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NGEN Racing
Score: 92%
Publisher: Infogrames
Developer: Infogrames
Media: CD/1
Players: 1
Genre: Miscellaneous/ Racing

Graphics & Sound:
NGEN Racing will draw comparisons to 'Wipeout,' but NGEN probably has even more mileage, and definitely more depth. I can't say it has mind-blowing graphics, but both the planes and environments are well designed. Courses are full of detail, and the scale of things makes for fun racing; however, when the action is intense, slow-down and poor frame-rate are obvious. Just my opinion, but these kind of 'overload' problems shouldn't exist this late in PlayStation's lifecycle. Let's just say the virtual experience loses some of its panache when slowdown happens, especially when it's obvious.

Sound also suffers from clipping and even cuts out when there's too much going on. It's distracting, especially because certain weapons return a special sound when you score a hit. For the music, I liked most tracks, but nothing really knocked my socks off; it's that same brand of 'drum & bass' and techno stuff we get in every racer these days.

With more depth than most racers available for PlayStation, and excellent Flight Sim physics, NGEN does a great job straddling the line between action and realism. The cool thing about NGEN's gameplay is that someone who likes the idea of a Flight Sim/Combat Racer can play in Arcade Mode all day long, alone or with a friend. Arcade Championship takes you through 14 standard courses, unlocking others and earning points. Head To Head Mode lets you jam with a friend, competing for best time, and Powerball Mode is a crazy aerial game of 'Tag' where you catch a floating orb and connect with as many checkpoints as possible before your opponent blows you out of the sky. Oh, I did mention you're armed to the teeth for all this, right? Fighter Class planes include some nifty weapons, and if the modes and courses don't floor you, how about the idea of choosing from almost 40 jets across 5 classes?

For those who like more depth to their gameplay, there's NGEN Mode - basically a 'Career Mode.' You start out with some cold cash, buy a plane, customize it and earn permits to go out and race. By winning NGEN competitions, you get money to buy upgrades and new planes. In a touch of vanity, NGEN Mode even lets you choose a custom paint-job. This mode sports different races, including Championship, Free Flight and Club Race. By winning in Tournament and Club Race Mode, you open up courses at night and even a new class of plane. Competition is fierce, so once you get out of Trainer Class be prepared to fly through a hail of bullets. Of course, if you get scared there's always Time Trial Mode.

The thing about NGEN Racing's learning curve is that you can take planes into competition way over their head. I spent quite a while trying to figure out why I was losing Tournament races in NGEN Mode, and finally noticed I was racing a low-speed plane with no weapons against fighter jets. Duh!! Eventually, I decided that for someone who is patient and goes through NGEN Mode buying the best equipment and planes, difficulty is fairly well balanced. The ability to choose Pro or Arcade handling and disable Catch-Up makes it a more approachable game, but still Medium-Hard. Luckily, NGEN has basic training, and Free Flight Mode lets you test controls and planes before the race.

Game Mechanics:
Controlling stock planes can be frustrating, so you may watch the competition blow by until you customize. Custom parts add strength to the body of the plane, help kill turbulence for low-altitude flying and boost acceleration or top speed. Other choices like stealth ability add to the fun. Two handling options (Pro and Arcade) mean the difference between doing flips, rolls and power-dives or just steering. I did a lot of the latter until I learned Pro Handling, because Pro is tough! It's easy to get disoriented, because the boundaries found in most racing games are gone, and you're upside down half the time! Lines of lights and checkpoints keep you honest and most powerups are on the track, but it's always possible to hit shortcuts. However, flying outside the lines for 3 seconds kicks in autopilot and brings you back on course when racing.

Once you complete all events in a class, you need a new aircraft. Modifications are simple, so you can't easily add something that might mess up handling, and unless you sell good stuff and buy bad stuff, it only gets better. One thing that stinks is there's no way to have a completely custom controller setup. Every racing game should come standard with this feature, especially when there are combat elements; there's a lot of buttons on the controller, but NGEN didn't make the best use of them.

There's no question that NGEN Racing has enough going for it to be fun for anyone who wants a little more freedom in their racing game, or who gets bored with Flight Sims. Unfortunately, there are some pesky slow-down problems and configuration issues, but anyone willing to forgive a few quirks will have a blast with NGEN.

-Fridtjof, GameVortex Communications
AKA Matt Paddock

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