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In Memory
Sean Pettibone


Developers Blade Interactive and Majesco have teamed up to produce the futuristic racer HSX: HyperSonic Extreme for the PS2. With its sleek ships, corkscrew tracks, large jumps and raging techno soundtrack, you wouldn't be wrong to assume the game is more than a little inspired by Psygnosis' classic Wipeout series. However, what makes HSX stand out from the pack isn't its design, but its extensive track editing feature which allow you to create and race your own courses. This is definitely cool, but is it enough to warrant a purchase? The Laser slips into the cockpit and finds out.

The concept behind Majesco's HSX: Hypersonic Xtreme is simple enough. The game puts players at the controls of anti-gravity vehicles capable of incredible speed. Players can choose from one of 10 different vehicles, each with its own set of racing attributes such as grip, shield., acceleration and weight. Once you've selected your craft, it's time to choose the mode of play. HSX includes standard Time Trial and Cup modes. Racing a time trial allows you to go for the best lap speed and is recommended to familiarize yourself with the track layouts. The other option is to go into the cup mode which has three levels of difficulty. The Cups consist of a series of six races in tournament mode. After each race, you are assigned points based on your finishing position. If you finish racing all six Cup levels in the top three, you unlock the next cup series as well as additional features in the Track editor plus additional tutorial levels. The tracks feature two main types offering either slalom or straight-racing layouts. In addition, players can choose to race solo or against a friend using a split-screen mode.

Once on the course, you'll find that simply racing the opponents will leave you in the dust. A key strategy is using the boost icons. During the game, you run over and collect numerous speed power-ups. These add to your boost bar and you can choose when to use them. As you race, your ship becomes damaged when you hit a side-railing or come into contact with other ships. When you take a lot of damage, smoke and flames come out the side of the ship, which is followed by your ship exploding. However, when your ship is destroyed, you aren't automatically out of the race, but you lose a lot of valuable time while you regenerate. Fortunately, there are icons in the game that will restore your ship's damage as well, which can be quite handy. While the game starts off fast, things become much more challenging at later levels with increased speed and more aggressive rivals who block you more often. In all, players will face than 30 courses a scattered through a variety of locations and these will challenge players with steep drops, huge jumps and massive corkscrews.

HSX has a tight and intuitive control system that racing veterans will find very easy to get into. Controlling your vehicle is quite simple, and you can use either the analog or digital pad. We had the best performance with the analog pad, though the game controls were responsive with either method. Accelerating and braking is easy to perform, and getting the hang of the game's nuances took a little while. Using the boost requires you to hold down the boost button, which you can use strategically during straights. While it seems simple enough, there isn't a lot of room for error in the game, and only one or two major crashes will effectively put you out of contention. You will have to concentrate in order to succeed. It can be very difficult but the saving grace in HSX is that it allows you to retry the courses to improve your standing if you aren't happy with you performance. The track designs get more challenging as you go along with intense curves and corkscrews that can keep you off balance. Players will also find numerous

HSX' visuals look impressive thanks to the custom Infinity 3D system. This graphics engine can renders detailed terrain and realistic objects without sacrificing speed and the game flows at a fast and frenetic pace. The Infinity engine is powerful and HSX's tracks to scream by at 60 frames per second. HSX's richly detailed environments look impressive with brilliant light-sourcing, screaming speed and consistent design creating a futuristic racing utopia. HSX's overall design is somewhat derivative of the Designers Republic look of Wipeout, but there game's a tad more fanciful which gives it a slightly different aesthetic feel. The level of detail is excellent and the game effectively immerse the player in the world with impressive weather effects such as wind and water splashing droplets on the windshield. Races can also take place in either day or night, with some really cool lens-flare effects implemented at the dusk and dawn time-frames. Players can choose to race in either a behind the vehicle or a first person mode, which is really the only way to go for the true experience The overall presentation looks sleek with cool menus and icons that are easy to read. The futuristic ship designs are impressive and fit in well with the theme. The trackside objects, and twisting corkscrew tracks work together in creating an evocative experience. The soundtrack also sounds impressive, with driving techno beats adding intensity to the racing experience.

Despite all these impressive features, the biggest asset that HSX brings to the table is its surprisingly robust Track Editor. The Track Editor allows you to can create a course from scratch, modify existing courses, and even create your own cups once you unlock the more advanced features. This might seem daunting, but an included tutorial will help you get the basics down easily. You can choose to set up your course in any of the game locations, which gives you a nice variety of environments to race in. The editing interface is surprisingly simple to use and you can undo mistakes quickly. While the track editing is limited initially, as you progress in the game, more sophisticated elements become available. You can set up each custom track to any length with different degrees of difficulty. Initially, you'll be able to manipulate the basic elements of the track including creating banks, corkscrews, jumps and loops which is a lot of fun. However, the options are a bit limited at first but, once you unlock additional track editing options, you can go back and apply these new options to tracks you've already created

Some of the more advanced features that you can unlock include the ability to place bridges, gaps and simple trackside objects such as pre-built corkscrews on the track. More advanced design elements allow you to place power-ups on the track in strategic locations. You can change the aesthetics by implementing different themes for each track, which are sets of objects. Additionally, these themes become increasingly customizable by players who can insert bridges, buildings, and trees in each level. The track editor also allows you to adjust special effects, change the length, difficulty, and create custom logos to give your course a unique personality. HSX also allows you to change the weather effects, such as snow, dust, and water. This is more than window-dressing, because different environmental effects affect handling significantly. All of these options make this mode quite flexible. This mode is surprisingly addictive and fun, since you can sit there for hours creating and tweaking the tracks. Once you've created the perfect course, you can save them to a memory card to play them again or trade with others.

HSX might seem derivative at first glance but a closer inspection reveals an excellent title. The robust graphics engine, cool designs and fast frame-rate give it a solid appearance. The game plays as good as it looks with some intense racing action creating quite an addictive and challenging racer. The tight, responsive controls allow you to concentrate on the racing without fumbling with the joypad. However, the element that puts the game over the top is the extensive track-editing feature with an intuitive interface that's easy to use and surprisingly flexible. This feature is impressive and deceptively addictive. You can spend a lot of time tweaking your tracks and this definitely increases HSX's replay value immensely. While this hasn't received the hype many other racers have, HSX is a sold racer that should definitely please fans of the genre. It's low retail price makes it one of the best bargains to come out for the PS2 in some time. While techno-fueled futuristic racing titles seem to have fallen out of favor recently, this excellent release shows that there's still plenty of appeal in these types of games. HSX: Hypersonic Xtreme is a solid title that's nicely polished and highly recommended for fans of the genre.

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