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A.P.I Review: CIRCUIT BREAKERS
Developer: Mindscape OPTIONS: S.SHOT
SCREENSHOTS:
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: Mindscape 1-4 Player
Game Type: Racing Memory Card
Review Date: September 1998 Analog Compatible

Setting the Scene

Originally scheduled for release before Christmas '97, Circuit
Breakers has suffered from various development delays, so they tell us, but has
finally hit the shelves. Is this sequel to Supersonic Racers worth the wait and
has it got the potential to knock Micro Machines v3 from the top of the heap of
mini-racers? For the answers to these question and more, read on.  Circuit
Breakers is a racing game where you get to control some wacky looking vehicles
around some equally crazy but interesting race tracks set in many different
environments. While not exactly a mini-racer Circuit Breakers has the same look
and feel of Micro Machines so the comparison is inevitable so I won't even
bother fighting the urge to compare the two games.   The biggest feature of
Circuit Breakers, as with other games in this genre, is the multi-player
capabilities. You can play by yourself and progress through a series of races to
test your skills against seven computer opponents or grab three friends (soon to
be enemies) and battle your way through up to 16 colorful and detailed levels.

Genre

Begging the comparison with Micro Machines, while it has some features
that set it apart, this game fits the 3D mini-racer genre.

Graphics

The first thing you will notice while playing this game is the speed.
Circuit Breakers is not as fast and frantic as MMv3, but still runs at a very
smooth 25 fps and always manages to keep the frame rate up, despite the amount
of movement that can be going on within the screen at any given time. While
25fps is not exactly fast by modern standards the  graphics are impressive
enough at this speed.   You have a choice between 4 types of cars to drive. 
Each vehicle has  a unique appearance and are realistically rendered and shaded.
The extenuated features of the cars you drive fits in perfectly with the  feel
of the game. You can drive either a mini with fat tyres, wacky  racer style
speedsters, crazy looking retro F1 car or an Italian  looking sleek roadster.
The intention of these style of cars is not  to appear realistic but comical. 
The colors, shading and animation  of the cars all work perfectly to give this
effect.  The different environments you race in also appear smooth and realistic
at all times with excellent use of shading and texture mapping. There is no
obvious pop-up or clipping as you tear around the race tracks and clever use of
fogging effects give the illusion of distance as your car races into and out of
the screen. Some of the tracks in the game take place on, or below, water.  The
graphics in these environments are just  as smooth as their on-road
counterparts, but with bubbles and waves in  place of smoke and burn outs. The
occasional lens flare also adds to the semi-realism that the game graphics are
based upon.  One interesting feature is the loading screens.  While the game is
loading  either tracks or menus a darkened tunnel is displayed containing your
chosen car which you can steer from left to right.  It's nothing you would call 
really stunning but it is highly original and far more entertaining than a 
spinning CD or running Hedgehog.   Then only noticeable problem with the
graphics is the occasional slow down which happens when there are 8 cars on the
screen at the same time. While not regular enough to be annoying, it is there
and cannot be ignored.  It would not really be fair to compare the graphics in
Circuit Breakers  to Micro Machines. They have an altogether different style. 
Overall the  graphics are excellent, the cars, tracks and background are all
very  impressive and the speed of the game is kept up at all times.

Sounds and Effects

Imagine the music you would like to hear if you were driving a crazy
looking mini cooper with fat wheels around a twisting alpine road, trying
desperately to stay on the track as 7 other drivers are trying their hardest to
knock you off. Now add engine sounds as the gears changes, the crunching of
bodywork as you belt into your opponents and you have the music and effects of
Circuit Breakers.  I would have to describe the in-race music as 'Playful
Dance-techno', I'm not sure that's an actual genre of music but it's the only
one that fits. The thumping back beat is obvious but the tempo and other musical
effects that are added serve to lighten the feel of the music and provide an
excellent background for the racing action.  Aside from the standard engine and
racing sounds there isn't really much to sing about as far as effects go. The
most impressive thing about the effects in the game is how the sound changes
depending on which surface your car is currently racing on. Take to the road and
your tyres will screech, onto wooden slats and you car will shudder and shake,
underwater and you'll hear the rotation of your propellers as you slip through
the water. 

Playability

It has been proven time and time again, if you strip out all the fancy
graphics, trendy music from popular bands and all the media hype it's the
gameplay that is really important. Some games just wouldn't sell without these
props. Unfortunately it works in the reverse, some games that have brilliant
gameplay will lie gathering dust on the shelves.  Hopefully Circuit Breakers
will not be one of those casualties because it  has all the ingredients that
make a brilliant game, and it would be shameful  to see it go unnoticed.   Let
me explain... Play starts in the Vehicle Selection Arena (VHA) where you drive a
little colored potato from a ledge at the front of the screen down to an arena
with various silhouettes of cars on the floor. You steer your little potato
mobile to your chosen silhouette and stop, your car is then selected. There are
four types of car but since each car handles exactly the same there is really
only one car to choose from with 4 different graphic styles. This isn't really a
problem since it would be unfair to give a particular car an advantage over the
rest and the game is nicely balanced with each being identical. Be warned now,
if you play in a group of friends, go directly to the Mini Cooper silhouette
because this is bound to be the most popular shape, the others seem a little
dull by comparison (and Mr. Bean would surely be proud of you).  In single
player mode, after you have chosen your car, simply drive through to the Track
Selection Area where you initially have the choice of 4 tracks  representing 4
routes you can progress though. Once you choose a track your  little car is
shown driving down a dark tunnel where you have the choice of  racing in a World
Series or Time Trial race by steering to the left or right  lane. The World
Series races are fought out with seven CPU controlled  opponents which you must
defeat in order to progress to the next circuit.  Time trial is played in much
the same way except you must finish each track  in a given time to progress. 
There are eight different environments in which you can race:    * The desert
sands of Egypt where you must negotiate ancient       structures raised
platforms and tunnels.    * The Swamps, where you car is magically transformed
into a       boat and you must power your way through the wetlands.    *
Highways where you race on more traditional roads.    * The Arctic presents you
with either an icy track or a       snow-covered road, very slippery when wet.  
 * Dusty Canyons where you will race from great heights into       deep valleys
attempting not to fall off the edge and become       just another statistic.   
* Historic Venice, where once again you car is transformed       into a boat and
you must navigate the tight canals of Venice.    * Underwater, where you race on
old shipwrecks and the oceans       waters.  Luckily your car has been given
propellers and turned       into a submarine to race here.  While all the
environments are fun, the best one (by popular opinion) is the Canyons.  The
greatest feature is the very steep drops and climbs, and the feeling of speed as
you charge down a giant hill is amazing. The least enjoyable tends to be the
water based ones.  The submarines tracks are fast and furious but the water
surface races are a little frustrating  and can thankfully be avoided.  Control
of your little vehicle is easy and intuitive.  Even the least skilled driver can
pick up a controller and be competitive.  The analog control support helps a
little but isn't really necessary. Luckily, this game isn't about driving skills
otherwise it would quickly lose its appeal to the more experienced race fans
(since anyone should beat them  with a little slice of luck). While skill does
play a small role it takes  a back seat to dirty tactics, backstabbing and plain
bad sportsmanship.   This is where the game begins to really shine. Using your
vehicle as a  weapon to knock other players off the track is the most enjoyable
aspect  of Circuit Breakers.  However, I recommend that people who bruise easily
 should avoid playing this game too often since most tactics may result in 
physical violence of some sort.   The AI for the computer players is just as
evil and vile as you would expect a human player to be.  Given the chance they
would rather kill themselves and take you out with them rather than win a race
by fair means.  The CPU players also get a huge advantage at the beginning of
each race. The staggered starting grid means the human players vehicle always
begins  at the back of the grid, which means most races are spent playing
catch-up. Luckily, you're better than they are, but are you nastier?  Another
fun feature of the game is the track layout.  From each track you can actually
see parts of another track which you can race on. For example, you can race on
the bottom of the sea around the hull of a wrecked ship.  On another track you
actually race on top of the ship and can see the other track below.  An easily
missed but novel detail.  As mentioned before, racing is fun and furious.  This
is helped along by the strategic placement of power-ups, or stunts as the game
calls them. Stunts are items you pick up on the track and use against your
fellow racer in order to blow them up, put them off or generally cause them to
have a bad day. Some of the most best ones involve make your car grow  to an
enormous size so you can squash the opposition or shrink to tiny  size so you
can take shortcuts to evade the other cars on the track.

Value for Money

In single player mode Circuit Breakers offers you two basic play
styles,  with 16 tracks for each, 2 for each different terrain type. Once you
have finished the single player World Series there is really no incentive to
play again. While the single player games are fun, the multi-player game is
where all the replay value lies.  The multi-player games will determine the long
term appeal of Circuit Breakers, while only supporting 4 players (compared to
MMv3's 8 players) the multi-players games are a great way to lose friends and
earn a reputation as a dirty driver.
Opinion
CHRIS
GRAPHICS: 18/20 Circuit Breakers has definitely breathed new life into this genre. The bottom line is that the game is as much (if not more) fun as Micro Machines without all the baggage.

Don't expect to find a lot of depth in the gameplay as I got pretty tired and frustrated with the single player modes in a relatively short period of time but as with Micro Machine the multi-player action is what kept me coming back for more.

Circuit Breakers is more of a 'pick up an play' game. It is simple to learn, very easy to become a great driver and is definitely a party game best suited to a group of friends sitting around the T.V. (assuming you have 4 controllers and a multi-tap) .

If you enjoyed Micro Machines v3 as much as I did you will also love Circuit Breakers as much as I do. However, your mileage may vary, and I recommend you rent before you buy (if you play it with 3 friends, I can confidently say you will want to buy it).
SOUND: 7/10
PLAYABILITY: 47/50
VALUE: 17/20
OVERALL 89%

 

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