. The game has no sound, not even PC Speaker, and 4-color CGA graphics with a green and yellow palette. In the game, which is behind-the-car, you drive up a straight two lane road. Yes, no turns here. Cars in the right lane are moving slowly, while ones in the left lane are moving fast. Left or right switch lanes (tap once to switch, you don’t need to hold it and can’t stay in the middle or something), Shift accelerates, and Up or Down change gears. It’s a two-gear system, like many early titles. You have 60 seconds to get as far as you can. Passing cars gets 250 points per pass, and score accumulates over time too. Crashes, of course, slow you down. Up to that point, this game’s nowhere near as good as, say, Speedway — the CGA graphics are ugly, there’s no sound, and the two-lane system is frustrating because when there are cars in both lanes, there’s nowhere to do — you’ll probably just crash. There’s no brake button, either. However, the game does have one slightly more interesting feature: if you get 10,000 points before time runs out, you’ll get an additional 60 seconds. So yes, if you can avoid crashing much, you can keep playing. This makes the game somewhat more interesting, but still, the frustration of the two-lane design limits how long this game is fun. Turbo is maybe amusing for a couple of minutes, but probably not more than that. The game doesn’t save your best times, either — there is a score table, but the game doesn’t save them, annoyingly.
Demos and Shareware (note: asterisks here mean demos/shareware that I did not play until the last couple of years, but were released earlier.) These are for Windows unless they are noted as DOS. I’m not going to bother listing years for all of these. Assume they work in 32-bit Vista unless noted otherwise. Most of these demos come from PC Gamer, from when I was subscribed or buying the magazine from 1996 to 2001. A few are newer (noted), but most are from that period — I’m more likely to try demos when they came to me on a disc, than when I have to go around the net downloading things to try them.
Ballistics – Ballistic was the first game by Grin, the developer behind Bionic Commando (the remake) and who went out of business several years ago. Unfortunately they did not return to the racing genre before going under, but going by the quality of this game, they should have. I’ve played the PC demo and the arcade version of Ballistics, and both are great. Ballistics is a tube-based futuristic racing game. It’s sort of like Tube Sliders (GC) or the tube levels in F-Zero X or GX, but this game has more of a sim element to it. Well, in arcade mode it’s simple and fun, but in sim mode, this is a tough, tough game. Tube racing has never been so challenging — in sim mode you really need to learn which part of the tube to be on on each turn, or you’ll fail to get around it properly, and might even detach from the tube and start floating in the middle. This is bad, because you’ll lose a lot of speed, fall behind, etc. Ballistics also has extremely impressive graphics for the time of its release (in the early ’00s), too. This is a demo worth playing! I’d like the full version sometime.
Bang Bang Racing – This is a recent (2012 release on Steam) topdown racer that clearly was designed first for consoles — it’s 16:9 only and requires X360 controllers, so use that xinput-to-dinput wrapper. As for the gameplay, this is a fairly typical cartoony topdown racing game. The graphics are decent; they’re not amazing, but certainly are good enough, and all of the color is nice. The tracks are narrow, with walls close on both sides, so the eight car fields make the tracks feel quite crowded — the cars are often all bunched up and bumping into eachother. This game doesn’t have weapons, unfortunately, unlike, say, RC Pro-Am, but you do have turbo. Turbo has a meter, and can be refilled by driving through the pit area in each track. The demo has two tracks. The game seems to have nine tracks, but claims 59 variants; clearly they can change the routes on each course. This seems like an okay game, but I don’t think I’ll be buying it now.
BeamBreakers – BeamBreakers is a futuristic racing game with flying hovercars. In the game, you race around future cityscapes. This game clearly was inspired by things such as the Star Wars prequel trilogy Coruscant hovercar segments. Going by the demo, it seems like an okay, though not great, game. Graphics are average early ’00s stuff.
Big Red Racing – DOS. Big Red Racing is an extremely, extremely ’90s racing game. It’s got crazy menus full of font-shifting text, an annoying announcer, and more! There are even random sound effects every time you move in the menus. Beneath the obnoxious exterior, though, is a pretty good racing game. This demo has two tracks. The first is a water-racing track, with boats and hoverboats on a lake. I liked this track the most; lots of fun! Graphics are okay but not great, early polygonal stuff. The other track is a truck-racing stage on a dirt track. It’s much harder to control than the boats are, which means that the handling in this game is somewhat realistic. Not bad. I still want a full copy of Big Red Racing…
Carmageddon II: Carpocalypse Now – Run in Win95/98 compatibility for the sound to work. This is a one-level, pre-release demo in which you can drive around a level, running people over and bashing the other cars. The checkpoints (for racing mode) don’t seem to be put in place yet, so this is somewhat limited. Still, there are a huge number of helpless citizens to splatter (1,300 total in the stage, and they barely even try to get away…), and other cars to bash too. The game uses a somewhat ridiculous number of keys for everything (about twenty not including the movement controls), but you only need a few most of the time. Carmageddon 2 seems like an okay game. Its reputation is that it’s not as good as the first one, and I can see that, but it doesn’t look too bad. The 3d graphics look fine for the late ’90s.
CART Precision Racing – CART racing sim from Terminal Reality published by Microsoft in ’97. This is a full-on sim, so only approach if you want a realistic CART racing game. I’m absolutely terrible at these things, can’t do anything at all. I think I can say that this is less fun than Papyrus’s Indycar Racing, though. This is an okay game for the time, but doesn’t look like anything really special. It’s got a lot of options, but regardless, this is definitely a sim. It doesn’t seem to have much damage modeling, but the handling is very simmish. This seems like an okay game, but if you want to play a ’90s open-wheel racing sim, there are better options than this.
Daytona USA – The PC port of the classic. Expect having some problems getting it to work, but once you do, this is a short demo. There’s just the first track, which is fine for a demo, but the visuals and options don’t really make me want to get this PC version, and I absolutely love Daytona USA… stick with other versions of the game, really.
*Destruction Derby – DOS. The first Destruction Derby is pretty ugly looking, but has some decent gameplay. This is one of the original crash racing games, and though it’s certainly far from the best now, you can see why it was successful – the game has a good formula and executes it reasonably well. I definitely like the sequel more, though.
Destruction Derby 2 – DOS. When I first played this demo, back in 1996, I found it very difficult. I don’t think I’d played the first game (I played that demo, above, later), but I definitely liked this demo, though I didn’t buy the game. It has fine graphics for a PC game from the time, and pretty good gameplay as far as I could tell. It was so hard though, I remember frequently having the car wreck before the race would end. 🙂 This version seems to be less popular than the PS1 one because of some things like the PC version’s 256 color only graphics, but I think it looks fine (though I haven’t played this one on PS1, only the first game).
*FlatOut – Flatout was the first game in a moderately successful series. This first one was on PC/PS2/Xbox, but it certainly looks better here than on consoles. I didn’t play the games when they released, though, and playing them now, I don’t like Flatout at all. Flatout is an arcade-style racing game with very, VERY drift-heavy mechanics, overly light-feeling cars, and some pretty graphics. The biggest selling point for the game was that when you crash, your driver goes flying out the windshield in amusing ways. There are even some minigames where you send your guy flying for points. There’s one in the demo, and it’s kind of amusing. This demo has that minigame and two different tracks, so it’s got more content than most racing game demos (one track is the norm). That doesn’t make me like the game, though. First, I find Flatout annoyingly hard. I fall behind quickly and just keep falling back as the race progresses. The light feel of the cars, and the incredibly drift-centric design on courses that are not that wide, combine to frustrate. If I played it more I’m sure that with time I’d get better, but I don’t enjoy the games nearly enough to want to even begin to try. The visuals are nice, but I don’t like the gameplay.
Grand Theft Auto – DOS. This is the first game in the later-megahit series. I paid it a little attention back when it released, but this demo didn’t catch my interest much. The strict top-view look looked dated compared to other, behind-the-car racers, and I didn’t like the idea of being a criminal either. I also prefer a somewhat more structured game style over open-world stuff like this. I mean, I like top-down racing games, but not so much with an open world like this one, it doesn’t work nearly as well here as it does in, say, Micro Machines. Overall, GTA 1 is an okay game, but it’s not my thing at all.
H-Craft Championship – H-Craft Championship is an indie futuristic racing game released in the last couple of years. The game is a somewhat Wipeout-inspired game where you drive hovercrafts on floating tracks. Expect lots of segments with no walls, making this game quite tricky when combined with the very floaty controls. Of course, as the vehicles are hovercraft and don’t have any wheels, floaty is to be expected. Once you get used to the controls, though, this game is moderately fun. It’s not great, but I like it. The game has simple graphics, as expected for an indie title. The demo is short, but takes a while to master thanks to the controls. I have considered buying the full version.
Insane (aka 1NSANE) – This is another one of those checkpoint-based, off-road racing games. 1NSANE’s from the early ’00s, and it’s an okay to good game. It’s got a lot in common with all of those other checkpoint-based off-road racing games, but this one has more variety of vehicles than most, and a somewhat over-the-top theme to it as the title suggests. The game has realistic physics, which makes the game tough, but not too complex handling. There is damage modeling though. There are a bunch of modes, but in the demo you just race from checkpoint to checkpoint in the game’s wide open spaces. The full version even allows for player-created vehicles, and there is a random terrain generation mod too. The game was a cult hit, and still has an active fan community on the internet, but I never played it much because of my limited interest in the checkpoint-based off-road-racing genre, and because 1NSANE didn’t leave a big impression on me, versus others. I tried the demo, found it okay but not compelling, and moved on. However, going on its lasting fanbase, it clearly did something right and is probably still worth checking out. This game was made freeware by Codemasters in the early ’00s. However, they took it down in 2006, claiming after the fact that it had been a time-limited offer (I don’t think that had been mentioned before). Codemasters now makes no mention of the game on their site. Still, downloading that freeware version would be grey-market stuff I guess. Anyway, though, for the full version, two patches (patch 2 and TRM1) and several user mods and vehicles are recommended to get the game complete. You can easily find them on 1NSANE (Insane) fansites, which aren’t hard to find. The full version could be played online on Gamespy Arcade.
International Rally Championship – The 1997 sequel to Rally Championship, this one is a very similar game, except it’s for Windows now, and it has tracks from all around the world instead of just Britain. The graphics are somewhat improved too, though the biggest change is the variety of locations. The demo’s a desertlike level set in China. It’s good; gameplay is basically the same as Rally Championship, but I liked seeing a different environment, that one needed the variety. I liked this demo back when it came out too, thinking pretty much what I do now, but didn’t buy the game because of my moderate antipathy for the first one. I should get it sometime.
Jeff Gordon’s XS Racing – Futuristic racing game licensed by Jeff Gordon from 1999. Only released on PC and GBC (entirely different there of course); console ports were cancelled. It’s not a great game, but the demo’s alright. The game has high speeds and up to 40 cars per race, which is cool. This demo race has 10 cars. Also, Jeff Gordon’s voice is heard during the game, so he is in it beyond the title. The demo track is very short, only 20 seconds long, and I think all 10 tracks in the game are similar. You do do lots of laps though, 10 in this demo. The game has handling slightly like a Rush game but a bit skiddier; it’s okay, overall. Cars have wings, which is great. However, unlike Rush 2049, this isn’t for stunts or anything; it’s just for gliding, so it’s not nearly as interesting. The graphics are decent, though it is stuck with a 640×480 maximum resolution — quite low, for ’99. The game also has no multiplayer. This game has severe problems on modern computers, unfortunately: neither full-screen mode nor Direct3D work. As a result, you’re stuck in windowed software mode, in a 320×240 window that cannot be expanded. Yeah, it’s painful. Turn on “Run in 640×480 screen resolution” in Compatibility in the Windows properties for the game in order to get it playable at all. I looked some, but couldn’t find any fixes online. The game doesn’t recognize USB gamepads either — gameport only. Useful. For an older machine (or virtual machine) which can run it properly, though, Jeff Gordon’s XS Racing might be worth a look if you like this kind of game like I do. The action is fast and fun as you bash the other cars for position and make the turns and jumps. With only 10 very short tracks it’s sure to be a short game, but fun. The full game claims to have 3DFX support, but either this demo doesn’t or it doesn’t work, because a Glide wrapper didn’t help. The demo could well not have 3DFX support. If you can get a Glide wrapper working with the full version, this game might be good. Limited, but good.
Johnny Herbert’s GP 1998 (aka Johnny Herbert’s Grand Prix World Champions/World Championship) – Bland sim-style racing game. It also doesn’t work at all in Vista, so you’ll need an older computer for this one. I find this kind of game so boring, and so, so hard… it’s a decent game in the F1-sim genre, but that genre doesn’t interest me much at all. It has many fewer car customization settings than the hardest of hardcore sims, but still has some. Graphics are good for ’98 though.
Little Racers: STREET – (2012 game) Little Racers: STREET is an indie top-down racing game. The game was released on Xbox 360 Live Indie Games, and now the author is aiming for a PC release on Steam through Greenlight. It’ll need some work to see a release, but going by this demo he released to show the game, I hope it happens! I’d love to play the full version of Little Racers. The game was clearly inspired by great racing games like Micro Machines or those railed-path, high-speed topdown racers on the Neo-Geo and such. This game is fast, and you’ll need to learn the turns, because there isn’t much reaction time between when you see things and when you reach them. There are four different cameras to choose from, thankfully; the default one is a little too close. I like the zoomed-out one best. Little Racers is graphically simplistic, but the gameplay is pretty good. You really can tell that this game is an indie title, though; the 3d models are simple and sparse, particularly for environments. The cars themselves look nice enough. The behind-the-car camera really shows how mediocre the graphics are. From above though it looks a bit better. At least the game does have some nice visual effects, and anyway, most of the time I was far too busy trying to get around the turns better to notice the visuals. This game plays great, when zoomed out a bit, and is a pretty good fast topdown racer. I wish that Rush Rush Rally Racing on Dreamcast had had a zoomed-out camera like this one, that one was too fast and there was no way to manage the turns unless you memorized absolutely everything. Now, the courses in this game are less ambitious than some in the genre. The ones in the demo are all set in a city environment, and they’re narrow too. The graphics are repetitive. Still, the game is a lot of fun, and a definite challenge as well. This demo has six tracks and five cars, so you can get a good sense of the game. The full game apparently has 47 tracks. You can change the difficulty level too; on Normal the game is somewhat easy, but on Hard or Insane it’s a solid challenge. One other issue to note – this demo is keyboard only. That’s a little annoying, but hopefully a full version would have gamepad support. The game does play on keyboard, but of course it’d be better on pad. Overall, I quite like Little Racers: STREET. It’s a good topdown racing game, and it’s great to see a good game in this classic genre. Despite its issues, this should be selling for a lot more than the $1 it costs on XBLIG.
Moto Racer 3 – A real disappointment, Moto Racer 3 is basically a sim-style racer. The game has three different race types – superbike (on realistic superbike circuits, not MR1/2 style tracks), dirt bike (on realistic dirt-bike tracks), and street racing (with traffic and such). The demo includes one race each for the first two modes, but unfortunately doesn’t let you try the third, and most interesting sounding, one. This is a bland, generic, mediocre sim-style racer that didn’t interest me much beyond its title.
NASCAR Racing 4 – One of Sierra’s NASCAR games from Papyrus, this series was famed for its realism and high quality. This one, from ’01, is one of the later ones. The graphics are nice, but this is very definitely a serious sim. I’d recommend a wheel with this one, no way would a gamepad cut it. This is the kind of game I’ll never be good at… Oh, the demo has a few minor glitches, but nothing too bad.
Need for Speed 2 SE – The NFS2SE demo lets you play the one new track added in the SE release, the Mexico track. I’ve seen this tactic before, of letting you play the new content in the demo, but it is intresting. This demo also shows off the improved 3DFX graphics, so use a Glide wrapper for it.
Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed – Run this in WinXP SP2 compatibility. It functions in some others, but runs much, much worse than XP SP2 (it doesn’t work without compatibility mode in Vista, unlike NFSHS). As for the game, this is your average one car and one track demo. NFSPU is a somewhat different NFS game. While visually it looks a lot like its predecessor High Stakes, Porsche Unleashed has a somewhat more simmish driving model and adds point-to-point races back into the series too, for the first time since the original game. Yeah, those people who say that the NFS series got worse after the original because it became more arcadey probably didn’t play this one, or at least not the PC version; the PS1 title’s quite different, and much simpler. For me, though, going by this demo, I can see why I didn’t buy this game — I just don’t find it as fun as NFS II through High Stakes were. You spin out much more easily here, and braking is more important as a result. I prefer High Stakes myself, but this is a good game. The visuals are certainly nice for the time too.
Official Formula 1 Racing – Run in Win98/ME compatibility for it to work. This very average F1 game from ’99 has two modes, sim or arcade. Games like this that try to be both arcade game and sim often end up failing at both, and that’s exactly what this game does. It’s playable, sort of, but not any good. And the game’s somewhat hilariously broken on modern computers, too. The opponents’ cars don’t move around the track properly at all, it doesn’t recognize my gamepad so it’s keyboard only, there are no graphics options (at least, not in this demo; all greyed out…), the sound is glitchy, and more. There are speed issues too. Even on an older computer where the game’s actually playable as designed, though, the boring, subpar gameplay doesn’t recommend it, that’s for sure. But on a newer one, it is somewhat amusing to see how broken it is.
Plane Crazy – Plane Crazy is a late ’90s racing game where you race planes, as the title suggests. It’s a fun, arcadey game. Good stuff. One thing to note though, with a dual-analog gamepad, acceleration will be mapped to the right stick,period. No matter what buttons you set it to in options, they won’t do anything. That’s kind of annoying, I much prefer button acceleration. Also, button 8 is cockpit view switch; this control also cannot be remapped (on gamepads). The other buttons, for your weapons and such, and the movement controls of course, can be, though. The track in this demo has you going through a canyon. You have a fairly constrained range of motion, with walls not far away and a low height ceiling, but still, you do have some maneuverability. The combat element of this game is somewhat understated, but there are occasional weapon pickups. You can also use some weapons that alter the world, so you can blow up rock pillars and knock them over, blow a hole in a wall and create a shortcut, and such. Those are fun. This demo has single and multi player options. The multiplayer is IPX network or direct IP (TCP/IP) only. The graphics are okay; the game supports high resolutions, but textures and such are only average. Overall, decent game. Plane racing games can be fun, and this seems like a solid one.
Pyroblazer – Futuristic racing game from 2008 with flying cars that can take to the air. Going by the demo (it’s on Steam), this game is awful and no fun at all, at least on first impressions. Controls are really bad too. You play with keyboard and mouse, and I found it barely controllable. The tracks are entirely linear and are full of invisible walls blocking off everywhere you can’t go. I didn’t stick around long enough to figure out if you could get better. Apparently there is a Gold Edition of the game with a bit of extra content, but it’s only on the publishers’ store linked here and not Steam. http://www.eipix.com/store/games/pyroblazer The Steam version’s much cheaper, though, only $5 versus $12, but it does come with less (Gold has an artbook, soundtrack, and topdown minigame also included). There are a few people who actually like this game, so maybe check out the demo. At $5 it is cheap.
RalliSport Challenge – I have this game (and its sequel) for Xbox, but don’t have the PC version of the first one. Going by this demo, RalliSport Challenge is just as good of a semi-realistic rally racing game on the PC as it is on the console. Unfortunately, the second one is Xbox only, no PC release. Thanks, Microsoft. This demo is good, though. I like how you can actually go off the track, on lots of 5th gen era rally games you can’t do that, including PC ones like Rally Championship or International Rally Championship. It is a somewhat difficult game and there is some sim to it, as well as some arcadey elements, but it’s good and the mix works.
Redline Racer – Redline Racer is a fun, very arcadey late ’90s motorcycle racing game. Clearly somewhat inspired by Moto Racer but not quite as good, Redline Racer is a very fast game with high speeds and a fun course to race through in this demo. This demo’s great, I’ve always wanted to play the full game too. As I said it’s not quite as good as Moto Racer in either track design, music, controls, or overall experience, but it’s still a solid B-grade effort worth a look. The Direct3D mode crashes on modern systems, but with a Glide emulator like DGVoodoo, the game does run in 3DFX mode. It has some graphical glitches, but works. The game has a sequel, Suzuki Alstare Extreme Racing. That one was on Dreamcast as well as PC. I do have the DC version; it’s a very good arcade motorcycle racing game, with impressive visuals and a great sense of speed. Comparing it to this demo, Redline Racer seems good, but Suzuke Alstare is probably better. I’d need to play the full version of this one to compare them better though.
Ridge Racer Unbounded – 2011 game. I didn’t have any expectations for this game, but going by the demo, it’s actually pretty good. I’d definitely like to get Ridge Racer Unbounded sometime, when it’s cheaper. This is the only Western-developed Ridge Racer game, but it’s better than most of the Japanese ones… though of course, I’ve never been a fan of that series. This is fun, though. The game’s a somewhat Burnout-inspired racing game where you drive around tracks, blasting through some buildings along the way in your search for shortcuts. The graphics are nice, and I like the fun shortcuts. The full version even has a track editor, rare these days.
Sega Rally Championship – This demo lets you race through the first two of the four tracks in the game. So yeah, it actually gives you half of the courses, though you can only play in one mode, 1-lap, and can’t change the difficulty. Sega Rally is a great racing game but comparing it to other PC racing games really does show off the game’s biggest problem, that it has almost no content. Sega Rally makes up for its … minimalist to say the least … feature set with great track designs, good speeds, and plenty of fun. However, especially on the PC the excessively thin feature set really does show through. This is an incredible racing game for sure, but there’s so little to do… As for this port, it’s okay. Looks decent, and works better than many ’90s Sega PC ports. I guess it’s a decent version though. Higher res than on Saturn at least.
Sega Rally 2 – This game has more content than the first game, and the port is good, too. The visuals are better than on the DC, which is nice. The DC version’s a little disappointing looking, but this is better. I think this one is better on PC than DC, going by this demo anyway. The demo’s just got one track, but it’s enough to show that it’s definitely better than the DC version.
Skunny Kart – DOS. Skunny Kart is, essentially, a Wacky Wheels ripoff. It looks SO much like it that the rumor is that Copysoft actually ripped off Wacky Wheels’s engine. I don’t remember the whole story, but if they did, it wouldn’t be surprising… this game really does look like a reskin of Wacky Wheels. It’s not as good as that classic, because Copysoft are no match for Apogee, but the shareware’s worth trying for anyone who loves Mario Kart, I guess. I’d say don’t pay for it (because of the whole Copysoft scandal element), but well, you can’t buy this new anymore, for sure. 🙂
Snow Wave: Avalanche – Does not work in Vista. Snow Wave: Avalanche is a late ’90s arcade-style ski/snowboard racing game. This really is a racing game, and not a stunt game. The demo has just one hill, but I quite liked it; this is a game I’d still like to play the full version of. The graphics are okay, though nothing special for the time for sure, but the simple, fun skiing action works fairly well. I’d like to play more of this one. It’s really too bad that the game doesn’t run in Vista; I’d like to play it again without having to use my old computer. There are no videos of it online that I’ve found, either.
Space Haste 2 – Space Haste 2 is an Eastern European futuristic racing game from ’03. In the game, you race cars that look like hovering 1940s-style vehicles around futuristic circuits. That concept sounds a lot better than this game actually is, unfortunately. The game has average to subpar graphics, bland design, and boring gameplay — this is about as dull as futuristic racing games get. The demo cars feel quite slow. I imagine the game gets faster later, as usual in the genre, but with tracks this narrow, that’d get frustrating. You do not have great control over your car, either; don’t expect Wipeout precision here, Space Haste 2 control is somewhat loose and floaty. The game can get frustrating, too, as you immeditately lose if you run out of energy, and lose a point of energy each time you touch a wall. Powerups can restore it, but still, it’s kind of a pain with the narrow, Wipeout-esque-but-worse track you race on in this demo. The menus are poorly designed too — for instance, the game doesn’t even show you your gamepad mappings. Instead, it just tells you if each command is mapped to a button or not, and how many buttons it’s mapped to if it is. Yeah, it tells you that, but not WHICH buttons. Great. Overall, Space Haste 2 doesn’t do much right. This demo may only be one track, but if the full game’s as boring as this is — and I expect that it is — it’s not worth tracking down.
Speed Busters: American Highways Demo 2, and Mexico Demo – Speed Busters has two different demos, each with a different track. On my Vista computer though, only the Demo 2 demo works — the Mexico demo doesn’t, for whatever reason. Demo 2 lets you race on the Hollywood track, and was the first Speed Busters demo I played. Now, I do have this in this category, because I don’t have Speed Busters for PC, but I do have both Speed Devils games for Dreamcast, and they’re just retitled versions of Speed Busters. It’s a good, but not great, game, released at about the same time as NFSIII. I think Speed Busters might be slightly better, but it’s close. I do like that Speed Busters/Devils has an actual circuit mode, and not just single races, and the tracks have some shortcuts and fun parts. Handling is only average, though, which can be annoying at times. Note that the Demo 2 requires Windows to be set to 16-bit color before it’ll work.
Split/Second – This is a racing game with lots of explodable bits from just a couple of years ago. You press a button while driving, and some obstacle ahead of you blows up. The goal is to take out the cars ahead of you with them. The demo’s great fun, liked it for sure. I’ve heard that the game gets repetitive (in the full version), and I didn’t buy it, but the demo is definitely fun and I would like to play the game eventually.
Sports Car GT – Run in Win98/ME compatibility mode for it to work. This is a GT racing sim from EA released in ’99. The game was also on PS1, and you can tell, but it looks nice enough for the time. As for the gameplay, this is a sim — handling is realistic, which means I’m horrible at the game. I only managed to finish above 4th (last) once, in the five races I did on the demo track, and that time was in the easiest car and with speed-assist on. Yes, this game does have assists to help out. There are also numerous car settings, for people who know about such things. That I actually raced five times says something too — despite how frustrating it was to constantly spin out, I was somewhat enjoying this game. You really can tell the difference between the car types, too — the GT1 car was very hard to drive and I spent half of my time spinning out, while the practice car, while not easy, was much more managable. Decent game, for its genre.
Superbike 2000 – Superbike racing sim from EA. I had about as much fun with this one as you’d probably expect. :p Seems solid for its genre though. The game has significant braking and acceleration aids enabled in this demo, so the bike will automatically slow down for the turns, as you’re supposed to. Kind of interesting to see. For people who want it more realistic there are some realism settings, but I doubt that this is the hardest of hardcore sims as far as bike customization goes. Still, it’s indisputably on the sim side of things. The tracks are all real-world Superbike World Championship race courses, as well. So yeah, the track in the demo is one of those bland official-racecourse tracks that I never find interesting to drive on. The graphics are definitely nice, though, this is a good looking game for its time and still holds up reasonably well. Still though, this isn’t a game I’ll play. The game requires Win95 or 98/ME compatibility modes to run, though those modes do impact performance — the framerate isn’t too good. I’ve seen this problem in other games (NFS: Porsche Unleashed demo, most notably for this list), but the solution that worked to fix that game, using WinXP SP2 compatibility instead, doesn’t work here (the game won’t start in that mode). I found a slightly better framerate in Win95 mode. Turning down the graphics might help some.
Super Laser Racer – This is an indie topdown combat racing game from ’09 with Geometry Wars-style graphics, but gameplay that feels like it’s actually more Mario Kart than Wipeout. It’s somewhat reminiscent of Astro Rally, except more complete and with scrolling, as these tracks are not single screen. Also, while this game has walls made of white lines just like that game, Super Laser Racer also has colored lines just inside of the white ones that mark out the track. Outside of the track, you will go slower. Each track has differently-colored colored lines, to mix up the visuals. The combat element is heavily emphasized in this game, as my Mario Kart comparison suggests. The track is littered with red weapon powerups to pick up and use. There’s a homing missile, guns, turbo, the usual. Fun stuff. There are also yellow boost strips on the tracks. You will need to learn the tracks in this game, too, though, as turning is a bit slow, so you’ll need to start turning a bit ahead of the turn in order to not go off the track. This demo has four tracks to go through of the many in the game. It’s chaotic, but pretty good. I do wish that the controls were a little more precise (I think I actually like the handling in Astro Rally a little more, even if it has nothing else over this game), but overall, it’s a good game. The full version has multiplayer, too. There is also a track editor in the full game, which is great (and yes, is another thing Astro Rally also had). Overall, Super Laser Racer is a stylish and quite fun top-down stylized combat racing game. I might buy this, it seems good. It is on Steam.
ThunderWheels – (2012, on Steam) – ThunderWheels is a knockoff, or clone to be kinder, of the great late ’80s classic Super Off-Road. Now, Super Off-Road is one of my favorite arcade racing games ever, so this game is pretty cool to see. The game is not complete yet and is not currently available, but this demo is up on Steam. In the demo, you can play a championship on 6 tracks included in this version. There are six vehicles available; the best ones are the off-road trucks. The buggy is much harder to control. Essentially, ThunderWheels is Super Off-Road, but with more realistic, slipperier handling, no shop between levels, and no turbo to help you out when you fall behind. Yeah, in this one, one mistake and you’re sunk, pretty much. I think this would be better with Super Off-Road’s turbo button. Apart from that though, this is a great homage to one of the great classics. It IS a blatant clone in some ways, though. One track is pretty much identical to a Super Off-Road track. Most other tracks are similar to tracks from Super Off-Road as well, though some are more different. The game also includes a track editor, which is great. For more Super Off-Road stuff, though, two of the AI racers are “Jammin” (red) and “Ironman” (black). Hmm, I wonder who those could be… :p And yes, the Super Off-Road vehicles are in this game, plus several more. One track is called “Fandango”, too. Oddly it’s not an exact clone of the original Fandango track, but the name has to be a reference. The game has four player support on a single computer. You can set how many cars are in the championship (1 to 8), and which of the seven tracks are included too.It does support gamepads, but not in options; instead, you have to choose that in the car creation screen, where you choose a vehicle (6 available) and name. Alright, I guess that works. This game also has a first-person camera that’s pretty tough to use, and a more interesting third-person behind-the-truck camera that’s actually pretty cool. It’s great to see Super Off Road style tracks from a different perspective; though the standard overhead one probably is best overall, behind-the-truck actually does work. Overall, ThunderWheels is quite unoriginal, but is great fun. Definitely play it. It is a challenge thanks to that somewhat realistic handling, but it’s great fun. I’m looking forward to the full game. It should release later this year.
TrackMania Demo / Trackmania Nations Forever / Trackmania Sunshine Forever – Yeah, I like this franchise quite a bit, but didn’t actually buy any of the PC games oddly enough… I just played the free versions, all of which are substantial. I do own the Wii version however. Anyway, no matter which one you play, TrackMania games are all obstacle-based racing games. The goal is to get to the end of a narrow track before time runs out, very much like that special mode in Rollcage Stage II. In this one though you do have opponents. They’re only ghosts, however — you never race against physical vehicles in the TrackMania series, you can always clip through the other cars. Tracks are narrow and short, so memorizing them is key. This is a timetrial-focused game. I prefer races against physical cars, but I can see how that’d be frustrating on tracks as narrow and confined as these… and at least there are online multiplayer options, even if you clip through the other cars. Very good, highly recommended series! The TrackMania games are very, very good. Figuring out what to do in each level to get the best time is both challenging and a lot of fun.
TrickStyle – TrickStyle is another racing game from the same team as Redline Racer. This one, though, is a futuristic hoverboard racing game. This game was also on Dreamcast, but the PC version released later, and is improved over the DC original. The framerate is of course much improved, depending on hardware, and that change was badly needed, but the featureset and gameplay are better as well. The DC game was okay to good but somewhat disappointing in some ways, but even just from this demo, I can tell that the PC version is better. It’s clearly the superior version.
Vangers: One for the Road – Vangers is an absolutely insane-crazy top-down open-world, mission-based vehicular game from Russia from 1998. It’s sort of an open-world car combat game, I guess. Kind of. The setting is utterly unique, original, and weird. Basically, it’s in the far future, and everything on Earth is genetically mutated with alien life. The game has this organic, bug-like style to it, but also looks like the environments were all done in claymation. Actually, the environments are Voxel-generated, with polygon cars on top of them. The graphics, from gameplay to interface, are all … unique as well. This game is so visually weird it’s kind of creepy looking. The questionable translation evident in this demo certainly doesn’t help the game make any sense at all, either, but that everything is referred to with strange alien words you will need to learn makes it worse of course. Basically, you’re playing a complex game with a mediocre translation that also has its own in-game language you will also have to learn. Wait, don’t give up, the game IS interesting and worth playing. The story is hard to make sense out of too though, and figuring out what to do is confusing. The game starts with many screens full of story text to read, too. Read it if you want to have any idea about what’s going on or what you’re doing. The graphical design certainly doesn’t help, either — while the graphics are quite good, everything looks unfamiliar, and the top-down view makes figuring out which things are obstacles and which are not tricky sometimes. The graphics are otherwise pretty good, though. Everything has weird alien names, too. The game also uses a fair number of keyboard keys and doesn’t seem to support gamepads (though it does play okay on keyboard). Yeah, there’s a definite learning curve here, to say the least. If you can figure it out though, there is actually an interesting game here. Vangers is a good mission-based racer, with some interesting visual design, a large world to explore complete with day/night cycle, missions and races to challenge, and more. In the full game, missions available include car combat, trading goods, and various missions. That learning curve really is a killer, though. Also, the demo starts out by dumping you in this world, with little handle on how to play and even less of an idea of what in the world you’re supposed to do. I’ve always wanted to like Vangers, and put the time into figuring it out, but somehow I just never have… for one thing I’ve never been a fan of open-world games so the start doesn’t make me want to keep going long enough to figure it out. The confusing story, iffy translation, and lack of effective tutorials don’t help, either. Overall though, definitely give Vangers a try. It’s so original it should be seen. Also, just driving around in the world is kind of fun, even if you don’t know what you’re doing. And if you do, it’s even better. Vangers is so bizarre that it’s freaky, but it’s also innovative, original, and a must-try, even if, like me, you never can quite figure it out. One of these years though, I’ll get the full game and put some serious effort into figuring out how you play this thing… it looks like it’d be worth it. This game requires patience, but there is reward, for some at least. Reviews of the game are understandably all over the map.
Viper Racing – Viper Racing is another sim-style racing game from Sierra from the late ’90s. This one, though, I genuinely liked, at least going by the demo only of course. Viper Racing is, as the name suggests, a racing game where you race Dodge Viper cars. Handling is pretty realistic, but for some reason I enjoyed this game at the time, and had fun getting better and better at driving around this demo course. It helps that you’re not on a realistic racing circuit, but instead are in a more videogamey race track environment — I find this setting much more interesting than that game. This game has some amusing cheats too, including one that “paves the world”, making all land handle like pavement. Fun stuff. I’d like to play more of this one.
Wacky Wheels – DOS. Wacky Wheels is an Apogee classic, and is by far the best Mario Kart clone I’ve played on the PC. Wacky Wheels has lots of tracks in its full version, but even this shareware gives you a solid five or so, plus battle mode of course. Three of the cute animal racers are available in the shareware. This is a great game, and it’s one I really should have bought… still though, even the shareware’s really fun! The tracks are all well designed, the battle mode (Comm-Bat [IPX or modem-to-modem] or 2-player splitscreen modes are both great, the music and graphics are well done scaling-sprite stuff, and more. As far as scaling-sprites Super Mario Kart style games go, Wacky Wheels is right up there among the very best.
Demos I still have installed of games I now own for PC (Windows unless noted)
Carmageddon (DOS) – See full version review, this is that but with only one track, pretty much. Oh, 3DFX might work in this demo though.
DethKarz (City Demo) – See the full version review, this demo’s just as crash-prone and frustrating. Yeah, this crashes a lot. And even when the game does work, I hate that none of the tracks have any walls, and hover over the ground! That does not mix well with cars that handle like these…
MegaRace 3 – One track demo. This demo shows off the low-budget presentation and somewhat average gameplay, but also the interesting and cool organic look of the course designs. Not much of the FMV here in the demo though of course; that would have taken up far too much space.
Moto Racer – Moto Racer’s demo has exclusive pair of short courses not originally present in the main game. They were later added via a patch though, which is nice for people who wanted to play them in the game. These tracks are very short and simple, though, so don’t expect much challenge or length here. Still, they are fun, and it’s great that the demo got new content. The demo requires you to manually set the desktop to 16-bit color to work, but once done runs. This version has some very unique Direct3D errors — oddly enough, the game appears mostly flat-shaded for some odd reason. Your bike is textured, but the world, and most other riders, are flat shaded. It’s a very strange look. Not bad really, I actually find it kind of interesting, but that’s not how the game is supposed to look. :p The full version is not like this, its problems (without the fix detailed above) are real, but do not result in THIS. I’m sure the same command line fixes that fix the main game will also work here.
Motorhead – See my review of the full game, my impressions of the demo are pretty much the same. Good but not great. One track demo. This is a very basic demo with one track and no configuration options (keyboard only controls… ick.). For some reason, the sound doesn’t work correctly in the demo, though it does in the full game. You can see the very stylized visuals and solid, if average, arcadey racing gameplay.
Need for Speed III – I didn’t buy the game at the time, but I did play this demo. NFS3’s demo has one track, and 1 or 2 player splitscreen modes. It’s a great track, and this is a very fun demo. This is still my favorite NFS3 track for sure. 🙂 I have good memories of playing this demo.
Road Rash – This demo lets you play the first course. I thought this was an okay to good game, but wasn’t quite interested enough to want to buy it, so I didn’t until I found that copy of the game for a few dollars. See the full review for my main reasons why.
Rollcage – One track demo of this classic futuristic racer. Don’t worry if you find it hard, the game’s tricky and definitely takes getting used to. Once you learn the controls, it’ll eventually click. Of course it’s always a challenging game, but it is great.
Test Drive 5 – One track demo. I played all three Test Drive game demos back in the late ’90s, but only have this one installed on my computer. As I say in the full game review above, it’s a fun arcade racer.
VR Powerboat Racing – Just as atrociously bad as the “Pure Power” edition above, this is a water racing game to play as a case study for how to not make water racing games. If you must play it at all, that is.