On paper, Roadsters looks like a surefire recipe for disaster. It uses an engine taken from the desperately average Automobili Lamborghini and its developers are from the same team that foolishly believed Superman was any good. By rights, this game should be utter bunkum.
But it's not. In fact Roadsters is a bit of a result for the French softies, whose history is littered with some of the worst games the world has ever seen. Okay, so it's no World Driver, but it is thigh - slappingly fine all the same, with some spot-on handling, loads of gleaming sports cars and, best of all, the opportunity to upgrade your machinery and wheeler-deal. Scorching.
Things start off fairly low key, though. You've won nothing so you've got no money, meaning you can only just about afford the entry fee for the competition and one of the fair-to- middling Category С cars (unsurprisingly, category A and В are where the real eye- bleeding speeds start to appear, but until you've got a couple of seasons under your belt - and some much-needed cash - they'll be way out of your price range). Each season is made up of six tracks and, although you don't have to come first in every race to progress to the next course, you do have to have come first overall to move onto the next season. The more competitions you win, the more money you earn, which can mean only one thing: more new cars.
The first few hours of Roadsters, then, can seem like a bit of a slog. CPU cars start off with high-powered vehicles so they're never struggling for speed, whereas you're often left behind in your piddly Alfa Romeo with its top speed of 117mph. However, some canny racing around the game's superbly designed courses (and some minor adjustments to your engine, exhaust, wheels and gears) soon sees your wallet filling up. But it's not until you get started on the game's third season - with two newly unlocked tracks and the Category В cars opened up The (including the ace Porsche look-a-like) - that things really start to kick off.
It's also at this point that Roadsters gets fast. Replaying the same tracks - albeit with slightly varying weather conditions - could have been a bind, but new cars mean new top speeds, and when Roadsters really ramps up the speed, corners, bends and chicanes you hadn't even noticed before start appearing. A secondary bonus is that the CPU cars are lip-tremblingly aggressive throughout, shunting you off the track, trying to swerve in front of you, sometimes even demonstrating pure unadulterated evil itself by shoving you unceremoniously into the pits as you make your way towards the finish line. You'll scream and swear at the screen, and maybe even lob your controller across# the room, but it makes for a fabulous five laps worth of racing.
The fact that Roadsters gets better the more you play, though, means you'll also start noticing its faults. Undoubtedly the worst is that, when you're lagging behind, all the CPU cars out front seem to travel at the same speed as you, so it's almost impossible to catch up once you've made a few mistakes. Conversely, if you complete a lap at the front of the pack, you'll inexplicably just start pulling away so that, by the time you've finished the course, you're about a lap and a half in front. Fortunately, a lot of your time in the first few laps is spent battling it out in the middle of the eight cars, so this stunningly obvious oversight tends not to have too much bearing.
Equally niggly is the problem of grass and sand, in fact any sort of siding, stopping you dead. Straying off the course is a frequent occurrence as the corners and hairpins become more difficult so watching your wheels grind to a bum-tightening halt time after time is like having your eyes slowly scooped out of your head. It hurts. Quite how this feature ended up on Titus' Things To Include list is a mystery of Arthur С Clarke proportions, but it found its way into the game all the same.
Luckily, the more you play, the better you get to know the courses and apart from a season of slippedy-slidey snowy weather, you'll mostly be able to avoid those hateful sidings.
Which leaves Roadsters as a top notch racing game. Even if it's not perfect, it's still brilliantly fast, commendably smooth and heavy with options - including a technically very tidy multiplayer mode. So, get World Driver first, and if you've got some change left, get this too.
In Season One, you'll only be able to choose from Category С cars, though you can chop and change between vehicles as you want. You'll also only have the standard six tracks to race on, with all but one of them sporting dry and cloudy weather. That'll soon change, mind.
Winning the Season One championship means you'll unlock two extra courses - Docklands and Lumber Mill - and the far more pleasing Category В cars. There'll be four returning tracks from the first season, but now they'll be affected by different weather conditions.
No more courses, but a change in weather conditions or time of day, and Category A cars could be within reach if you've earned enough money from Season Two's championship. More likely is that you'll play another season with В cars and then go for the 100 grand A's.
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The future is definitely looking bright for top class N64 driving games. Following the ultra-high standard set by F1 World Grand Prix and V-Rally. Titus's semi-sequel to Automobili Lamborghini looks set to provide, at the very least, some of the best graphics yet seen in a console racer.
Roadsters 99 features a selection of more than 20 vehicles, all modelled closely on desirable sporty things like the Renault Spyder and Porschc Boxster. The attention to detail even extends to the drivers of the cars, who can be seen through the transparent windows, relaxing with the air conditioning on, or poking their heads up from the luxurious cabriolet models - a neat touch reminiscent of Porsche Challenge on the PlayStation. Customisation fans are catered for by the ability to mix and match different drivers and cars, affecting handling and top speed.
Another idea lifted from a top PlayStation racer is the replay mode, which adds subtle graphical enhancements and dramatic camera work, although even the in-game visuals come with advanced features such as light-sourcing, reflections, and specular highlighting as standard.
Titus have addressed one of Automobili Lamborghini's biggest problems - the fact that it was rubbish - and consequently Roadsters 99 is smoother, faster, and handles so much better than its predecessor that you'd never even guess they were ever related. There are currently ten tracks to play with, including day/night races and variable weather conditions, and swarms of competitors to weave your way through at high speed. The multiplayer mode promises to offer more than just the usual straight racing fare, although Titus won't reveal anything other than the fact that it'll be "different".
Well, we won't have to wait too long to find out just how good the game is, as it's currently scheduled for release early next year. That's 1999. folks. How time flies.