The PC as a platform has never been short of pukka racing games. Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuitis arguably the best in terms of features and graphics, although anybody with a PlayStation who owns a copy of Gran Turismo will laugh in your face if you attempt to justify any kind of creditable comparison.
It comes as no surprise, therefore, to see that at least one PC developer, in this case driving aficionados Papyrus - the people responsible for the excellent IndyCar Racing and NASCAR Racing - are currently putting the finishing touches to a game that cocks its hat in the general direction of Sony's liber-racer.
As your eyes will have already informed you, Viper Racing certainly looks the business, and if the hype is to be believed it will give PC owners something to shout about the next time their console-owning chums start mouthing off about Gran Turismo.
Support for the latest 3D accelerator cards, which enables some rather special new graphical effects - such as tyre burn-outs, transparent car windows and environment-mapped cars - coupled with an advanced damage model tha enables you to scratch and dent your car, should be more than enough to I start mouths watering. A feature - I laden career mode that enables you I to gradually upgrade your car, sophisticated racing telemetry analysis, full multiplayer LAN/Intemet capability and an innovative 'organic' AI system should convince console-twiddlers that it's time they ditched their TV toys and started saving up their spending money for a PC pretty sharpish.
Papyrus' track record (ahem) for producing top-quality racing games should be enough to convince even the most sceptical gamer that Viper Racing will be worth at least a momentary glance when it's released at the end of this year. And you can rest assured that we'll be following this little beauty's progress very carefully indeed.
It has often been said that the way to reduce accidents is to build cars that can't go faster than the average person thinks. Realising that most Americans wouldn't get out of first gear, Chrysler decided to throw caution to the wind and build the Viper, an ugly but menacing two-seater with a 488 truck engine squeezed under the bonnet. The Viper had the handling of a Flymo, the discreetness of a Vulcan bomber, and the fuel consumption of a rail dragster. In essence, it was every schoolboy's wet dream, and every environmentalist's nightmare.
Four years later after launching the Roadster, Chrysler introduced a Coupe version for high street showrooms, adding sissy stuff like air conditioning and airbags, and upping the already mighty power output from 415bhp to 450bhp. According to Chrysler's sales reports, they had a real bang-up year. According to accident reports, so did their customers.
Sierra's Viper Racing charts your involvement with one of these roadgoing brutes, starting you off with an unmodified car and challenging you to take part in numerous races. Trophies get you dollars, dollars buy you modifications, and modifications buy you even more wins. And so it goes on. If you're not keen to start a driving career, the game also provides a Quick Race option to get you behind the wheel with three clicks of the mouse. Which is where we'll head first.
Vipers Go Vroom, Vroom
After being dumped into the driving seat, the first thing you'll notice is that the rear end of your Viper isn't particularly, er, Viperlike. Compared to the finely rendered models in Gran Turismo on the PlayStation, the 3Dfx interpretations in Viper Racing don't really do the car much justice. Instead of looking intimidating, that magnificent, frowning front end looks more like the friendly lines of a Jaguar XK-8. And the back end just looks, well, sort of lumpy.
After a few laps, you settle down quickly with the way the car behaves at speed. It's very easy to collect when you get it out of shape, and very composed when you get the braking and turning just right (you need a wheel or analog stick to perfect this). The engine note is gnarled and intrusive, and becomes absolutely mesmerising when piped through a decent sub-woofer.
Feel The Need For Speed
The developers, Monster Games Inc (headed by ex-Papyrus code guru Richard Garcia), have spent a great deal of time and effort on an intricate physics model, complete with moving suspension parts and clutched gear changes. But honestly, what's the point? How many Viper owners play computer games? Would they - or anyone else, for that matter - notice if it handled like a McLaren or a Lister or a Toyota Starlet? Of course not. Driving games are all about fun and that . indefinable 'feel' of the car. Complex physics models rarely help matters. There are also various levels of realism available to you but, speaking as a certified car nut, I've never seen the point in them. Unless you're actually buckled into the seat of a real Viper, the exhaust gases biting at your throat and the howl of the side pipes making your ears bleed, a true-to-life mode will fall short every time.
Nevertheless, the only real complaint about the way Viper Racing behaves is that there's little or no perception of speed: slow corners look identical to fast corners - until you're halfway around them, when the tyres bark and the car slithers round in a graceful arc before lunging at the nearest tree. With the complex damage model the game employs, the results are not pretty: paint scratches off, wheels buckle, wings crumple, headlights smash, and when you finally get the car back on the tarmac it drives like a plate of spaghetti.
But It's No Classic?
Viper Racing is a fine driving game, but there's one major niggle that you simply can't ignore. Driving around in a Viper is all very well, but when you're up against a fleet of other Vipers and the alternative to your current Viper is er... let me see... oh yes, another Viper, it all gets a bit repetitive. In fact it can get a lot repetitive. The career mode, where you race for money and buy go-faster bits with the winnings, gives the game an addictive kick but you can't help wanting a wider range of cars. Two would be nice.
So. The bottom line: should you buy it? Well, perhaps. It's worth recommending as the way it drives should be enough to convince even the fussiest punter. The Viper is a good car (in 1997 it won both the FIA GT2 Drivers' Championship and the Manufacturers' World Championship) and Viper Racing is a good game. The only real doubt is that one model, eight tracks and a handful of performance accessories may not be enough to keep everyone interested.
Download Viper Racing
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features: Single game mode
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