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A.P.I Review: S.C.A.R.S.
Developer: Vivid Image OPTIONS: S.SHOT
SCREENSHOTS:
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: Ubisoft 1-4 Player
Game Type: Racing Memory Card
Review Date: November 1998 Analog/Dual Shock Compatible

Setting the Scene

S.C.A.R.S., Super Computer Animal Racing Simulation is Ubisoft's attempt at breaking into the popular racing genre on Playstation. While playing I found that certain other titles popped into my head; Wipeout, Mario Cart and Circuit Breakers. Although not easily compared to any of these SCARS lands firmly in the hole left by these titles.

Being one of the few split screen 4 player racer on Playstation, the developers are obviously attempting to carve a niche for themselves in the genre by combining the traditional buggy racing game with a touch of combat and silky smooth graphics. Also about to be released on Nintendo 64, SCARS is bound to make an impact on both platforms.

Genre

It's a Split-Screen, 4-player combat racing game.

Graphics

To start off let's jump right to the important stuff. By departing from the path blazed by Micro Machines and Circuit Breakers and taking a risk on the split-screen game, the most important question is: does the game pull off the 4 player game where others have not succeeded. The simple answer is yes. At 30fps the single player game is impressive, even more impressive is that the framerate or detail level does not drop significantly when you add 1, 2 or 3 other players.

The graphics are smooth and fast at all times and there is no noticeable slow-down anywhere in the game. There is a small amount of noticeable pop-up, mostly far in the horizon and plausibly explained by the story line that involves the game actually being played inside a super computer, which is rendering the track as required in front of you as you race.

The environments you race in are fully 3D and feature rich and varied textures, from water, lava, grass, sand and man other environments, each adding a unique flavour to the racing.

The only major problem with the graphics running at such a relatively high speed is clipping. It's highly noticeable and annoying although not many games have succeeded to maintain a framerate this high and entirely eliminate clipping. That's no excuse, but with the limitation of the Playstations three year old hardware the game is doing well to maintain the quality level.

Sounds and Effects

Nothing really special here. A mixture of mediocre droning car sounds and electronic guitar music don't really offer anything new here. Since the cars are based on animals and fish, it would have been a nice touch to add animal-like noises to the engines to break the monotony and add a little variety to the standard racing sounds of screeching tires and over-reving engines.

The lack of any sort of commentary also detracts from the enjoyment of the game and would have been a simple, yet effective addition.

Playability

As with most racing games, SCARS has you racing against a bunch (that's the official term for a collection of animal-based vehicles, because I say so!). You start the game by selecting which track to race on and which car to drive.

Initially only two of the 9 tracks are available to race on. As you compete and win races more are unlocked. The tracks are typically varied in their environments and layout, from deserts to lakes and mountains to lava spewing volcanoes, all providing unique and interesting challenges.

Likewise, only four of the 9 cars are initially available to select. More cars are unlocked as you win each race. The vehicles seem to be an hybrid of cars and animals, explained by the cover story that the whole game is played inside a super computer. It's not really explained just why a supercomputer would amuse itself by racing little buggies around a track instead of instigating thermonuclear war, but that's the story. Each vehicle has attributes that effect the handling, grip, acceleration, weapons and armour. The level of each depending on what animal the vehicle is based on. For example, the car based on the elephant is slow but well armoured and armed, inversely, the Mantis car is fast and agile, but not too good in a stand up fight.

The handling of the cars is simply brilliant, not too much attention has been paid to realism but the power-slide method of racing has been implemented very well. Reminiscent of Mario Kart, you spend most of the time racing sideways, wheels spinning and dust flying. Hitting the edges of the track is also not a major problem, as it should be in a fun racing game.

The track is also littered with many weapon pick ups, ranging from the usual laser/missile blast. There are also some new and exotic items. Some of the more interesting weapons are the road block, which gets shot out in front of your car and sets up a blockage in the road that you must avoid. A flying magnet which can temporarily immobilize the hapless victim and a hot potato type bomb which is passed from car to car for 30 seconds. You hope you're not he one holding it when it goes off.

While combat plays a large part in the game, it doesn't seriously hinder your ability to race. Many of the weapons are merely intended to slow you down temporarily and most of the time you can remain competitive throughout the race, no matter how many times you get hit.

All this winning and unlocking is a huge hindrance to multi-player enjoyment, especially if all you want to do is jump right in and get into it. Having the choice of 5 cars and 2 tracks is a little boring for 4 players to handle. Cheat codes may eleviate this problem, but not until they're released.

There are three main play modes in SCARS, Grand Prix, Challenge and Time Attack. In Grand Prix mode you choose one of the available vehicles and race against a mix of human and computer controlled cars in a series of races to see who is the best, you must come in the top 3 each time to progress. The challenge mode involved you challenging the locked cars, mainly in an effort to beat them to unlock them. This is a challenge, as the name suggests, because invariably the locked cars are faster and more agile than yours. The Time Attack mode is the usual time based challenge where you race against the clock in order to set lap and race records.

Overall, the game a fun to play, like a cross between Wipeout (for the combat and speed elements) and Mario Kart (for the driving style). It is a fun ride, but there just seems to be something missing from the multi-player modes.

Value for Money

With a total of 9 tracks to race to race on, and the same number of different vehicles to race with there should be plenty of variety to hold your interest. The multi-player options will, as always, add a lot of longevity to this title since there's nothing more fun than battling it out with a few mates.

The only problem here is that you must first play through the majority of the single player games in order to unveil the locked cars and tracks, which, if all you want to do is jump in and have a blast, can be quite disheartening.

Opinion
CHRIS
GRAPHICS: 17/20 It's not that I enjoy giving games bad reviews, I know how much time and effort the developers put into creating a game and it is obvious that the developers have spent a lot of time getting SCARS where it is now.

Unfortunately, I'm not really impressed, something just didn't click, even after persuading some friends to have a go at the 4 player game none of the participants were tripping over each other to have another go. In fact, quite the opposite, it was an effort to finish a race and they were more likely to be running for the door than scrambling for a controller.

So, the bottom line? Remembering that this is entirely my opinion and yours may vary, but I don't like SCARS. Nor did the three people I conned into playing with me, which is unusual. Oh Well!
SOUND: 6/10
PLAYABILITY: 41/50
VALUE: 12/20
OVERALL 76%

 

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