Rough with the Smooth

Fuck sake. Had to get my car MOT-ed yesterday, which for our non-UK readers means that I had to take it to a local garage for it's annual check-up. As predicted, the piece of shite failed the test and I had to shell out 400 quid for some grease-monkey with no neck to tighten a few screws and scratch his arse. As you can probably guess, this left me in a mood that could be described (quite accurately) as the exact opposite to 'euphoric.' Moral of the story? Never buy a Ford Mondeo that smells like a chicken shed off a Farmer. Rather, contact a man called Gary and spend your money on Dreamcast games instead - definitely an activity more associated with happiness than getting your jalopy fixed.

You may remember the enigmatic Gary from sporadic posts here at the 'Yard over the last couple of years. We first encountered him through his enormous DC collection, and then again when we managed to prise a copy of DC Half-Life from his grip several months later. Now, he's only gone and dumped a fucking lorry load of even more amazing stuff through my letterbox...

Granted, all of the following games are CD-Rs, but for the average non-importer like me, this is probably the only way I would ever get a chance to sample the delights of the following gems without paying an arm and a leg for them on eBay:


4x4 Evolution
A favourite of online gaming community UK-Rockers, 4x4 Evolution is an off-road racer that eschews the arcade stupidity of 4 Wheel Thunder in favour of a more realistic SUVs-racing around-the-countryside setting. Posh twats in tweed and carrying shotguns are, however, thankfully absent. The sheer number of real-life vehicles on offer is mind-boggling, with nearly every major 4x4 manufacturer represented by their most popular gas guzzlers. So, you get Nissans, Mitsubishis and the like jostling for position, rather than made-up monster trucks and buggies. Sweet. The game itself offers a multitude of play modes (single race, time trial etc), but the main meat of the 4x4 Evolution experience is to be found in the Career mode in which you start out with a limited bank balance (a bit like mine after that fucking MOT) and must buy a vehicle, kit it out and then enter championships.

Just like in Sega GT, you can only enter certain championships with certain vehicle classes so this means you need to juggle which trucks you buy and upgrade. The actual gameplay is also about as far removed from 4 Wheel Thunder as you could possibly get - there are no nitro boosts or time limits here, instead the majority of the races are of the point-to-point variety and set on large open plan circuits where you have to follow an arrow to the next checkpoint. Because of this open-plan nature, it isn't always essential that you stick to the beaten track, indeed the AI vehicles usually don't and this leads to some great races through wooded areas and through rivers etc.
Graphically, Evo's vehicle models are pretty sweet although the environments can feel a little sparse at times and the game engine shudders occasionally. This minor niggle aside, 4x4 Evo is a solid racer and the fact that it never got an official PAL release remains something of a mystery to me.


Project Justice: Rival Schools 2
Project Justice is a game I actually owned in it's official guise many moons ago when the DC still had a pulse. I got it from Gamestation for about a tenner and boy, do I wish I'd held on to it now - it regularly appears on eBay for upwards of £100. Alas, my copy went when I (somewhat foolishly, with hindsight) traded in my DC set-up for a PS2 and a copy of NHL 2001. For shame. Getting hold of this replacement copy through Gary then, was like welcoming back an old friend. Project Justice is a 3D beat 'em up by those masters of the 2D genre - Capcom, and rather ingeniously features a storyline like something out of an episode of Saved by the Bell.

Yep, the game features characters who are all pupils at different schools and throws them all together for one almightly playground scrap, although these fights are nothing like the ones we had at my school - there are no endless headlocks or rolling around on the football pitch here, people. No, instead the kids from Justice High are all masters of kung-fu and have the ability to throw balls of fire with their eyes - a skill that would undoubtedly have resulted in multiple detentions when I were a lad. The fights are similar to those in Marvel Versus Capcom 2 in that they allow multiple characters to be called upon to lend a hand should you find your ass being handed to you, and so you choose a team of 3 fighters to wade into battle with and can use them to gang up on an adversary depending on whether or not you have the required power in your little whup-ass meter.

Nicely, the characters all represent various (Jap & US) student-themed stereotypes such as sporty jocks and science geeks etc (if it were based on UK themes, they'd all be drunk chavs and pregnant 14-year-old slags, no doubt), whilst the battle stages are all similarly school related in some way e.g. classrooms, gyms, playgrounds etc. Project Justice is very easy to pick up and play, so if your beat 'em skillz consist simply of mashing all the buttons with sausage fingers (like mine) you can get just as much enjoyment out of it as an expert. Aesthetically, it's not as good as Dead or Alive 2 (what is?!), but the variety and creativity of the stages and characters, coupled with the outlandishness of the special moves on offer more than make up for it.


Tokyo Extreme Racer 2
The original Tokyo Extreme Racer is a bit of a mixed bag really. Whilst the graphics are fairly decent, the gameplay was as deep as a puddle on Mercury: Race around one dull highway challenging boy racers to a duel. Repeat to fade. Enter Tokyo Extreme Racer 2, a game that offers more of the same, only with vastly improved graphics, more cars, and a slightly bigger stretch of highway. Like Project Justice, Extreme Racer 2 is a game that occasionally pops up in it's PAL guise on eBay for a hideous amount of money and is also a game I've owned previously in it's official form. The basic premise of Tokyo Extreme Racer 2, much like it's prequel, is to drive along the highways and byways of a neon-lit Tokyo searching for 'rivals' to race against.

When you eventually find someone willing to chuck their copy of the highway code out of the window, you drive up behind them and flick the high beams at them. This initiates the actual race, where two power bars appear at the top of the screen and whoever gets the furthest ahead has the least damage done to their bar. If your opponent gets too far ahead of you - you lose, and likewise if you leave the slow old twat in your dust you get the spoils of victory. As with most racers, the career or 'Quest' mode in Extreme Racer rewards your wins with credits with which you can upgrade your vehicle with body parts or engine/handling improvements. I suppose this game is pretty unique in the way that it pits racers against each other in a way that most other racers don't, but the repetitive nature of the tracks and the virtually non-existent music slightly let it down. Where it definitely shines though, is in the graphics department. The car models are some of the best on the DC - and while the cars aren't officially licensed you can generally tell what it is you're driving simply because the models are so authentic-looking.

Sadly, there are no damage models, but for a game with this degree of arcade slant, realistic damage would probably been more of a detraction than a bonus. In a nutshell, Extreme Racer 2 is an original and awesome looking game that is let down slightly by sub-par sound and some simplistic gameplay aspects - but overall, a decent little racer.

And so concludes part two of the documenting of my recent games haul. There's much more to come, dear enlightened reader, so keep checking for updates - and in the mean time, if you want to get in touch with Gary and take advantage of his massive stock of games for sale, email him at dreamcasting@btinternet.com for a full list of titles.

2 comments:

The GagaMan(n) said...

I was lucky enough to get a sealed copy of Project Justice for £20 a few years back, and Ive kept a firm grasp of it since, it's fantastic. I'm actually surprised they never got around to porting it to the PS2, considering how the PS1 prequel Rival Schools was rather popular. Oh well, another exclusive for DC owners!

NebachadnezzaR said...

Cheer up, Tom, at least you still have your car. I've been without mine for two weeks now, after some bastard ran into my rear...

Anyway, great reviews, got to get a copy of that 4x4 Evolution for myself.