3-D Ultra Radio Control Racers

a game by Sierra
Genre: Racing
Platform: PC
Editor Rating: 6/10, based on 1 review
User Rating: 7.0/10 - 2 votes
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Overview

You know how some trends seem to be circular in nature? Take fashion and music from the 70’s... we’re just at the tail end of that unwanted return. Not only did bell-bottoms come back, but they've carried it even further -- most kids’ big pants are bell-bottoms all the way up past the waistline. I myself can’t wait until the parachute pants, British flag muscle-T’s, and big blue combs that say "Sassy" come back into high fashion. Until then, I will rest easy as it looks like we are seeing the same sort of resurgence in gaming. More and more new games seem to be going back to the tried and true mixture of fun and substance versus the oft sought after mixture of high cost and system requirements.

Sierra’s 3-D Ultra line of games seems to be aimed squarely at this level. Specifically Radio Control Racers (RCR) seems to grab the same sort of excitement I had experienced with Super Sprintin the arcades (remember that game with the steering wheel that continuously spun so you could spin broadies across the track?). Additionally RCR definitely owes its lineage to the fine NES game, RC Pro AM. Top this off with a price point below $20, and you have a title that almost can’t go wrong.

Gameplay, Controls, Interface

RCR is about as simple as it gets as far as getting down to business. Pick a race mode, one of the eight tracks, a vehicle type, and go. RCR’s success lies in the simplicity and the addictive nature of the game.

Each of these races takes place on eight tracks that vary from a construction yard all the way to a back yard complete with maniacal garden gnomes armed with cherry bombs. The vehicles of choice are the requisite R/C plastic body on a noisy gas-powered chassis. You have four to choose from: the Monster Truck, Stadium Truck, Baja Bug, and Buggy. There are differences in how each of these vehicles handles; however, all are close enough to each other that, in time, one can master any track with any vehicle. Additionally each of these vehicles comes with a different paint job to help you personalize your racer on the track. If you download the latest patch from Sierra, you can also customize each of these vehicles using any old paint program. Kids should have a blast doing this... I certainly did.

You have three different play modes: race the computer, race the circuit, and race against a friend. Racing against the computer allows you to pretty much practice each of the tracks (against competition or not) before entering into a circuit. The racing circuit doesn’t stray too far from similar games, but does offer the added twist of having to compete within events. Each race in the four individual circuits starts with a qualifying race -- you not only vie for position, but your lap time places you in one of four main events. Since there are 16 racers vying for the trophy, your goal is to qualify within the top four. Anything less and you’re knocked down into the next event where the prizes aren’t as lucrative. This not only adds to the longevity of the game (as it is going to take you a long time to get to the top), but adds an additional twist that some games often leave out.

As you succeed in each of the circuits you are given the opportunity to spend your winnings and improve the performance of your vehicle. Now don’t think that you are going to have to worry about gear ratios, tire-inflation values, or obscure engine parts. This isn’t one of those geeky "I should have been a pit-stop mechanic" games. You simply increase the performance of your motor, shocks, and tires. This is done with a set of bar graphs that rate each area -- that’s as complicated as it gets.

Now take all of the above and again remind yourself that you can have all this for under twenty bucks. You probably should stop reading and go get it. Right? Well, keep reading because it only gets better.

If you played RC Pro AM on the Nintendo you will remember that a lot of the fun came from the "power-ups" that existed in the game. While RCR doesn’t make you spell out N-I-N-T-E-N-D-O, it does lend itself to basically the same idea made popular in RC Pro AM and later on in the Mariocart series. Scattered around the track are little pyramids that give the racer an added edge over the other players. Pick up the Turbo Boost and it well... you go faster for a short time. The Bottle Rocket will allow you to launch a frontal assault on whichever car is unlucky enough to be in the lead. The Electro Shock will fry the crud out of any car that dares to pass you (slowing them down considerably). The Fire Cracker allows you to spit a lit BlackCat out of your tail pipe to send a hapless competitor flying if they hit it. The Oil Slick causes others to spin out of control if they come across it. And finally, the Ghost Drive allows you to be impervious to any of the above tortures for a short amount of time. Each of these power-ups are short acting, but plentifully scattered around each track. This is the actual edge that adds so much to the game. For RC Racing purists, you probably should go outside and do the actual thing.

If the power-ups don’t excite you, the actual track design should. These aren’t your boring parking-cone tracks laid out in your church’s parking lot. These are radically designed (almost) real-world locations. From a simple figure-eight set inside a frog pond to the elaborate Ultimate R/C track. Each of these presents the player with interesting and often hilarious obstacles that real R/C cars might run into (and quite a few that would never happen). Drive in water that is too deep and you have an almost uncontrollable car until the electrical system dries out. Take the corner a little too close to Fido’s bone and he’ll come out of his house and rip you a new one. Get your timing wrong and the garden gnome may send your car careening through the air with his well-aimed cherry bomb. Each of these adds enough challenge that you are often beat not by the competition, but by the track itself. Again if this stuff isn’t your cup of tea, you can turn some of these "interactive hazards" off by using a cheat code... but I’m not going to give it away. My only problem is that I didn’t feel that there were enough tracks. We can hope that the success of this game will urge Sierra to post additional tracks or start working on the sequel in short order.

Control in RCR is quite good... at least for the first player. You can use the mouse, the keyboard, a gamepad, or a force feedback controller. These all work fine, although I didn’t get a chance to hook up a force feedback steering wheel to play this game. I did however break out my UltraRacer PC from InterAct. This is that doozy of a controller that acts and looks very similar to most R/C controllers. RCR screamed for this controller (thank goodness at least one game does). RCR worked wonderfully using this analog controller while still holding it’s own with a digital gamepad. My one true gripe was the trouble I had getting two controllers to work at the same time. It wasn’t until applying the patch (which specifically addresses this issue) that I was happy and at "one" again with my UltraRacer PC.

Multiplayer

The multiplayer mode, at least to me, isn’t what it could have been. This game almost screams for some sort of Internet play where you could add additional tracks and sponsor circuits of your own. Given the simplistic nature of the game, I am even willing to bet that bandwidth wouldn’t have been an issue given that you could limit the number of cars. Hey Sierra, if you can make the NASCAR series playable over the net, why not this? However, you do get a nice split screen mode that seems to work well. Although it limits the mayhem to just two people, it does add to the longevity of this game.

Graphics

If you have ever played Sierra’s other 3-D Ultra titles, namely the Pinball and Mini-Golf series, you would instantly recognize the style of graphics that is present in RCR. The graphics seem exceptional within the goals of the game without going overboard with so many of the popular effects that you end up losing the game within a stylized light show.

The tracks themselves are nicely rendered two-dimensional backdrops. Although decidedly not "3-D Ultra," they are beautifully rendered to give the impression of a three-dimensional playing field. The cars themselves are 3D, but not overly done. The illusion created with the 3D cars interacting with the 2D backdrop is pulled off quite well.

I guess what I’m saying here is that this game has exactly the quality of graphics and graphical style that it needs to be successful. This is hard to describe as a lot of games tend to go overboard in this area when it isn’t warranted. The pleasure here is in the gameplay... and not in trying to live up to the "3-D Ultra" moniker. That’s not to say the graphics aren’t up to par, they are perfect for what they are.

Audio

To tell you the truth, other than one minor nit-pick (which I’ll get to below), I had to actually quit writing this review and go back in and listen to the audio to fill this section out. I honestly didn’t remember much either positive or negative about the sound or music. Going back with this in mind, I can now say that the sound fits into the game the same way the graphics do. It’s perfect. No 3D surround sound and no environmental effects to totally envelop you into the "world of R/C racing." What you do get is distinctive sound in each of the tracks (obstacles often have their own sound effects) and an announcer that adds a little bit of excitement.

My only complaint is in the generic gas-powered sound loop that Sierra used for the engine sounds. These don’t go in line with what the vehicles are doing and often sound more like small chain-saws than anything like a R/C car. This didn’t take away from the game though, it’s just something I noticed.

System Requirements

Minimum: Pentium 90, 32 MB RAM, 4X CDROM

Recommended: Pentium 200, 64 MB RAM, 16X CDROM

Wow, when is the last time that you found a title that would run on a P200, let alone a P90?

Documentation

Conveniently tucked into the CD-ROM case is a snazzy little manual that teaches you all that is needed to know about RCR. Combine that with the quick reference card and you have all that you need. Where the documentation really shines is in the material that can be found on the website for RCR off Sierra's site. Here you will find Hints and Tips, the cheat codes, the latest patch (a must have when playing with multiple controllers) and links to "real" R/C racing sites. For a $20 game, Sierra seems to have gone way out in furthering this game.

You know what though? This website would be a great place to add additional tracks... Please?

Bottom Line

I think my decision here came not from my enjoyment, but from my wife’s enjoyment of the game. It kinda went like this...

"Whatcha doing?" she asked when I was into my third straight hour.

"Playing this RC Racing game for a review. It’s like that RC Pro Am game we used to play on the Nintendo", I replied.

"Wow, really? My turn!"

After another hour of some head-to-head play, and a lot of her playing solo as I begged to have my computer back, she looked at me with tears in her eyes and said finally, "I’m done."

I asked her why she was crying... was she reminiscing back to her gaming past?

"No," she said, "I don’t think I’ve blinked my eyes for an hour, this game is so fun..."

So with that I decided to let her pick the score, which you see above.

If Sierra decides to add some additional tracks (again please? :) ) and maybe some online play via WON.net, I will gladly add more points to that score (as would she).

If you want to show your kids what gaming used to be like, before the likes of first-person shooters and real-time resource collecting games... introduce them to Radio Control Racers. If they seem put off by the simplistic nature, tell them that the drivers are assuredly wearing big baggy pants and each bottle-rocket hit counts as a "frag."

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