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In Memory
Sean Pettibone

 


 

 

 

       

 

 

 

 

 

Taking more than a little inspiration from the legendary Wipeout series, Extreme G has always seemed to take a backseat to the Psygnosis classic with many gamers and the press. This has been an unfair comparison because while both games shared some superficial styles, the differences are significant. The major difference is in Extreme Gís trademark looping courses which are much more experimental than Wipeoutís. However, with the arrival of the newest installment, Extreme G3 on the PS2, thereís a golden opportunity for the series to make its move and stand out on its own. So, does it succeed on its own merits? We check out this futuristic racer and find out if it breaks any new ground or if itís just another tired retread.

As with the first two titles in the series, Extreme G3 allows players to control a super-powered motorbike. As in the previous games, players can shoot at their opponents and implement turbo boosts to explode past opponents. Featuring enhanced graphics which beat expectations for the series by a long shot, the seriesí super-competitive and extremely frenetic action over intense zero-gravity looping courses, Extreme G3 should fit the bill for those looking for a manic racing experience. One of the biggest differences between G3 and the previous N64 installments is that you can now choose from several different teams with different riders on each. You can also go into the shop and buy new weapons and upgrades. Aside from all this, the gameplay offers very simple, straightforward racing action that doesnít need much explanation or extensive tutorials. Extreme G3 also features several modes of play including arcade, single race, practice and tournament. All of the modes are fairly similar but they do have some interesting variations. While the practice mode is self-explanatory, the arcade mode is fairly useless except for practicing racing and memorizing course layouts since new courses can only be unlocked by winning the full suite of races in tournament mode.

When it comes to the actual racing, XG3 shines as most titles in the genre do. A brief countdown commences at the start of each race and before you can catch your breath, youíre thrust down an incredibly fast chute. You start at the back of the pack and have to fight your way to the lead, which is not easy at all. One of the weird things about the game is that you canít use your turbo boosts or weapons for the first quarter of the first lap. While doing so is generally inadvisable, this is still an odd design choice and really aggravating especially if you like getting out to an early lead. Another strange thing is that when you use your boost, you lose shield energy, which means you have to use turbo boosts sparingly or you will become vulnerable to attack, again not the most intuitive design choice but one that can be compensated for.

The tracks in Extreme G3 offer plenty of challenge with their twisting, complex designs, some of which definitely require practicing a few times. This is tough enough but you also need to learn how to defend against and attack the rival racers. Those who are expecting the usual pushover, mindless drones are in for a shock as these opponents have extremely aggressive tendencies. They show little remorse in firing upon you and donít hesitate to knock you against the rails whenever they get the chance. Youíre initially given little in the way of firepower to defend yourself, just the basic machine gun and your wits. As you progress, you can buy and unlock more effective weapons such as missiles and bombs. Donít fall into complacency however, because your opponents seem to have one eye on you and seem to buy similarly powerful weapons for themselves.

The biggest flaw with all of this is that while XG3 offers incredible speed, it doesnít offer the precision in its controls that one would like. Steering the vehicle with any consistency is a near-impossibility. You continually find yourself skidding against the walls and bumping into other vehicles. This becomes extremely annoying and aggravating in a hurry. Using the shift keys to strafe isnít a good solution either because this makes thing worse since the vehicle then controls with almost no subtlety. The only solution to this is to keep a very light touch on the controller when steering, and even then itís still difficult going. While the poor controls might be excused by some players, given the amount of effort that has gone into the graphics and design, it can only be seen as a major letdown that more hasnít gone into tuning this critical element of the game.

As has become the custom in the series to date, XG3 has incredible visuals and course designs that give life to the futuristic settings that set the game apart. In previous titles, this took the form of huge loops that made for a dizzying ride. The third installment has continued this but now the loops are even larger and more intricate, with some incredible twists and certain passages which take the player up the sides of mountains and other environmental obstacles at a nearly-vertical angle. Whatís impressive about this design is that these steep inclines cause a significant slowdown in your vehicle and have a significant affect on your strategy when it comes time to boost. Even more impressive is that the game now features some truly impressive environments with realistic rain, snow and lens-flared sunlight making it easy to get immersed in the gameís futuristic world. This increased realism of the environments gives the game a visual punch that few other PS2 titles have been able to match to date and gives the XG series a tremendous kick into the future. Another highly polished element of XG3 is its music which has been commissioned to the UK dance label Ministry of Sound, so as youíd expect, thereís a professional sheen to the driving techno beats that fits the mood and visual design of the game superbly. If this concept of using a licensed soundtrack seems a bit generic these days, just remember that you can count on one hand the number of times this has been done effectively to gain an appreciation for this.

Despite some serious control issues that seriously detract from the fun, it has to be said that this is by far the most enjoyable futuristic racer to come out in some time. Extreme G3 has an excellent graphics engine that allows the game to offer an incredibly stylish and detailed visual flavor that is cutting edge but realistic. Additionally, the visuals offer smooth frame-rates, limited appearances of the dreaded PS2 jaggies, dazzling environments and blistering speed. The controls are over-sensitive and make turns very difficult but this can be compensated for to some degree. Whatís best about the game is that it offers plenty of challenge without being overly difficult and does so with an incredible style. Extreme G3 is a solid racing title that shouldnít be missed and far from being the expected Ďtide-overí until Wipeout Fusion arrives. While it still feels a bit derivative in its design and aesthetics, thereís enough entertainment-value here to make it a worthwhile purchase. While not perfect, this is an exciting and challenging title that succeeds on its own terms.