|Platforms||:||Sega Dreamcast, Sony PlayStation|
|Review by||:||Ken Gagne|
Vanishing Point from Acclaim has nothing to do with the 1971 movie of the same name, except for being one of the best racers of its kind. This racing game graces the Sega Dreamcast and Sony PlayStation (DC version reviewed here).
This isn't grand prix, rally, or kart racing. Vanishing Point puts real cars on real country roads. There are other cars on the road, both mundane, civilian traffic, and more aggressive, professional drivers. Despite their presence, they are not the ultimate enemy; the goal in every race is to beat a given time limit. The longer you take beyond that, the worse your overall ranking. Although some luck of the draw is involved in how you interact with the other drivers, ultimately, you are competing only with yourself. The challenge to improve yourself is one of Vanishing Point's powerful draws — that, and the vast options and rewards the game offers.
The game starts with a bare minimum of playable options, including only two cars. There's a certain amount of dedication involved in unlocking the game's best secrets. For example, the first extra vehicle you earn is the Ford Ranger. Uhm… yay? There are 16 vehicles, from the Shelby Cobra to the Audi TT to the Mercury Sable Wagon, and an equal number of hidden cars. Each of the 16 autos has its own set of three unique tournaments, with each victory unlocking a new car, course, tune-up option, gameplay mode, or more.
This incentive method is strangely addictive. You don't ever need to race the same car on the same course. There's no money in this game, and no upgrades to purchase. Just racing. Do well, get a new toy. You just can't stop playing this game.
The physics engine is more realistic than other games, and takes getting used to. It's almost too easy for a new player to oversteer. Getting a handle on these luscious vehicles is half the challenge and the fun.
What about presentation? Audibly, Vanishing Point races to the beat of a different engine. Gran Turismo and Crazy Taxi had rocking tunes by some leading bands. Vanishing Point's soundtrack can't compete on the same level, as kind of music just wouldn't work here. VP tends to the more classical, voiceless driving tunes, with quirky and varied instrumentation. It may not leap out at you, but it's there, and it's good.
The visuals are similarly subtle, yet polished. The country roads are decorated with bridges, waterfalls, trains, and canyons — a welcome and beautiful change from the usual race setting. But don't take your eyes off the smoothly-scrolling roads to sightsee, or your finely-modeled Audi might flip.
VP has a few different modes of play. Tournament, Single Race, and Time Trial are all basic one-player modes. The Stunt mode requires players to earn a 90% or better in a variety of several incredible challenges that send cars spinning, flying, and twisting through obstacle courses.
There are three two-player modes and several elimination-type styles for more than two people, but no simultaneous play for three or four players, or two-player vs. computer. Sadly, Vanishing Point does not support online, head-to-head play, either. But it does utilize the Dreamcast modem to download challenges in which players can compete for a chance to be in the national rankings.
Vanishing Point does an undefinable something just right. If you could take one of the classic racing titles like Rad Racer or Out Run, and give it a 128-bit update — that's how Vanishing Point feels. This game is truly more than the sum of its parts. Its sheer elegance, almost complete lack of flaws of any degree, and classic gameplay make this game a definite sleeper hit.
This article is copyright (c) 2001, 2007 by Ken Gagne. All rights reserved. Not to be distributed without permission.
Original publication: Sentinel & Enterprise, 22-Jan-01