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Vanishing Point
Review By: Siou Choy
Developer:   Acclaim
Publisher:   Acclaim
# of Players:   1-2
Genre:   Racing
ESRB:   Everyone
Date Posted:   4-2-01

As we approach the final crest of the wave in the diminishing output of new titles for the Playstation, it becomes harder and harder to find upcoming releases for the system to get oneself excited about. Having adopted a strange marketing strategy of (ostensibly) continuing to support the existing system (under the guise of the "portable" PS1) simultaneous to pushing the recently released PS2 (though standout titles for the new system remain a more elusive commodity than its legions of eager early adopters could ever have anticipated), fans of both systems (not to mention Sony shareholders) find themselves losing out on both ends. And into this stopgap period, with diminished expectations all around, comes Acclaim's most recent entry into the racing genre, Vanishing Point.

According to the game's box copy, "Vanishing Point offers one of the most advanced 3D driving engines, licensed cars, and an unbelievable amount of cars and levels to unlock". Unfortunately, even assuming that all of this were true, it would hardly compensate even half enough for the game's poor controls, surrealistic handling, and the overwhelming lack of cars (and tracks to drive them on) available to the gamer at startup. Now, I don't mind unlocking extra cars or levels, but when you're only offered TWO vehicles (count 'em, 2) to choose from, one being a Ford Explorer (and what self respecting non-yuppie would want to drive a goddamn Starbucks coffee-transporting SUV, particularly in a racing game?!?), we find ourselves well beyond the limits of rationality, having ventured far into the kingdom of video geekdom. Behind the advertised "unbelievable amount of cars and levels to unlock" is the disturbingly glossed-over fact that the gamer is forced to unlock literally everything (over 20 cars!!) to have what would constitute the average game experience. The end result, of course, is that by the time you get a workable selection of vehicles in this unrealistic, often absurdly difficult game, you just won't care anymore.

I knew I was in for a real treat in Vanishing Point when I took my first turn, trying desperately to ignore the extremely sluggish acceleration of the vehicle, only to find myself immediately hitting the wall and spinning wildly out of control. Lest you think this an anomaly, I invite you to try it for yourself. You should have the same experience, more quickly and easily than you'd believe possible; for as the unlucky purchaser will soon learn, spinning out in Vanishing Point is not exactly a hard thing to do. The cars don't hug the road very well (if at all), and even the slightest brush against another car or wall (a commonplace occurrence in racing games) can cause you to spin out. In fact, I've found it's possible to skid wildly, fishtail, and even spin out at a speed lower than 30 mph. Yep, you heard right. BELOW 30. Where are we supposed to be driving here, on an Alaskan ice floe? (Honest - I deliberately checked how slow you can go and still have the vehicle behave like a bar of soap through a wet fist).

And like the infomercial announcer said, "and that's not all". The true heights of ridiculousness of Vanishing Point come into play in the first seconds of play - and "play" is exactly what the problem is. Even given the fact that you start off driving a piece of crap like a Ford Explorer, nobody's suspension (or lack thereof) behaves like this, bouncing around like a buoy on a rough maritime morning. Regardless of one's personal vehicular propensity, cars (and other vehicles) in Vanishing Point do not behave according to the accepted rules of momentum, physics, or gravity. Even beyond the aforementioned sheet-of-ice handling, the vehicles themselves strain wildly against their moorings, bouncing and swerving in every conceivable direction, to a bizarre and previously undreamt of degree throughout the drive. The overall effect is as if the chassis were resting on a waterbed rather than two axles and a drive train.

Trust me, even after years of conditioning playing bad, yet inexplicably popular racing games rife with vastly unrealistic road handling, nothing can prepare you for the logistic impossibilities and complete physical and mathematical absurdity of the Vanishing Point driving experience. So removed from reality is the driving engine of the game that only one word comes to mind in summation: pathetic.

Up and down, left over right, hood over trunk, the vehicles (particularly the Explorer) float and careen wildly, adhering to no known rule of physics or natural law, Newtonian or otherwise. Far moreso than the wildest flights of fantasy of the RPG or survival horror game, Vanishing Point makes one wonder just what the hell its designers have been smoking; though the cheesy, semi-authentic techno/rave music that pounds pathetically through your inadequate little television speaker may provide something of a clue.

The poorly designed control system in Vanishing Point is sure to leave a trail of broken controllers in it's wake. Acclaim attempts to explain away their bizarre control setup in the manual by saying you have to "learn how to drive on the limit", whatever the hell that means. Are they referring to the speed limit? I find it hard to believe that going into a spinout at 30 mph has anything whatsoever to do with pushing a car to its limit.

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