A Quick Look At Aqua GT

You know you're in for a rough ride when the development history of a game is more interesting than the final product, and that's exactly the case with Aqua GT. This powerboat racer started life as Hydro Sprint by Promethean Designs, and was showcased in several magazines of the era as boasting Wave Race 64-quality water effects and some nicely detailed boats in which to skim across the briny.
The game underwent several changes in stylistic direction and was known as Hydrosport Racing at one stage during development, and according to the Promethean Designs website was to feature an open world which could be explored in your powerboat, allowing you to take in different environments with 'rapids, ravines and choppy ocean courses.' It all sounded very promising - if a little ambitious - and was a game I was looking forward to getting my hands on. At some point in 2000 though, Promethean Designs changed their name to East Point Games, cancelled a load of interesting titles (see Picassio and Renegade Racers for further info) and spewed Aqua GT out onto an unsuspecting public, before quietly going bust and vanishing into the ether with little more than a disappointing sigh.

Looking at the features bandied about back when Aqua GT was known as Hydro Sprint, it's hard not to be majorly disappointed with the game that actually came out. This is less a Hydro Thunder-killer, and more a wet fart. But I'm getting ahead of myself (as usual). Let's look at what Aqua GT is, before we delve deeper into what it is not. We've already established that this is a powerboat racing game, and it plays like a fairly bog-standard arcade racer of the period. There's a championship mode, which is split into four different tiers (bronze, silver, gold and champions) with each getting progressively tougher the further you go. There's also an arcade mode where you get to choose your track and boat, alter the number of laps and the difficulty (which also changes the amount of allotted time you have in which to complete the race) and then you hit the water and race. The tracks are all meant to represent real-life rivers or canals in some of the world's great cities, so you'll get to race on the Thames in London, the Seine in Paris and the historic canals in Vienna. The number of circuits is fairly paltry to be honest (7 in total) and there is no way to race in reverse or mirror mode, but you do get to choose whether you race during the day or night, and whether at high or low tide.
The 80s called. They want their loading screen back.
Regardless of the fact that it is ridiculous from a realism standpoint, this altering of the tide could have been an interesting feature and allowed for multiple routes and whatnot, but all it really does in practice is make the level of the water higher or lower and doesn't really do anything to change how the game plays. You still bounce off the same walls in the same places and there are no alternative routes - it's a nice idea but a total missed opportunity to inject some variety into the game. And that's really the sticking point with Aqua GT - everything about it feels half-arsed. The races are soulless and dull, the AI boats stick to the same racing line and don't ever seem to be aware of your (or each other's) presence.

The races move at a pedestrian rate of knots (pun intended), with you occasionally bouncing off the walls or off a mindless adversary who just ploughs on regardless, at maximum speed and into the distance without ever needing to slow down to take even the sharpest of hairpin corners. The water effects too, are lacklustre. Look at Wave Race 64, it is a game on a system that came out nearly five years prior to Aqua GT and is on a system that is less technically advanced than the Dreamcast..but the water effects are light years ahead of the non-reflective jelly-like substance you are racing on in Aqua GT. Sure, the boats look OK and the day/night option allows for some interesting light sourcing in places, but everything else about Aqua GT's visuals is bargain basement.
Hydro Sprint preview taken from Dreamcast Magazine issue 6
The Dreamcast doesn't have that many water-based racing games - Hydro Thunder, Surf Rocket Racers and Aqua GT make up the three main contenders to the aquatic throne, but neither of the latter, later releases come close to usurping the much earlier Thunder as the king of the waves. Don't get me wrong, Aqua GT is a far cry from being anywhere near as bad as stuff like Spirit of Speed 1937, Exhibition of Speed or Roadsters, but it never escapes the mire of completely average functionality. The music is tired, repetitive techno; the boats all sound like two-stoke 50cc motorbikes; the handling is slow and imprecise; the water physics are non-existent; the pop-up is very noticeable; the AI is both robotic and idiotic. Ultimately, Aqua GT is actually a chore to play, and that's the kicker.
For some reason, Aqua GT is now one of those games - like Evil Twin - that seems to be mind-bogglingly expensive on eBay, and this may be due to the fact that it's a PAL exclusive. It certainly isn't because it's a quality racer that everyone with a Dreamcast feels it is their duty to own. No, if you're hankering for some water-based racing on your Dreamcast that looks great, sounds good and plays well then I'd suggest seeking out a copy of Hydro Thunder; and unless you're a collector going for a full set I'd give Aqua GT a wide birth. This one should have been scuttled along with Picassio and Promethean Designs.

1 comment:

DCGX said...

I bought this game years ago, for maybe $10, playing it once and promptly sold it.