Saturday 7 March 2015

Virtua Racing (Mega Drive / Genesis review)

Developer: Sega AM R&D #2
Publisher: Sega
Released: 1994

Virtua Racing is the only Mega Drive / Genesis game to feature Sega's SVP chip which allowed for more realistic 3D graphics.

Like the Arcade original this version includes all three courses which are Big Forest (Beginner), Bay Bridge (Medium) and Acropolis (Expert). Each course is well designed and sees you racing alongside amusement parks, through tunnels and over bridges. There's a surprising amount of scenery including billboards, ferris wheels, boats and grandstands. Tire marks litter the tracks and there's even a pit stop where your crew will sort out any issues with your car! One of the most amazing features is that you can choose between four different camera angles during the races and switch between them on the fly. This is expected nowadays but back in 1994 it was extremely uncommon. These cameras include an in-car viewpoint, two from behind the car and one aerial angle. The latter is probably the best as you can see upcoming turns better and there's less pop-in. Another innovative feature is the ability to view a full Instant Replay of your last race; the camera automatically switches between all available angles and it really adds to the excellent overall presentation of the game. As well as a Free Run mode there's also a two-player split screen option which works well with no noticeable slowdown. My only minor criticism is that the dithering used on the 3D shapes can make turns and upcoming cars difficult to see. The game only runs at 15 frames per second but it's actually quite solid and the action still feels blisteringly fast. The music is upbeat and there's a wide range of excellent SFX and voice clips to enhance the arcade experience.

Virtua Racing is a technical masterpiece and Sega worked miracles to get this game to run well on their 16-bit system. The 3D graphics are great and the best part is that instead of being a gimmick they're backed up by some solid controls and entertaining gameplay.

Random trivia: The custom SVP chip was incredibly expensive to produce which meant that this version of Virtua Racing originally retailed for a whopping £70 or $100!

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