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Game Over Online ~ Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed

GameOver Game Reviews - Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed (c) Electronic Arts, Reviewed by - Pseudo Nim

Game & Publisher Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed (c) Electronic Arts
System Requirements Pentium 200, 32MB Ram, 3D Accelerator, 150MB HDD
Overall Rating 82%
Date Published Thursday, April 6th, 2000 at 03:30 PM

Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

Several years ago, I recall seeing a box appear at the retail shelves, with a huge Road & Track logo on it. It intrigued me - after all, I've been reading R&T for quite some time, and it piqued my interest: what could they have possibly to do with a computer game? Of course, the next thought I had was, "Cars" - but I was unprepared for what it really was. In my view, the original Need for Speed was absolutely groundbreaking, with licensed "dream" vehicles, amazing car physics (aside from crashes and flips) and sheer loads of fun. There was no other game, at the time, that offered anything similar - everybody seems to have been mostly centered around Formula 1, NASCAR and IndyCar. Sure, there was Test Drive, but that was getting old.

Fast forward to the future, circa Need for Speed 2. I had high hopes for that, since I liked the original NFS a lot. I popped the CD into the drive, fired the game up, clicked Race…. and <censored by editors>. This was the most horrible car racing game I have ever played (or so I thought at the time, until I tried Test Drive 5/6). The cars reminded me of those arcade games, back in maybe the mid 80s, when you'd have a car attached to a moving plank, and the road would scroll by as you "maneuver" the car to stay on the track. Wow. To only think that I needed the full power of my PC to play something like that.

Fast forward again. It's a year or so later, and out comes NFS 3. Wow, thought I. Another NFS - will the glory of the original return? So I tried it. It was better. But it still sucked. It was very pretty, though. But it didn't suck right away - it just grew really, really, really old, really, really soon. There was still no car damage. The cars still flipped back on their wheels, obeying completely non-Newtonian physics. They still felt like paper vehicles driving on a paper road (though, admittedly, less so than in 2). Anyway, I could go on for a while. NFS 3 was soon followed by High Stakes, commonly referred to as NFS 4 - but I never played that, since it was a revamped 3.

Now, (we finally get to the present here), EA dropped the licenses from all those "dream" cars and went for one manufacturer: Porsche. Controversial, in a way, since there are many people that don't like Porsches (in my view, more than there are that don't like Ferraris, for example). One reason behind that might be that Porsche has grown to be a consumer car much more so than an elite car, like Ferrari, if only because of the release of the ultra-lame Boxster, which, I believe, alienated most of the true fans of Porsche - and then they took the legendary 911, and strapped Boxster parts onto it. That was "the straw that broke the camel's back" for me. Either way, NFS: Porsche Unleashed has nothing but Porsches in it, though it does have virtually every single model made from the early 50s to today, with one notable and glaring exception: the 959. More precisely, it's in the MENU, but if you try to use it, the game notifies you, in this sarcastic tone, that you "must download it" - but nowhere does it tell you where from! I had a friend of mine call EA, and, according to what they told him, the car "isn't available yet". Well, I'm sorry, but that's the only Porsche I really *dream* of driving - all the others are just "normal", sort of.

So which cars does the game have? "Over 80 models," claims EA. Perhaps - but only if you consider the Porsche 911 Turbo 3.0 to be drastically different from the Porsche 811 Turbo 3.3, and if you consider a half-dozen Carreras to be all uniquely different (even though they're made in the same year). No flames in regards of handling styles, engine power and differences in car stereos, please - after all, this isn't a sim, no matter how EA might want to try to convince you of it. Of course, it obviously has the expected 911s, 911 Carreras, 911 Carrera 4s, 911 Turbos and the like; it has the horrible Boxster in two models, the 1997 and the 2000; it has the 356, 356A, 356B; the 914 and the 944, to name a few. Notable is the 1978 935/78 "Moby Dick" and the 911GT1 - those are two really, really nice, and really, really fast cars. They also handle like Carmageddon cars with the Gravity from Jupiter power-up.

Something new got added to this release of NFS. Something radically new, something I haven't seen in "brand-name" games with "brand-name" cars in quite some time. Ever, in fact. Hats off to Porsche for allowing this one - it's, of course, car damage. Don't get me wrong: it doesn't have the loving, hand-modeled accuracy of Papyrus games, or the visually overdone "whoops-my-wheel-is-on-my-roof-again" flair of Viper Racing, but it's a step in the right direction, and I have to give EA props for that one. At the moment, I don't think there's much more than texturing the model in a "broken" texture (it doesn't appear that the model is actually deformed, or if it is, then by a very tiny amount). Let's hope NFS 6 has some real car damage.

Hand in hand with car damage go car physics: and here, I have to say, EA has outdone itself. They call it "a new 4-point" physics model - I am at a loss as to what the four points model, but it definitely works - cars *do* have a distinct feel, and more, they actually feel like cars and not paper vehicles. If you have force feedback, it becomes even more interesting - as you drive, the joystick will sometimes lose resistance when you're losing traction, bounce back if you hit a sidewalk, bounce back harshly if you hit a signpost, and otherwise reflect the terrain.

The realism of the cars goes a step further. You can turn on the headlights (no, that's not the "further" part, that's fairly normal) - but, inexplicably, you can use your blinkers and even turn on the hazard lights (both blinkers at the same time)! Now that's what I call attention to detail. I would even be happy about that - but oh, it just occurred to me, that so much time went into developing those that the developers forgot to make proper models of the cars' dashboards. So you have these beautiful blinking yellow lights (which, incidentally, don't blink on the dashboard like in a real car - neither does the dashboard light up when you turn on the lights), but you can't read what the dashboard says. And it isn't those four-vertex rectangular sticks that are your hands - no, they don't obscure the view - it's the fact that the dashboard is apparently rendered at 320x200 and stretched to your screen's resolution. No, make that 100x80. Or even less. I can't even tell where the tach is, much less what speed I'm going at!

There are a few other annoyances with the game. One pertains to multiplayer: whenever I raced against other people, I had to always avoid their cars - every single time I would so much as touch one, I would spin. The interesting part is, my opponents never, ever, ever spun - I have no idea why, and I have no explanation for it, but it has nothing to do with skill (or lack of), as I'm sure some would think of suggesting - I still won, I was just very annoyed at the end of the race.

In addition to that (and this might be something only I ran into, so this doesn't necessarily imply a problem with the game - though I do feel I should mention it), I ran into occasional crashes, where the game would crash my kernel32.dll, as well as occasional lockups and framerate slowdowns - to something of the order of 1fps or below. After that, my joystick would get forced into one corner, too - regardless of whether I would hold it or not. Clarification: the Sidewinder Force joystick has an optical sensor to check if your hand is on the stick or not, and only enables force feedback when you're holding it, so as to not damage the joystick - but in my case, all by itself, it would force itself into a corner and stay there as I watched, astounded. Only a full power off of the PC fixed it. As well, occasional multiplayer glitches surfaced: people getting dropped, characters not appearing when typed and such. However, I would like to reemphasize, that I may well be one of the rarer people to have experienced at least some of these, so I won't blame EA for everything just yet.

The soundtrack, I must say, is pretty catchy. I even liked it for quite a bit, especially the electronic tracks. But then my Xitel Storm Platinum PCI came in (an Aureal Vortex2-based card, and yes, I know Aureal has all but gone under), so I quickly killed that music and put a few Oakenfold mixes in the queue, and that was just way, way better. That also helped me mute the ambient sounds, like sheep bleating and birds chirping, that are just everywhere, everywhere, no matter where you go, there are birds, sheep, and other annoying sounds.

The graphics are also quite good, though sprites are used again (won't sprites ever die?). You'll see some cool effects in different places of the map, though, as you drive through - volumetric lighting, water vapours, and other little neat things. Unfortunately, overall, I think the tracks are fairly bland, especially Auvergne - just an endless flow of nondescript buildings with occasional nondescript vehicles parked outside. And by the way, what's up with traffic consisting of exactly three different models of cars? (In the Modern Club race that I'm doing right now, make that exactly one model - a red 4-door hatchback of an unknown brand). The headlights are useless, too: on the other hand, you see their beams (at least in the lame in-car and outside views - not the bumper view), but on the other, if you turn them off, suddenly EVERYTHING becomes dark, sort of as if you switched the sun off. Go figure. Also (unrelated, really), why is it that computer opponents never screw up? That is, if there is traffic, they'll drive into the occasional Sunday driver. But if there's no traffic, they never, ever err - so should you spin out or flip and are on the hardest difficulty setting, getting to #1 is next to impossible.

And on a last note (yes, this is sort of "stuck in" here, out of place, out of time, out of context), you can modify your cars very extensively. Well… actually, let me clarify that. You can tune the normal things like brake balance, gear ratios, etc. and you can also buy parts for your Porsches. The parts you can buy are all from the Authorized Porsche Catalog (I can hear the cheering and the excitement, now stop that). Curiously, I really don't see what they mean by "work with over 700 parts from the official Porsche catalog" (quote from the website): it appears to me that everything is called "Professional Brakes" or "Superlight Flywheel", and the only time you would actually see a difference is for engines - you will actually see "3.6L Turbo" or "3.0L", and that seems to be the only difference. Aside from that, how do they get to 700 parts? (I suppose the answer is pretty obvious, but I was rather hoping for some good reason).

So how does NFS:PU measure up overall? It, surprisingly, is what I would call a "not bad" game. It has its defects (some really, really bad ones: where the HELL is the Porsche 959?! Who cares about these wussy Boxsters and other trash??) but, in general, is very entertaining to play. Multiplayer is a blast, and is virtually lagless, too (the reason for that is that the game doesn't sync with the server - you race locally, and the server just transmits you the coordinates of all players at a time, so you see the player cars jerking around, but your driving is smooth as always - ingenious idea, don't know why nobody thought of it before - too bad the cars are almost -always- jerky, and it's really, really hard to plan attacks on other players). But aside from that, the main decision you have to make boils down to this: are you a Porsche fan? (Yes/No): if that's a Yes, second question: are you willing to drive Porsches, nothing but Porsches, never deviating from Porsches and being stuck with Porsches for many, many hours unend? (Yes/No). If you answered Yes to both of them, the game is for you. In any contrary case, you might want to try the demo first and see if it persuades you to play or not. Final verdict? Good game… for Porsche lovers. (Hey, that's better than that Viper Racing game, at least).

[ 16/20 ] Graphics
[ 12/15 ] Sound
[ 24/30 ] Gameplay
[ 16/20 ] Fun Factor
[ 05/05 ] Multiplayer
[ 09/10 ] Overall Impression


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