Super computers, animals, and racing
If ever there was a time not to release a futuristic racing game, then that time is surely now. With Wipeout 64, Extreme-G 2 and the sublime F-Zero X all competing for whatever spare cash Britain's gamers have got left once Zelda, Turok 2 and a memory expansion pak have been subtracted from this month's pay packet, anything that's less than awesome is simply going to get trampled underfoot in the Christmas rush.
Ubt Soft have decided to brave it though, confident that Scars has the multiplayer battle-racing appeal to capture the heart and minds - not to mention pressie money - of the hundreds of thousands of N64 owners who'll be looking for something different to play as the long nights draw in and the carol singers come a-scrounging.
But can Scars cut it against such heavyweight competition? Did it fill the office with seasonal animal racing cheer? Did it have us clustered around the TV for late night battles at the expense of the latest thrilling goings on in EastEnders? Or did we just go home early for a warming bowl of pea soup and a nice cup of tea? Here's where you're going to find out...
Cars is a game with a dual personality. On the one hand it's a brash, arrogant poser, the coolest guy in town, cruising around in a convertible Merc with the stereo pumping, gold medallions gleaming In the sun. On the other hand, if you look a little closer, you'll see that those gold medallions are just chocolate coins, tied on with tinsel, listen harder, and beneath the thumping beats of Fatboy Slim and the Propellerheads, you might just be able to make out the faint strains of Barbie Girl.
The game is particularly strong on visual appeal. The tracks look about as solid as it's possible for polygon models to get. and they twist, turn, and dip enough to disguise any unnecessary pop-up without resorting to fogging They look nicely varied too, not just between courses, but from one comer to the next, thanks to the large number of different textures used and the amount of trackside detail. The cars are equally convincing, thanks to the nice shiny highlights on them and despite the clunky sprites used for the wheels. There's a good headlight effect thrown in as well which can be dipped or full beam, although it's never quite as realistic as the one in V-Rally.
The problem is that it can all seem a bit superficial. The cars are pleasingly chunky and they look like they've been buffed up with a vat of Turtle Wax. but they've got no real personality The tracks are big, brash, and beautiful, but none of them present anything like the sort of heart-pounding racing challenge seen throughout F-Zero X. Sometimes it's all too easy to tell, when a course is sending you on an awkward 180' downwards spiral, that it's not a cunning gameplay device but an attempt to prevent the camera from displaying too many objects on the screen at once and slowing the whole thing down Okay, so nobody wants a racing game that chugs along when it comes to a complicated part of the track, but perhaps a little less detail in the graphics would have freed the designers to create more 'pure' racing sections - a few tricky S-bends, critical lumps, and so on.
Maybe the technical limits imposed on Hie course design wouldn't have mattered so much if the cars handled more assertively. Some real bite when cornering wouldn't have gone amiss, and the sweeping bends are just begging for something like the famous joystick-waggling turbo turn - a Mario Kart feature which has, uniquely, never been copied by anyone else.
To its credit, Scars borrows plenty of other bits from Mario Kart and Vivid Image's own Street Racer, and it's these moments which save the game from a one-way ticket to Dullsville and make it a reasonable alternative to the likes of Wipeout 64 and Extreme G 2.
First and foremost, the multiplayer game is finely judged and well balanced. There's a catch-up handicap system to prevent anyone from building up too much of a lead, so slower players will find their speed boosted when they drop off the pace. Weapons are chosen by the player, not the computer, so the player in first place can pick up the same power-ups as the player in last - some of them are of little use if you're in front, and others work best when you're in the middle ol a pack of cars. Also, the way the different cats suit different playing styles and abilities is a nice touch, and one which is seldom
Secondly, the solo game is difficult enough to prevent you whizzing through it on the first day or two. The races are always closely fought and the boss cars race an almost perfect race every time, so expert use of weaponry is essential. Once the game has been beaten and all four hidden cars have been collected, there's always the option increase the game speed to Master level, and the time trial mode to add a long term challenge.
And finally, there's the appeal of the spartcly, spangly graphics While the hardware-spanking visuals haven't exactly helped add to the gameplay, at least it means there's always something pretty to look at. UFOs, flashing lights, floaty underwater stuff, and an excellent shark in a fishtank, amongst other things.
Just watch out those medallions don't melt down the front of your nice silk shirt.
Scars is best appreciated as a multiplayer game. All four players can choose to be the same car, so there are no arguments over who gets to play as the little quick one and who gets stuck with the fat slow one. Actually, fat and slow can be an advantage, as the heavily armoured cars don't lose as much speed when they get shot.
Nippy lightweight cars are for players who are confident of building up an early lead and staying out of trouble, but the cars behind get an automatic speed boost thanks to the handicapping system. We favour the lion and mammoth cars, for their ability to withstand collisions, and the panther for its blistering pace.
- Seeker - Fires a deadly, purple homing streak towards any car in front or behind. The longer you charge it up. the more lethal the purpleness. A real crowd pleaser.
- Boomerang - Fires a single shot three times, or three shots together, depending on how much you charge it up. Vanishes very quickly if it doesn't get a lock-on.
- Stinger - Fires a crackling blue electricity thing, which sits on the road waiting for a foolish computer car to blunder into it Humans never fall for it.
- Bullets - Very handy, and very common. The standard bullet is the best way of knocking the wind out of any opponents following close behind.
- Stopper - Two no entry signs, with blue 'leccy in between. Almost exactly the same as the stinger, except it can stop more than one car before it disappears.
- Magnet - The last thing you want to run into, as it lifts you off the track for a moment and ruins your race. Deadlier than a FuSoYa fridge magnet review.
- Time Bomb - Play pass-the-parcel with the bomb before the timer reaches zero. The trick is to leave it right until the last moment, then pass and.. Bang! Ho ho ho.
- Turbo - Gives your either three short bursts of speed or one massive one that'll have you bouncing all over the track. Or, sneakily, two babies and a big 'un.
- Shield - Prevents you from firing any other weapons. If you see yourself heading towards a shield icon, slam on the handbrakes pronto. Dumptastic!
As you progress through the cup competitions, more of the game's nine courses become available. The later tracks tend to have multiple alternative routes and hard-to-spot shortcuts, and the computer cars aren't limited in terms of whether they choose to take the easiest route or go for the shortcuts on the last lap. To squeeze every last bit of gameplay out of the tracks, they're often repeated with different weather conditions or in mirror mode during a cup competition. You can also select a custom cup, with any combination of the available tracks and conditions you want.
The cars are all based on real, genuine, honest-to-goodness animals, from sharks to mammoths, scorpions to rhinos. There are five available to begin with, and four hidden ones which are unlocked by beating them in an animal-on-animal showdown. To earn the right to challenge one of the hidden cars you'll have to notch up first place in the appropriate cup competition. If you beat the hidden car it'll be saved to your controller pak and you'll be able to take it into the next cup series, time trial, or multiplayer race.
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Get the Band -Aids ready, 'cause SCARS has arrived!
In the future, apparently, the world will be run by a group of massively powerful super-computers, who for reasons best known to themselves decided to create and race a variety of unique cars. Each car is modelled on a different wild animal.
That's the story (more or less) behind Super Computer Animal Racing Simulation - or SCARS for the more monosyllabic among us. What this futuristic storyline means to you, the player, is that you get to race nine radically different vehicles over nine radically different tracks. Which can't be bad.
Cut Up Your Opponents!
The cars in the game are based - so the PR blurb states - on "some of nature's most ruthless killers". And seven of the vehicles are modelled on some pretty deadly creatures indeed. There's the Lion LK, the Tiger Shark, the Mantis V-Twin, the Scorpio X-2, the GT Cobra, the Cheetah V12 and the Phantom Panther. However, the remaining two, the Rhino Roadster and the Mammoth 4x4 are hardly based on what you would call 'ruthless killers'. The rhino is a basically a herbivore that, aside from a tendency to charge tourist jeeps that it short sightedly mistakes for sexual rivals, is a fairly peaceful creature. And the mammoth... well, that was just a big woolly elephant!
These animalistic inaccuracies aside, there's little else that can be faulted in SCARS. The cars are all beautifully designed and each of them has different categories of armour, speed and weapons, making the choice of vehicle an important aspect of each race.
The tracks themselves are excellent. Each has a different theme, ranging from Aztec to underwater and they all contain а-number of different routes which give you more freedom in the way that you race.
The PSX version of SCARS was described by some PlayStation rag or other as "Mario Kart for the PlayStation,"but this isn't really accurate. FOr starters, SCARS is a lot better than Mario Kart. The major difference between the popular plumber's racing game and SCARS is that while the tracks in Mario Kart are fairly flat, the ones in SCARS most definitely aren't. They range over mountainous, winding terrain that gives the whole game something of a rallycross feel. As a result the vehicles handle more like beach buggies than cars, bouncing and jumping around all over the place.
One Mario Kart-esque feature that Is in the game is the use of weapons. Various pick-ups allow you to blast, trap and overturn your opponents and of course let them do the same to you. It's also possible to customise the selection of weapons available each race or turn them off completely for a pure racing experience.
There are nine cars in all, although you start with just five - the others must be earned in Challenge mode. The tracks - of which there are also nine - can be played in both normal and mirror mode, effectively giving you 18 different courses to choose from.
Multiplayer mode Is excellent. Sadly only six of the nine tracks are accessible in four-player games and the level of detail is slightly lower, but the speed of the gameplay and the smoothness of the animation more than makes up for these losses.
Basically, SCARS is an excellent racing game. It's definitely the best four-player racer for the N64 involving wheeled vehicles and if you want an exciting one-player game with a great multiplayer mode then buy this today!
2nd rating opinion
SCARS didn't really excite me, I'm afraid. The different terrains and weird cars are good to look at, but in the one-player game the wide tracks and plentiful weapons don't set the pulse racing. Multiplayer is more fun, but it's not an essential buy.
Futuristic racer with animals and super computers. A missed opportunity.