The eighth volume in the Sega Ages 2500 series is V.R. Virtua Racing. For those unfamiliar with the series, the Sega Ages line is a collection of classic Sega games (Space Harrier, Golden Axe, etc.) that the company has reintroduced to 20th century gamers by improving graphics and tweaking gameplay, usually for the worse.
Without harping on the issue once again, I’ll only briefly rehash the flaw I have with all the games in the Sega Ages series, and that is the fact that these games have little to no target audience. These are old games with “newer” graphics. The gameplay on most of these games is so simple it would bore even the youngest games of today. And likewise, fans of the classic versions most likely have emulators or even classic gaming consoles to play the originals on.
V.R. Virtua Racing was the first arcade game made completely of polygons. Your car, the track, the trees (lovely green pyramids), and even the people were completely constructed of single colored building blocks (there was no cell shading back then). One of the game’s gimmicks was the ability to choose between four different viewpoints on the fly (cockpit, chase, 3/4 arial and overhead).
Despite being 10 years its junior, gameplay is basically the same as Pole Position. Race around a track. In arcade mode, you get to keep going until you don’t make a checkpoint. In Grand Prix mode, you’ve got to win a race to continue to the next track.
Those who love the intricacy of racing games such as Gran Turismo will be disappointed to find your controls in Virtua Racing limited to gas and brake. For a little added excitement you can pick a manual gearbox, but be warned; shifting buttons (L1/R1) are precariously close to view shifting buttons (L2/R2). I made it half a race because I was dizzy and nauseous, and quickly switched back to automatic.
Indy 500 for the Atari 500 had a game select mode where you could race on ice. Apparently someone at Sega loved the idea so much that they built the entire engine for Virtua Racing around it. Drivers should prepare for turns at least a week in advance, as cars are continually slipping and sliding their way around corners. The way cars handle throughout the game are as funny as they are frustrating, handling more like hovercraft than indy cars. Even slightly touching a patch of grass will instantly drop your speed in half — at least it’s easier to steer on. Touching grass isn’t as detrimental as touching another car. Tap bumpers with another racer and your cars will stop dead in their tracks and spin around in circles. Like the afore-mentioned Pole Position, there is no leeway here when it comes to tapping another’s bumper.
Apparently the programmers spent so much time getting their “gray ice” driving engine to work that they only had time to squeeze in two sound effects: screech one, and screech two. Screech one is played in every turn, screech two appears when you hit grass. Swing a corner wide and you’ll be treated to both of them. Screech one is more like a bad parrot than a sound effect, really. It repeats over, and over, and over, on every single corner. There might have been some other sound effects, but it’s been an hour since I played the game and that’s all I can remember.
The Playstation 2 is quite capable of handling a polygon-based non-shaded game, so why is there pop-up? Like a bad adult website, there are pop-ups everywhere in Virtua Racing. On every corner you will get to watch the grandstands draw themselves one section at a time. Everything else runs pretty quickly and very smoothly, so I’m not sure why the programmers weren’t able to fix the pop-up issues. Hell, they even managed to make the map spin wildly as you race around the track. Your map always has you facing “up”, so on every corner the map whips wildly as you attempt to slide your way to victory. Other than the frame rate, Virtua Racing doesn’t even look as good as many PSX/N64 titles.
Before I click “save” on a review I always like to scan the web for any other reviews to see if I was on target or not. IGN says that if you’re only going to own one game from the Sega Ages 2500 series, this is the one to get. I’d counter that by saying if this is the only game from the Sega Ages 2500 series I could get, I’d pass. Once again, Sega has picked a game that originally had a selling point that no one cares about anymore. A polygon racing game in 1992 might have been big news then, but it was old news by 1994 and not impressive in 2004. Kids these days want games like GT4 and Midnight Racing, games with cars that look real and handle realisticly, not wedge-shaped trianglemobiles with octogon wheels driving around on a gray slip-n’-slide.
If you’re ready for a night of nostalgia and frustration, by all Sega Ages 2500 Volume 8 – Virtua Racing is for you.