|a game by||Invictus Games, Ltd.|
|User Rating:||8.0/10 - 1 vote|
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Insane is the second of two online racing games that we've reviewed this month, and, although there is a single-player game in here, the most fun you're going to get is playing against other people. And believe me, Insane is a lot of fun. Unlike 4x4 Evolution anti a bit like Robbie Williams, Insane has been designed to entertain - pure and simple. Forget simulation, and forget about tinkering with your axles and what-nots, Insane lets you choose a vehicle - from a massive range of trucks, buggies, lorries and even hover-mowers -select a game type and let rip straight from the box.
But it's not an empty experience, far from it. Within five minutes of playing it on our LAN, the whole office was in hysterics. The first game we played was a simple checkpoint race. Then we moved on to a variation, where you have to claim points by being the first through a checkpoint. The sight of Richie trying desperately to get his articulated lorry up a steep hill while I breezed past in a buggy was truly a great gaming moment.
Then we played a destruction zone game, where you have to park your vehicles on a cross while the rest try and smash you off. Every second you stay on the cross gives you points, and you can also score by high-impact smashing. As the vehicles take physical and visual damage, you get the beautiful sight of cars crushed to about half the size they started at. Again, it was Richie who caused the biggest riot by losing both wheels on one side of his car and driving around in circles before toppling off a steep hill and smashing away out of sight. And when you get bored of this, you can try catching the flag, returning it and more.
The challenge comes in the handling of the different vehicles and the fact that you can really feel the terrain you're driving over. Some vehicles roll easily and you can be in sight of the checkpoint when you get the inevitable sinking feeling that you're going to go over. If you do, or if your car gets so trashed you have to hit the repair key, you lose valuable time and the chance for the checkpoint. That's Insane in a nutshell.
It's hilarious and, for sheer pleasure there's no other racing game like it. The only thing that we can't be sure of is its online performance. Since the game hasn't been released at the time of this review, there's no one to play online. To get round this, Codemasters set up a night when we could log-on and play against testers from Codemasters. Fine in principle, but when I tried to find a game, there was only one other person in there. And although I enjoyed giving him a round thrashing at a few simple checkpoint races, one-on-one isn't exactly the best way to prove how the game's going to cope with eight drivers at once. From what I've seen, it's going to cope fine but, unlike 4x4 Evolution, I haven't actually seen it with my own eyes yet. Still, it's a minor niggle and one that will probably prove redundant when the game is released. Longevity is the only other sticking point. It is a fairly shallow game, but with the online side helping things along there's still plenty to admire.
There comes a time with every racing game where you become so good at it that the game gets boring. You sit back in your seat, nonchalantly slide around the comers and go in for pit stops at the end of every circuit, yet still effortlessly manage to lap the entire field. It's times like these when you yearn for a new challenge, but at 2am on a Wednesday morning, phoning your best mate and suggesting they come round for a game can have serious repercussions on your friendship. Insane however, from Codemasters (Colin McRae Rally and TOCA 2), could well be the answer to the single-player blues that so many racing game enthusiasts experience.
Set for release in the summer, Insane will pit numerous off-road vehicles against each other, over a multitude of circuits. There will be 20 machines for you to choose from, ranging from four- and eight-wheeled monster trucks to military vehicles, with four handling styles, front, rear, 4WD and AWD. Unlike most games, Insane is aimed at the online gaming market just as much as the single-player one. Codemasters will be offering its very own multiplayer network for gamers to play over. This will allow an almost unlimited variety of opponents to race against, and with its easily accessible online play options, Insane should have no problems in establishing a large Internet-based gaming community.
If you haven't already guessed by the hardware described here, or by the screen shots, there's not going to be too many rules in Insane. Instead, there will be near total freedom in each race, where short cuts can be taken to bring down your lap times, but where less desirable terrain will make driving that much harder. Every car will have its own handling, with independent suspension and a variable centre of gravity. Damage will be real-time, and the vehicle's performance and appearance will deteriorate accordingly.
Insane will provide a massive 25 environments to race over, including mountains and deserts in locations throughout the world. Races can take place during the night as well as the day, and varying weather conditions will also influence the races.
One of the nicest features seems to be the unusual modes of play that are set to be on offer to you. As well as the inevitable race and destruction derby options, there will be several others, such as flag hunting and football mode. The first of these will be reminiscent of the Capture The Flag games found in many FPSs, such as Unreal Tournament, and will probably bear more than a passing resemblance to the Cops and Robbers gameplay of Midtown Madness.
The second of the two will see teams of cars battling it out on a football field, where the ball must be driven into the net in order to score. If you get bored with the circuits on offer, Insane is set to come with an Environment Generator, so that you can create your very own wacky tracks. With the possibility of buffalo stampedes during races as well, it certainly sounds as if Insane could be a great laugh in both single and multiplayer modes.
Considering racing games are one of the simplest types of games to play online, it's surprising more developers haven't taken this route. But Insane may just be the game that changes this trend, banishing the boredom of single-player racing forever.
Insane is a good word to describe my mental derangement after coming into contact with the launch title for Codemasters' new online gaming service. It point-blank refused to work on two Windows 2000 machines, and no amount of reinstalling, restarting, tinkering or swearing would cure it. But don't worry about that, I'm probably the only person who uses Win2K on a day-to-day basis. Exacerbated, an old Windows 98 box with no balls and a dodgy ticker was hauled from its resting place, dusted down and saddled up, and with a little patience we eventually got going.
Insane is the first title to be featured on the Codemasters Multiplayer Network (CMN), a free online service matching games tc gamers. To be frank, neither the idea or the service itself is particularly innovative, especially if you're a regular user of something like Cavedog's Boneyards. At its core, CMN is a chat-based interface between you and other people, and as such is nothing new.
It is, however, beautifully presented and fully functional, and lacks all the useless paraphernalia that so often accompany this type of program. The front end is clean, crisp and dead easy to navigate, and you can get straight into playing with a minimum amount of clicking. You can also track your buddies and get instant access to your points and position on the championship ladder.
Round The Bend
Because of the nature of Insane, ping times are of little concern, dropped packets and the odd connection glitch are ironed out as you bounce over hills and down dales. Every game we played was hydraulically smooth and trouble-free, to the extent that you would be hard pressed to distinguish between online and offline modes. Get into gear, accelerate and in no time at all you're hustling across rough terrain, snapping at the rear axle of the guy in front of you.
All manner of vehicle types are available to you, from the nippy Baja Bug, to the bulky eight-wheeler truck. Each car is beautifully animated, with humps and ruts causing the wheels and tyres to bounce into and out of their arches. Great fun.
In our experience, it's wise to stick with something hardy and familiar like the Cairo or Blaze. The Cairo is essentially a Land Rover in desert colours; the Blaze a big American SUV. Neither would win any prizes for top speed, but what they lack in outright oomph, they make up for with stability. In the case of the Cairo, there's no roof and it's a real hoot to watch the animated limbs of the driver flail at the wheel as you career down bumpy slopes or roll the thing onto its side. Change the camera view to inside the cockpit and the juddering spine and bouncing buttocks of the poor driver are even more convincing.
The most popular game variant on CMN right now seems to be Return The Flag, where you drive over flags and return them to predetermined points on the map. The essence of each game is the same as that of Dave's review in the Christmas issue, only played over the Internet against other people. If you already have a copy, and have gone hacking across the countryside against computer players or over a local network, you've pretty much seen it all. Although there's nothing more entertaining than asking an unknown opponent, "Who's your daddy?" and being met with a flood of abuse. It's what being online is all about.