Let me present to you one of my all time favourite games, that you most likely not even heard the title of. it’s „critical velocity“ for the Sony Playstation 2. it was made by arcade-experts Namco, creators of some of the most intriguing racing simulations ever created and it was only released for the japanese market, back in 2004.
there are a couple of things, that make this actually special. first of all it is a missions based, sandbox racing game. like with all sandbox games it creates the illusion of complete interactivity and freedom, while in reality a lot of limits occur. anyway, all you can do can race, but in all different forms that a racing game can consist of. it is basically a mix of every type of racing game possible, put into a sandboxed city environment, held together by a long long looooooong mission based story, with optional side missions lurking at each and every corner. some missions set you in a position where you have to drive under time pressure to master a course with a sheer unmanageable time restriction, just like the racing license missions in gran turismo, then you have missions where you have to chase down criminals and bring their car to a halt, then you have insane rescue missions, for example in a burning highway tunnel, which you can only master by drifting around but that also with maximum precision to pass the friggin time limit …. etc. let’s just say that everything one can make up to demand you’d have to do with a car, you will have to master at least 10 times during the runtime of the game. it is extremely, yes extremely versatile.
it also gets EXTREMELY difficult pretty fast. while as always the first missions are a piece of cake, you will soon find your self in front of the screen yelling and throwing controllers around and boxing the wall. some of this missions are so insanely difficult, you get the feeling that you are back in commodore 64 times, when a game could have only 4 levels, but had to be so hard, that it would take you weeks to achieve the skills to even make it out of the first one.
are you a gran turismo player? remember those times, when you were driving licenses and you drove the same course for 300th time and again missed the mark by a single second, foaming from rage, being ready to punch someone in the face at any given time, for no further reason than your own frustration? yes, that’s the level of difficulty we are talking about here. on the other hand you most likely know the feeling of mastering that track, that has been taunting your for hours and hours, which then makes you jump up screaming like an imbecile: „yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeah! who’s the man? whooooo’s the man?“. my buddy and i had those moments. loads of them.
one particular extra element also fuels the terror on your nerves: the main music. let me explain: as with almost every sandbox game which involves car races, you have the usual 2 choices here. either drive slowly and by the rules and get insane while driving 15 minutes from one mission point to the other or drive like you want and then have to deal with police cars chasing you, which would then result in severe punishment within the game, if they’d catch you. to make this worse, the town driving bits ALWAYS switch to the same annoying pop-jazz tunes. at first you think „hey, that’s fresh and unusual“, but after weeks over weeks of playtime, it makes you truly gaga, which is especially true if you just finished a mission after 3 hours of driving the same course over and over again and have to drive to the next story point, while your nerves already lie bare as it is.
i played this game with a close friend of mine, with one stepping in as soon as the other was just about to kick in the screen. and we played it for weeks. intensively. this is the kind of game that we met for on a regular basis, almost like training for a sports event. it makes you feel the need to defend it.
and this baby is long. soooooo long. we all know those games that you play through in a weekend and then regret basically having thrown 50 bucks out of the windows. well, this is the opposite. as i said, we played it for weeks and weeks and weeks and at one point decided to not do any of the optional side missions anymore, to safe time. and when we finally reached the end it was shown to us, that even though we mastered the whole story, we had only seen 53% of the game. yes, 53%.
oh, while we are talking story, this one got story, alright. loads of story, long long, fantastically made full motion videos, consisting of hot chicks, then the 2 male badass protagonists, grumpy loud mouthed superiors, criminals, action and everything else that one could ask for in this genre. ok, since my buddy and i at best are able to understand 3 words of japanese, we only partially appreciate that, but you see that they have put a huge load of thought into it, because apart from it’s high quality the whole videos we have seen, without the rest of the game would easily make for a good 2 hour movie. anyway, hot chicks and massive actions scenes are always cool. in any language.
this game also got everything else, that you might want from a racing game: a huge amount of different cars, which you can either buy or get as an achievement, you got the good old tuning opportunities, great graphics and most importantly great controls.
why this has been a one hit wonder and never transformed to another platform or at least localized for any other platform? …. i have no idea. too good? too challenging? too demanding?
gladly there are still those 47% of the game that i haven’t seen so far, if you catch my drift. 😉