Video Carnage 27 – Sony PlayStation

If you were a console gamer in the mid to late 1990s, chances are you did your gaming on a PlayStation.  It wasn’t just competitive, it didn’t just outsell the other consoles, it dominated.  There were two big reasons why this was.

Reason number one was the ease of programming and developing games for the system.  Not only was the architecture straightforward and conducive to easily making great games, but Sony went out of their way to cultivate solid relationships with game developers – offering them whatever help they could in the form of development kits, documentation and support.

Reason number two was CD media, and its maturation in the games market.  Game discs could be manufactured for pennies apiece, and they held way more data than cartridges.  No publisher in their right mind would prefer cartridges over CDs by this point, even considering issues of piracy.

Timing and marketing also played roles in Sony’s unheralded success, and there were those very deep pockets too.  Yeah, Sony had lots and lots of money to put behind that console, so everyone knew they’d be in it for the long haul.

I only got my PlayStation when I got my PS2 in 2003.  I got one of the original “fat” models, so mine has what amounts to a complete PlayStation chipset inside, and when I insert a PlayStation disc into the tray, those chips play the game.

So I missed out on all the fun parts of original PS1 ownership, like having to turn the console upside down to prevent overheating.  But My PS1 does play PS2 games!

Also, I haven’t talked about rumble or vibration in controllers before, because I think Sony was the first to introduce this feature to the market.  From this point on, every console that I’ll review racing games for is rumble or vibration ready.

And since I don’t have a very big PS1 game collection, the games I’ll be reviewing aren’t typically what comes to mind when one thinks “PlayStation racing games”.

The Dukes of Hazzard: Racing for Home (1999)

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Back in my review of the ColecoVision racing games, I mentioned how them Duke boys would get their moment in the sun some other day.  Well, this here is it.

I know of four Dukes of Hazzard video games.  That ColecoVision one, This one and a PlayStation sequel, and a PS2 game.  This here game is the best.

But if you’re looking to play it (please imagine my voice to sound like Waylon Jennings by the way), you better count yerself as a fan of the show.  And you better like buggy racing.  I ain’t talkin no dune buggies, I’m talking bugs in the software buggy racing.

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This here menu screen is the worst I’ve ever had to use.  (Screenshots aren’t my own by the way, I snagged them from spong.com.)  The menus before you start the game are slow and unresponsive to the extreme.  I timed them.  Sometimes they take over two seconds to respond.  This makes setting things up before you play a real chore, and even checking out what options are available is tedious.

You can forget about entering your name.  The text defaults as “Player.” and you have to erase all of that button press by button press, and then you have to navigate the usual alphabet box to enter in your name.  By the time you’ve done that you’ve heard at least two full songs of soundtrack music, so this process literally takes minutes.  What the fuck?

The game has options for turning on or off vibration.  It also has an option for centering the display, which is something I look for in console game settings on my TV because it displays games all wonky and off to the right.  Sadly, the setting in this game doesn’t seem to work.

There are three different controller configurations, and one of them uses the L1 button for accelerate, so that’s what I used for racing.  Some PlayStation games have full analog joystick support, some don’t.  It’s a fine, fine PS1 racing game that has full analog stick support, including right stick acceleration and braking, but this game ain’t one.

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When you start the game, you are treated to a lovely pre-rendered video intro accompanied by the original Dukes of Hazzard theme song.  The 3D rendering used makes it look like Spitting Image played a part in this game’s creation.  Either that or what we’re seeing are some heretofore unknown plot details from the original series.  I never knew that Luke Duke was an escaped shaved-down gorilla from the Hazzard Zoo.

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What makes this game interesting and a bit of a treat for fans of the show (like me, believe it or not) is that the game’s creators managed to reassemble the original acting cast and have them voice all of their characters lines for the game.  Some of the actors had died by the time 1999 had rolled around, like Uncle Jesse and Boss Hogg here, but most of the main voices are there.

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The game plays out like an episode of the show, with driving missions in between.  If these screenshots look impressive for a PS1 game to you, keep your shirt on.  They’re from pre-rendered cut scenes.

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This one is too, but there is a heck of a lot of jumping you can do in this game.  Would it really be a Dukes of Hazzard game without jumping the General Lee over stuff?  And fret not, the “Dixie” horn is here too.

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Once you get into the game, you will be shown a bit of a cut scene to set up the mission, then your direct objective will be flashed up on the screen for you.  When you are ready to boogie, you press X and the gonzo-physics racing can begin.

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One quite nasty bug I need to mention happens sometimes when new missions are loaded.  If you are using an analog controller and have it switched to analog mode, like I was using, analog mode gets switched off without warning when you start racing certain missions.  This is frustrating when you start that random mission to find that all of a sudden steering doesn’t work, only to look down at your dual shock controller and see that the red light is off.  Little things like this and the menu delays in the beginning don’t ruin the game, but they are pretty inexcusable.

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Other than those annoyances, this is a fun little game to waste a bit of time on.  All of the missions involve solving problems by driving really fast from point A to point B, so it’s pretty much like the show.  And pretty much like real life.

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There are also missions where you have to force a vehicle to “pull over” by ramming into it a bunch of times.  So again, you know, pretty damn realistic.

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And look at them pixels!  This is definitely not the best looking game I’ve seen on the PS1.  The camera swings around quite a bit too, and sometimes it gets above your car and points straight down as if to admire the rebel flag while you try to figure out where the fuck you are, so there are problems there too.

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There are also power-ups floating in the air along the road too, so if you’re looking for a realistic driving sim, forget about finding it here.  This is arcade style drivin and whoopin and hollerin all the way.  I feel the need to work the term “Piggly Wiggly” into this paragraph too, for some reason.

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The out-to-lunch driving physics can get annoying too.  Losing control of the General Lee can instantly send you on some wild spins and turns, and in some missions, every second counts.

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If you’re too rough with the car you will get heckled by your cousin Luke with the phrases “Watch it, Bo!” and “Dang it, Bo!”.  I haven’t heard him say “kwyjibo” yet.

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Some of the missions are pretty easy and some of them are hard.  I had a bitch of a time trying to “pull over” Boss Hogg to rescue him from some bad guy in a brown van.  Which brings up a set of interesting questions.  Why would the Dukes try to rescue Boss Hogg?  Why would rescuing someone involve smashing repeatedly into their vehicle with yours?  What kind of asshole drives a big brown van around so recklessly that he terrorizes the sheriff of a small Georgia town and can outrace a suped-up orange Dodge Charger?

Noam!

Maybe some questions are better left unanswered.

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There are some other bugs that diminish the enjoyment factor somewhat, like the one where completing a mission wasn’t recognized when I reached the destination for some reason and I had to repeat it.  But fans of the show will appreciate the pacing and story of the game, which is as true to a lost episode of the series as one could find.

It’s not a bad racing game by itself, but there are much better titles for the PS1 if you’re looking to get your drive on and you don’t need orange cars with 01 on the side.  I recommend checking this out only if you’re a fan of the original series, or if you like to sit around in denim overalls on your porch drinking moonshine and whittling while your nephews take apart cars on your lawn.

This game can be found dirt cheap used, so give it a good ol’ down home spin.

Moto Racer World Tour (2000)

Moto Racer World Tour cover

The Moto Racer series for the PlayStation is a great bunch of racing games that every fan of the genre should play.  This is the third for the PS1, and it edges out the first two as my favourite.

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The thing I like best about this series is the solid control.  These games take full advantage of the Dual Shock’s dual analog joysticks, and the responsiveness you get with steering, accelerating and braking is great.

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The graphics are also as good as you’ll see on the PlayStation.  Screenshots are from MobyGames and Spong.com.  The draw distance is good and pop-up is minimal, though the frame rate does slow in certain spots.

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The physics lean more to the realistic side of things.  Hitting obstacles and other racers will send you off your bike more often than not.

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You get a chance to set some options when you load the game, and among these are seven different controller configurations.  It was in this screen that I was alerted to the “pitch” control in this game, and I’ll talk about that below.

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You adjust the screen position, which is great for me and my shitty TV that displays things a bit off.  Full sound options are available too, and the music in this game is great.

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There are two main modes of gameplay: Arcade and world tour.  Arcade lets you choose single races and world tour is a circuit through all of them.  There are four more modes of gameplay that can be unlocked by winning the world tour, and these are Traffic, Dragster, Freestyle and Trial.

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Within the main modes, you can also choose to race 125cc bikes or 250cc bikes.  The 125cc dirt bikes have a mix of indoor and outdoor tracks, and this is where the “pitch” control comes in.

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You can see that gold coloured spring in the screenshot above.  When you use the pitch control – particularly on the indoor tracks – you can gain or lose speed, and you will see the difference appear in mph on the screen.  This adds a deeper level of gameplay to an already challenging and superb racing game.

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And it is damn tough.  It takes a while to master the way your bike handles, and I still haven’t gotten the pitch thing down yet.  But this game is so much fun.

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The 250cc races are racing bikes on outdoor tracks or roads, and this is what I prefer.  The game is just as challenging in this mode, but in the World Tour mode, it lets you advance to the next track no matter how you’ve placed.

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You will still lose if you’re not winning those races, but I think that breaks up the monotonous feel some racing games get when you find yourself stuck on that one damn track.

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All in all, this is an excellent racing game for the PlayStation.  The other Moto Racer games are great as well, and if you’re looking to pick this up, check those out too because they all offer something a little different.  Moto Racer 2 has a track editor and terrible “indie” music, for example.

This is a game you have to get if you’re into racers and you have a PS1 or original PS2 that can play PS1 games.  It can be had for cheap, so check it out.

Freestyle Motocross: McGrath vs. Pastrana (2000)

Freestyle Motocross cover

For many – if they’ve even heard of this game – the attraction is the freestyle dirt bike riding, akin to what you could do in the magnificent Tony Hawk series of games.

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But this particular title has a racing mode that really stands on its own.  These screenshots are from GameSpot, by the way.  They show the Freestyle mode, but you can get a feel for the way the racing looks just the same.

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There are four different ways to race: Single Event, Championship Series, Time Trial, and Multiplayer.  The game also lets you set the usual bunch of options and see your achievements.

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I’ll focus only on the race mode of gameplay, despite what these borrowed screenshots show.  There are three tracks available from the start, and a fourth is unlockable.

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The courses are all very detailed and well-designed, and I was surprised as to how much thought went into them.

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This first one shown here is a “Tombstone” type desert ghost town track.  Each track has a short cut or two, and some nice touches, like the coyote that swipes at you and your bike if you ride past him.

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Of course, being a dirt bike game, there are lots of ramps and jumps.  The terrain of each track is varied too.

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Before you race, you are given a number of options to choose from.  First, you choose to race as either Jeremy McGrath or Travis Pastrana.

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I don’t think it makes any difference as far as gameplay goes which rider you choose.  McGrath is blue and Pastrana is red.

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Once you have that chosen, you choose from one of three bikes.  These have different attributes as far as speed, acceleration and handling are concerned.

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Finally, you get to choose which type of tires to race with and the thickness of your exhaust pipe.  This kind of depth alone surprised me for a game like this, and it enhances the gameplay.

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You must be aware of what type of terrain the track contains to make an informed choice about your tires.  The choices available are All Around, Cleated, Sand, and Knob – though only three of these are available for any given race.

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The thickness of the exhaust pipe is a new one for me.  It affects speed vs acceleration.

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There are also different classes to race in, but the 125cc class is first and others must be unlocked.

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There are also three different default controller configurations, and vibration and analog steering are supported.  Sadly, acceleration on the right analog stick is not supported.

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But once you get racing, you will be impressed by the feel of this game.  The graphics are decent – neither good nor bad.  But there’s something great about the way this game plays.

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It plays more on the arcade side of things, so it’s easy to pick up.  It is quite exhilarating and I knew the first time I tried it that this is one of those games that hits that racing sweet spot I have.

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One odd aspect of this game is that the AI opponents are mismatched in skill.  You race four other bikers, and they’re all kind of crappy except for one other.  If you’re riding as McGrath, that’s Pastrana, and vice-versa.

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That might just be a bit of ego stroking for the names on the game, but it can make the track kind of empty sometimes except for the 1st and 2nd place racers.

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Overall, there is too much to like about this game to let that get in the way.  The menu system before you play is also great, and is easy to follow and navigate.

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The music is also outstanding, especially if you like energetic Metal.  Fans of Polka will have to find another racer with polka music to get their fix, sorry.

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The physics of the game are surprisingly realistic too.  Collisions with other riders are a lot more realistic than in many bike racing games I’ve played.  It’s also possible to drive off the track to a certain extent, though it’s never good when you do.

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This second track here is the “Volcano” track.  This one has a spot or two where you might find yourself plunging off a cliff into water if you don’t know it’s coming.

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There is some “pop-up” in the graphics, that is to say that things like trees and other scenery don’t appear in the distance until it’s oddly too late, but many games like this suffer from that, so I can deal with it.

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The camera is handled wonderfully though.  As many twists and turns as you end up doing, you never end up in a situation where you wonder where you’re headed or where you are.

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This track we’re seeing now is “Loch Ness”, and it’s quite fun and challenging.

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The game allows you to practice a track before you race, and with this one in particular it’s a good idea.  There are some deceptively sharp turns that need to be rehearsed beforehand.

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The shortcuts in this track are also quite hard to get into, but rewarding…

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…unless you end up in the lake.

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This game is a lot more fun than I expected it to be.  I was expecting a Tony Hawk clone, but I got one of my favourite racers.  If you like bike racers and 32-bit graphics like I do, then you need to find a copy of this game.  It’s good, fast fun, and it even has that whole freestyle trick gameplay mode that I didn’t talk about.  Highly recommended.

This game too is available used for a low price, so take a look for it next time you’re at the used game shop or on ebay.  And if you want to try it on an emulator… check out the Reddit emulation wiki because I’ve never bothered with PlayStation emulation.