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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

Midway Arcade Treasures 3 (PS2)



By Michael Palisano

Midway Arcade Treasures 3 for the PS2 is a solid emulation pack that steers the classic compilation in a new direction. This installment features 8 classic arcade racing games ranging from earlier classics such as STUN Runner and Race Drivin' to newer releases like Hydro Thunder and San Francisco Rush: The Rock. Each game has been emulated faithfully, and they look and play as they should, for the most part. There are a few minor glitches and frame rate issues, but nothing significant. Most of the games in this package hold up well, with some of the earlier games retaining a nostalgic charm. Join us as we accelerate into the past with these classic games on a race down memory lane.

Setting up a classic gaming collection with a themed structure is a risky approach, with most of these compilation discs offering an eclectic lineup of titles from different years and eras. Bucking the trend, Midway Arcade Treasures 3 for the PS2 offers a solid lineup of eight entertaining racing titles from the past 15 years or so. For the most part, the games on MAT3 have a more contemporary feel than most of the classic game usually found on the disc. Some of them were released as little as 5 years ago, while others stretch back to the late 80's. Most of the games on the disc were also quite popular with gamers, and these well-known brands like Rush and Hydro Thunder should appeal to a wider audience than the obscurities that populate most of these discs. However, there are several lesser-known gems like Badlands and Race Drivin' included, which should please devoted classic gamers.

Midway's Hydro Thunder is the first game listed on the menu and is probably as good a place to begin this overview. Emblematic of Midway's late 90's style, Hydro Thunder features exaggerated physics, wildly inventive courses, speed boost capsules and an over-the-top feel that heightens the player's adrenaline with pumped up action. The gameplay itself remains solid and challenging, with some interesting shortcuts that spice up the action. Using these is essential, especially later on where you have very little room for error. The intense races that benefit from some sophisticated wave physics that still impress today. You begin slowly with three courses and ships open, and can unlock additional areas by finishing in the top three of each of these initial races. Once you reach the later levels, with their increasingly sophisticated maps and more challenging terrain, Hydro Thunder becomes much more challenging. The gameplay itself seems to have held up nicely over the years, and the solidly addictive action hooks you in.

Digital Eclipse has done a solid job of porting the title over, though it does suffer from some minor framerate issues. Unfortunately, the menu screen lacks music, which is annoying. An interesting fact about Hydro Thunder is that the original pressing of its Dreamcast version had very similar problems with missing music, and was quickly reissued with a "New" sticker attached. You have to wonder if that curse continued here. Despite this, Hydro Thunder remains a thoroughly enjoyable title with the fast gameplay you remember. Some of the textures seem a little flat these days, but the game itself remains addictive and fun. In a similar vein, Midway's follow-up, Off-Road Thunder takes the same basic formula and puts it in the dirt. ORT offers more variety than Hydro, with the additions of Destruction Derby and Flag battle mini-games, plus additional tracks and courses. The game's courses offer plenty of variety, with plenty of jumps and secret paths to unlock. It's a fairly decent game, but there are a few problems that mar the experience. Substituting the water and ocean for grainy dirt graphics and indoor tracks makes the game slightly less appealing from an aesthetic standpoint, but Off-Road Thunder is still fun. Sadly, the emulation's choppy frame rate and blurry graphics further hurt ORT's replay value, making it less enjoyable than it could've been and making this the least enjoyable title on the disc.

Probably the most well-known games on the compilation are the Rush series, represented here with two installments. San Francisco Rush: The Rock - Alcatraz Edition takes all the courses from the initial RUSH title and adds several new tracks, additional vehicles and many more secrets and short cuts to make for an even more exciting game. The series trademark massive jumps are scattered throughout every course, and players will have a great deal of fun exploring each level and trying the different vehicles. There aren't any weapons in the game, but there are still plenty of explosions, which only adds to the fun. While the course designs were simple, they featured plenty of short-cuts and secret paths where players could shave precious seconds off their time with a little bit of risk. While the original Rush courses remain entertaining, the secondary maps in the Rock areas add even more craziness to the proceedings. Games in the Rush series always had over-responsive controls and the game's simplistic approach is evident in this conversion as well. However, the sheer thrills of this arcade style experience overwhelm any complaints one would have. For collectors, Rush: The Rock is a cool game to have in emulated form on the PS2, though the emulation suffers a bit from long load times, with an annoying load screen that seems to take forever to get through. The over-the-top fun continues with San Francisco Rush 2049, which takes the series into the future and adds weapons and other power-ups to the proceedings. The adrenaline-fueled techno soundtrack fuels the action, which goes even faster, and features wilder jumps, and short cuts where you drive through tubes to beat your opponents. Rush 2049's visuals look a little bit more garish than the standard Rush games, but the solid gameplay is still quite enjoyable and challenging.

Atari also released another title that seems farther ahead of its time, 1989's STUN Runner which was an impressive futuristic tube racing title. The technology was quite advanced, and apparently Midway has had some difficulty converting it, since it was announced and pulled from last years installment. STUN Runner was released for the Atari Lynx and ST computer lines back in the day, but neither came close to doing the game justice, due to their hardware limitations. Finally, a solid conversion of the game is available for the home, and this edition shows what a good game this actually was. Speeding through tunnels at a high rate of speed, the object of STUN Runner is to reach the end of each course before the time expires. Along the way, players have to shoot down enemies in their path, but that isn't the full extent of it. Players also need to glide through the sides of the tunnels and turn to keep a high rate of speed and can go even faster by running over the speed boosts. These make your vehicle accelerate to incredibly fast speeds. Trying to win without running over a high percentage of these is very difficult. The game also includes outdoor flat areas and a few jumps, which makes for an impressive overall racing experience. This is probably the hidden gem of the package, since the first few levels are ridiculously easy, most players will probably choose the flashier games on the package. It's their loss, since the game's later levels become increasingly interesting with longer courses and more challenging enemies, making for some exciting races. STUN Runner has never really received its due from gamers or the media, but this cult-classic is really cool and deserving of your attention.

Going back a bit further, Atari Games' Race Drivin' was the sequel to what was one of the most revolutionary and sophisticated racing titles of all time, Hard Drivin'. Both of these titles were among the first to implement polygonal rendering, and the results seem primitive next to contemporary racers. However, once you adjust to their more primitive appearance, you'll find that both have held up surprisingly well over these past 15 years with their streamlined gameplay remarkably appealing today. Race Drivin' follows up to the legendary Hard Drivin' in a similar vein and adds a few of its own twists, with a more complicated stunt track with larger loops. It also contains the entire track from Hard Drivin' and adds 3 new vehicle types and the option to select either manual or automatic transmission for these. The controls however, remain as awkward as they did with Hard Drivin' on last year's MAT 2 disc. Its difficult enough with automatic, but becomes quite frustrating if you try and race with the clutch. The control scheme isn't that intuitive, and makes it difficult to switch gears during the race. A user-configurable interface or additional options would have been welcome. However, you can overcome these problems with practice, though this makes for quite a steep learning curve for a driving game. Once you get past this, the game offers a surprisingly engrossing simulation of stunt driving, requiring you to maintain a set speed as you go into each stunt in order to succeed, and punishing drivers who go into turns at excessive speeds. It's challenging, but surprisingly enjoyable, and the physics engine gives the game realistic car handling and responsiveness that goes far beyond the simplistic arcade racers of its time. Atari probably didn't know it at the time, but this series' realistic approach can almost be seen as a distant forebear of today's simulation racers like Project Gotham and Gran Turismo. This makes it more interesting to play from today's perspective, since you can see how far things have progressed visually and physically from these early attempts. While the visuals were rather primitive and lacked flair, the Racin' games did have one flashy feature that set them apart: Instant Replays from an outside the car angle. These replays occurred after each crash and were definitely far ahead of their time. They might look archaic to a younger, modern gamer, but this feature was actually quite revolutionary when the series' debuted and a testament to its forward-looking designers.

Atari's classic Sprint series dates to the mid-70's, with several memorable black and white installments that featured 4 player steering wheels, followed up a decade later with Super Sprint and Championship Sprint. It's a testament that the original games, that despite their age, they inspired a flurry sequels, similar games and off-shoots over several decades. You'll find one direct descendant of the series in the form of Atari Games' Badlands. This takes the Sprint series to the future with a new cybernetic feel, more complicated courses and some new weapons. Fortunately, the series' classic controls and top-down perspective hasn't changed, and the new additions make Badlands a cool side-light in the long-running series. Midway's Super Off-Road takes a similar top-down approach, but adds hills and water obstacles to keep things interesting. Most of the courses are laid out in a way that makes them easy to understand, and the speedy action, fluid controls and overall pace makes for an excellent experience all around. Unlike the Sprint series, players can purchase a variety of upgrades between rounds to increase their performance in the next race. While it's not quite as good as the classic Sprint games, Super Off-Road remains an excellent game thanks to its instantly accessible controls and straightforward gameplay. The developers have also included the Bonus Map Pack from the arcade, which plays exactly the same as the original, except the courses are different and slightly more challenging. Both Super Off-Road and Badlands represent a bygone style, the top-down racing game, and evoke a much simpler time, with their basic feel recalling the days when gaming didn't need as many bells and whistles to attract players as it does today.

In the end, these eight games represent a solid look back at the racing genre's evolution over the past 15 years. With so many other compilation packs on the market lately, Midway Arcade Treasure 3's focus on driving games helps set it apart from the crowd. The consistency between the releases makes for a more cohesive experience than most compilation titles, which straddle different eras, styles, and genres. Midway 3 also presents a great value because there are several stand-out titles that would be worth purchasing on their own for this price including San Francisco Rush: The Rock, Hydro Thunder and, STUN Runner. The other games in the package range from good to decent. Unfortunately, Midway 3 doesn't include the extensive background information and extras that the previous installments featured. This is disappointing, but the solid offerings on the disc more than compensate. Midway Arcade Treasures 3 is a solid collection that benefits from its focus, making it an excellent purchase for fans of classic arcade racing titles.

Grade: B

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