|a game by||Synetic GmbH|
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The humble driving game has been a mainstay of the crazy, mixed-up world of interactive entertainment for as long as anyone can remember.
Ever since the advent of 'telly games', people have wanted to drive fast cars, regardless of whether they were old enough, sober enough or qualified to do so. The appeal is obvious. In games, you can drive like a madman, breaching every law there is, while showing little regard for either fellow road users or your personal safety. Of course, were you to adopt a similar approach in the real world (wherever that is), you would at best be heavily castigated, at worst decapitated in horrendous circumstances. No such worries in a game, though. A violent spill simply results in the loss of a few seconds while a magical invisible hand puts your car back on the road. What a great idea... The point? The point is that games developers are fully aware of this and have been churning out racing games on an almost daily basis for the past 20 years.
It is believed that there are currently some ten million driving games in existence, which is roughly one for every person in London. Enter game number ten million and one, Breakneck-the apt title referring to the snapping of the upper spinal column that can occur during a high-speed collision.
So what does it do differently? For starters, compared to any game more than three or four years old, it looks sensational. The advent ot 3D accelerator cards has a lot to do with it, but some time in the past few years, games went and got good.
Look At Me
A quick look at Breakneck appears to confirm this. Put simply, it looks like a car driving down a road. Other than incorporating video, it's hard to see how the graphics could be improved.
In the glorified amusement arcade that is the PC office, there is constantly some game or other being put through its paces, most of which elicit little more than an uninterested shrug from any passers-by. But while Breakneck has been on heavy rotation in the white-hot crucible of technology known as the PC test laboratory (in reality a darkened room near the kitchen), an abnormal number of people have simply had to stop and stare, often emitting some kind of vaguely orgasmic sound, with the more technically-minded muttering about frame rates. The graphics are genuinely a sensation and Breakneck must rank as one of the best-looking racing games we've seen.
The PC may have come in for a lot of criticism as a games machine but graphically, at least, it is untouchable, and Breakneck is head and shoulders above the likes of Gran Turismo. We kid you not. Breakneck is as smooth as silk, waxed with Vaseline, in a jacuzzi, smoking a cigar.
Obviously, you're going to need a fairly hefty set-up to get the best out of it - there's no point in trying to run it on your dad's word processor - but it's certainly worth the investment.
Okay, so Breakneck looks like a dream (in the cliched sense, as opposed to when you're in your back garden, except it's not really your back garden, and you've lost your shoes, and your teeth have come loose, and Anna Friel arrives just as you wake up). However, cynics will rightly point out that if you want to look at cars, you might as well sit by a dual carriageway. The elusive gameplay is all and, as other, less imaginative magazines are wont to exclaim, Breakneck has it in spades. Talking of spades (and cliches), the game moves like shit off a shovel, which provoked debate in the office about how fast shit would actually fly off a shovel. The general consensus was that it would depend on the consistency of the shit in question, not to mention the texture of the shovel (More importantly, the acceleration and linear and angular velocity of the shovel, the surrounding air density, the adhesive quotient of the shit/shovel interlace, etc -Science Ed).
If you've been reading this with your hands over the pictures, you might have assumed that Breakneck is simply a car game. No way, Jose. Try trucks, superkarts, monster trucks, Grand Prix cars, even buses, for Gawd's sake.
Essentially, what the developers have done is to make a really good racing game and then cram it with as much nifty stuff as is physically possible. There's a host of different modes, including a violent weapons-orientated option and a complicated career mode. As the nitwits in the TV Times advert used to exclaim: "I never knew there was so much in it"
On top of this, it's extremely flexible, and almost everything can be tweaked to suit your preferences. So, do we like it? Yeah, it's all right.
Establishing a whole new genre, Breakneck has you, the hapless player, pursuing heavily sedated farmyard animals and then attempting to snap their lazy necks with your bare hands. Of course it doesn't. It's a racing game. At which point it is traditional - if not compulsory - to point out that the PC has more racing games than a madman has bewildering visions. There are absolutely shedloads of them, and scientists have actually proved that if every PC racing game was laid from end to end they would stretch from all the way down to the second-hand games shop in Tottenham Court Road, which is where a sizeable proportion of them inevitably end up.
It's not that all racing games are rubbish. Far from it, in fact - the majority are excellent, it's just that there's often very little to keep you coming back for more. After a couple of days' play you've seen all the tracks, you've driven all the cars, and it's all too tempting to put the game back in the box and shamefacedly hand it over to a shop assistant in exchange for a measly 12 Pound-s, which you are then free to spend on anything of your choosing, be it strong liquor, a week's worth of Pukka pies or a selection of mucky books, all of which will probably hold your attention for longer than the average racing game.
So how is Breakneck going to register any more than a blip on the Richter scale of racing games? It's probably best if we ask someone who knows something about it. Marc Braun (no relation to Eva) is the International Producer, and he reckons it will stand out "because it has a more fluid 3D engine, especially on slower PCs. And because it has so many different game modes, it doesn't get boring."
Indeed it does (have different modes, that is). For the purist, the standard race mode simply involves tearing round a track and attempting to reach the finish line before anyone else. No surprises there. However, the so-called Fox Hunt is a different bag altogether, whereby one driver is given a ten-second head start and, like camp comedian Duncan Norvelle, invites the other contestants to "chase me". You can assume the role of either the hunter or the hunted, with points allotted according to how long you can remain in front. And there's more... If you've ever felt the need to murder other motorists, Breakneck caters for this extreme form of road rage in explosive fashion, the DeathMatch mode enabling you to load up on guns and kill your friends or, for the solo player, computer-generated opponents. The weapons are many and varied, encompassing old-fashioned tricks such as dropping oil or nails on to the track, as well as more incendiary efforts in the form of grenades, mines and homing missiles.
The array of vehicles is also vast, ranging from generic sports cars to monster trucks, superkarts and even 2CVs. But why would someone want to drive what is effectively an upside-down pram instead of a high-performance babe magnet? Marc?
"Because some people think it's funny. These kind of cars aren't usually seen in this genre, so if some people want to go for a network game with 2CVs, with Breakneck they can." Aren't monster trucks the preserve of White Trash Americans? What place do they have in this game?
"They are special cars. The monster trucks in Breakneck are different from the US ones. Here you still have to drive, and the idea is to finish the race, not to drive over other cars."
What's the best part of Breakneck -the racing, or the shooting? "It depends what you prefer. If you like plain racing, you can do that. If you're more into shooting things there's a mode that uses weapons."
Is Breakneck perhaps trying to be all things to all people? Wouldn't it have been better to simply concentrate on one aspect? "No. We just have a lot of different game modes, so everybody can decide what they like most. If all you want is a fast race with guns blasting, fine.
But if you prefer to drive a whole championship with more 'real' cars, you can do that as well."
He's right, you can, and the game will incorporate an elaborate career mode whereby you travel the world competing in races for money, which can then be blown on car improvements or even more cars.
We've been playing a fairly complete version for a couple of days, and apart from the incredibly ill-conceived interface (which we've been assured is being changed) it looks a lot of fun. The press release says it's "the best speed money can buy". Whether Breakneck will also have you grinding your teeth, gibbering mindlessly and staring into space pondering the worthlessness of your existence remains to be seen, but we'll certainly be having a dab when it comes in for review.