Metropolis Street Racer follows two trends in gaming. The first is that this is the latest in a dominant series of Dreamcast racers (Sega Rally 2, Sega GT, the Tokyo Xtreme Racer series, Ferrari F355 Challenge, Test Drive Le Mans, etc.) The second is that like many other great titles (Starcraft, Half Life DC, etc.) it is constantly delayed.
What was supposed to be launched in the spring of 2000 just came out late January 2001. I had a taste of MSR at last year’s E3, and once again on a demo disc last November. Both were quite uneventful, as I saw nothing that really impressed me. Who would have known that when I had the chance to play the final version, it would not only exceed the expectations I had about the demos, but warrant it as perhaps my favorite Dreamcast racer yet.
For a long time I wanted to have a decent street racer. Tokyo Xtreme Racer and Tokyo Xtreme Racer 2 were good, but they cannot truly be classified as street racing. They take place on the highways. But MSR occurs on the actual city streets. The game generates 250 different race tracks through three cities.
London races take place in areas such as Trafalgar and Westminster. Tokyo races storm the "electric city" Shibuya, as well as Asusaka. Lastly, the races in San Francisco push the city’s famous Financial District and Fisherman’s Wharf to the limit. (My only complaint about the SF races is that we can’t drive through Sony’s Metreon and turn the Gamespot TV staff into virtual roadkill, but c’est la vie.)
The 250 races are split into 25 chapters of 10 races each. These races can take part in hotlaps (where the best or average lap time must beat the time provided), timed runs (beat a set number of laps/courses within set time limit), challenges (beat a maximum top speed, pass a set number or cars, or lap a single opponent), one on one races, special races (of anywhere between three and five opponents), and a multi-race championship that ends each chapter.
At the end of each chapter, a new car will be unlocked. However, that said car cannot be driven automatically. It must be earned in a time trial not unlike those found in the Gran Turismo series.
Advancement through the chapters is not just "beat the courses to reach the next chapter." The game is not played that way. If you read the text in the opening video, it says "It’s not about how fast you drive, it’s about how you drive fast." Simply put, MSR is about style, and style is awarded through a scoring system called "Kudos." Kudos are awarded for well-crafted power slides and driving fast, while taken away for reckless driving, failing a challenge, or quitting a challenge.
Even better, once these challenges are won, they can be played again, putting the kudos you previously won on the line to either gain more, or lose them. Jokers are also added into the mix and can instantly double the amount of kudos that you will win (or lose for that matter.) Adding this gambling system definitely adds to the game’s replay value.
An equally cool feature about the game is the realtime clock, which changes the environment in which you will be racing. Say it is 7:00 p.m. here in Washington DC; if you race in San Francisco, it would be 4 p.m., while in London it would be midnight. This adds a little strategy to the game as some of the special challenges can only be done at specific time frames.
And whether it is day or night, MSR is drop-dead gorgeous. The city settings are photo quality, and Bizarre Creations took every painstaking effort to achieve this. Their effort should not be ignored here. My only complaint is that in six-car races with the rear view mirror on, it can result in some bad slowdown. If it weren’t for the slowdown, this game would receive a perfect score.
Speaking of perfect scores, whoever out there is criticizing the games soundtrack (IGN, Gamepro, etc.) should be taken out into the streets during a live street race. [Editor smashes earn extra points] I love the soundtrack, and the idea of converting it into a virtual radio/CD player is pure genius. What’s even better is the fact that you can create your own CD with your choice of any of the 27 tracks. And whenever the radio is played, the environment sounds perfect. I will admit though, there are times when I will load up my Internet radio so I can play more Japanese tracks for the Tokyo courses, but it’s only a small gripe.
For a game that took almost two years to come out, MSR follows the trend of games like Starcraft, taking its own sweet time to make a quality product. Only the slowdown prevents this game from getting a perfect score. It still warrants 4 1/2 gems for a job well done!