Rips Apart The Competition
The year is 3000 AD. Life has we know it has changed and in our somewhat bleak future the planet is run by a bunch of self-aware super computers that appear to possess human emotion. Out of sheer boredom these computers decide to engage in one of humanity's sports - racing. They craft cars based on various animals of Earth, throw in brutal tactics and set about racing to the finish. Welcome to S.C.A.R.S.
That pretty much serves both as the story and concept of the game. It's a weapons-based racer when elite driving combined with expert assaults is the key to victory. Such games aren't exactly new or anything, but something about this game makes it an engaging experience.
It gets off to a great start with the way it looks. Each vehicle is beautifully rendered and animated, and the designs themselves are quite inspired. As mentioned, each vehicle is based on a specific animal of Earth, such as a shark, rhino or lion, and this comes across in their designs. Granted the last couple of vehicles aren't as impressive looking but we can ignore them.
The environments are also quite impressive. The island course is covered in rough sand and littered with trees and water patches, while the sky is painted orange as the sun prepares to set. You can also see things like dust clouds kicked up. Each course is also drastically different looking than the rest, really helping to keep the selection fresh to the eyes,
The game also comes with a rather pleasant soundtrack. None of the music is memorable but the tunes are generally matched up well to the different environments and compliment the racing fairly well. The sound effects used throughout are also pretty solid. The voice clips from the cars when they get hit is a nice touch.
There are a total of nine cars to use, although four must be unlocked first before they can be used. Each vehicle has different levels of effectiveness in different areas, such as speed, handling and acceleration, and the vehicles are mostly balanced with the exception of the panther car (which is the last car unlocked and serves as the ultimate high-performance car). Each vehicle also has a certain weapon that they excel in using, which basically means that vehicle gets an extra use out of that weapon. It's a pretty healthy selection with a lot of diversity.
The general handling of these vehicles is superb. Each one responds well to steering to differing degrees based on the car's handling stat. Accelerating and braking is also simple and works well. Each car can also spring into the air by tapping the right shoulder button, which helps to bounce off traps on the track. The jump is surprisingly high too, making it quite useful.
Although handling is great, it is quite a challenge to get around each course, and so any player with delusions of taking corners at full speed will soon learn the error of their methods as they inspect the various outer-walls of the tracks. Careful use of the brakes is essentially to getting around the difficult corners, even in the early tracks. Fortunately it's not possible to fall off the track at any point so the consequences for missing the braking point isn't massive.
Most of the courses also provide alternate paths at times, where the track splits and then rejoins later, allowing for varied approaches when tackling the races. Each track also tends to come with some fairly unique trait that helps to differentiate it from the others. The water track has more stubborn handling, pipe allows players to drive right up the sides and blade features thinner track width and harsh corners. In short the track design is excellent.
However, I do have one complaint regarding the track selection and that would be the number of them. There are only a mere nine race courses, and while every one of them is different from each other and are interesting, more choice would definitely have been welcome. The game does try to mix it up with a mirror mode and alternate weather conditions such as rain and night but mirror mode is not all that new to racing and the weather really doesn't change the racing itself.
As you race there are weapon pickups to be found all across the track. Grabbing a weapon icon will slip that item into your weapon slot. Each car can hold two weapons at any given time and can freely switch between stored weapons with a press of a button, which is handy if you want to hang onto a certain weapon or want to switch the order for a specific type of assault. Weapons themselves are unleashed via the Z trigger and have two activation uses. Tapping the button is a basic use, but most weapons can also be charged by holding the trigger. Charged weapons have a bigger effect, such as summoning three boomerangs instead of one or magnets possessing a larger catch field.
The weapon selection is kept pretty balanced in this game too. The weapon gained depends on the icon picked up, so you can get any weapon regardless of race position. Getting struck is also not as dire as it is in most games as you vehicle more tends to slow down for a moment rather than stopping entirely, so it helps to spread the focus between weapon play and racing talent.
The game also offers points for successful hits with weapons, and while there is no specific goal in terms of point scoring it can still be a great challenge to rack up high scores, especially since the game records high scores off the stages. Scores can be boosted with chain combos by striking multiple foes in quick succession. Careful choice of weapons and expert switching is the key here, as skill levels can really put some huge gaps between scores. I found it quite found just trying that alone.
The grand prix forms the main single player meat of the game. You start off with one cup and then gradually unlock new cups as you clear the old ones. Each cup has its own selection of tracks to race on, with new tracks being added as you progress. The tracks tend to repeat themselves though (like the first cup features the Aztec track twice), only with varying weather.
Points are scored based on finishing positions, although a player can't move to the next track unless they finish in the top four. In addition to the standard points the game also awards bonus points for various things. Fastest lap is the most common one, but you can also get bonus points for things like scoring highly with weapons or reaching the end without getting hit. Often these points don't make a massive difference but it's nice to get rewarded for such things anyway. Winners are determined by the point totals after the last race of a cup.
In addition to the standard cups there is the custom cup. Players can build their own set and order of tracks with the currently unlocked courses. Having a tailored single player sure is nice.
The computer opponents in this mode are quite aggressive. They will launch barrages of weapon fire and will hound you throughout each race. They will swarm all over the place and try to get in your way. There's potentially a little too much of the whole set of computer drivers against the human player but since they end up running into their own traps anyway it's not really bad. It's quite a rewarding challenge to keep ahead of them.
Challenge mode is a one on one racing mode. There are only four races in this mode that unlock as you move through the grand prix mode, and is basically where you unlock the new vehicles. Basically, you have to beat the car in a race to win it. The general racing concept is still the same though, except you only have a single tough opponent to beat instead of a whole gang of them.
Time Trial is included as standard. It's a great way to practice on the tracks to get used to them and to set fastest times. Most items in this mode can't be picked up, with the exception of the turbo items that still litter the track. This mode is a little inferior to similar modes in other racing games due to the ghost data. Technically you can have a ghost race around the track that represents you best run from the current set of attempts. The problem is that this ghost only lasts for as long as you remain in the TT mode. The complete inability to save ghost data is rather disappointing.
As usual though there is a versus option that allows up to four players to complete in racing each other to the finish. As expected there is nothing quite like taking your mates on in intense racing, and the tough track designs intensify the action. Playing with three or four players results in some of the graphical features of tracks being cut down (I assume to save the framerate from getting trashed) but nothing that interferes with the gameplay.
S.C.A.R.S. is an excellent racing experience. The game could definitely use with more tracks, but the racing is exciting and challenging, while offering great car and track designs.