Written on: 03/04/2006 by TOMLEECEE (121 reviews written)
Very stylish theme
Lots of longevity and variety
Starts off slow
Set pieces are predictable after a few races
Can be a bit difficult at times
Speed Devils was actually the very first game I ever played on the Dreamcast, way back in around November 1999 - just a few weeks after the machine was launched in the UK. After owning an N64 for so long, finally getting my hands on a Dreamcast felt like I had entered a whole new era of gaming. No more blurry textures, no more blocky character models, no more muffled sound effects It heralded the dawn of new age of 128-bit gaming. And to have Speed Devils as my first taste of the new hardware was an awe-inspiring experience.
The first time I loaded it up and got into an arcade race (just to test it out before embarking on a championship career), I was blown away by the graphics. Trust me, back then this game looked the business. All of the slightly retro-ish stylised cars are highly polished and very detailed, complete with realistic damage models and a multitude of different paint jobs. The handling was superb and the tracks all bursting with imagination. From the lush green vistas of Aspen, to the dusky beaches of LA to the jungles of Mexico - all of the tracks in Speed Devils were lavished upon in the shortcuts and hidden areas stakes. The AI wasn't short of brilliant either, as opposing drivers would try to bash you off the track or cut you up to put you off. Yes, I have fond memories of Speed Devils, but let's fast-forward 6 years.
In the gulf of time between the Dreamcast becoming defunct (and the inevitable selling of my console), I have been able to play some stunning racing games. The Xbox has hosted Racing Evoluzione, Forza Motorsport and Project Gotham; The GameCube has had F-Zero, and the PS2 Gran Turismo 3 & 4 and the various McRae Rally titles. Yes, since Speed Devils, I've played a lot of other games now I have Speed Devils again, does it still have the same charm as it did all those years ago?
Well, I have to say yes. And it's a resounding yes at that. The thing about Speed Devils is that, even thought the graphics still stand up today, it's the thrill and adventure that shines. The arcade races (as mentioned above) are superb, but it's the Championship that holds the biggest draw. It's so in-depth it makes most modern games of this style look amateurish in comparison. Here's how it works:
You start the game with a garage and a clapped out 60's Cadillac and no cash. A mysterious benefactor has enlisted you to race in a secret syndicate where only one thing matters: making money. In order to do this, you must win races and complete objectives whilst doing so. These objectives range from busting police speed radars to staying in first place the longest and for each objective completed, more cash is awarded at the end of the race.
To make things more interesting, the Championship is split into 4 'divisions' - D,C,B and A. Obviously, you start at the bottom of Division D and must work your way up into the higher ones by accruing points by winning races. On top of this, each division has it's own set of characters, all of whom have unique driving styles and who will also occasionally set you challenges such as finishing in a higher position than them in the next race or to a 'vendetta' where you enter a one on one. The winner gets the other's car; the loser gets nothing but humiliation.
Of course, there are lots of other aspects to the Championship, such as buying upgrades (engines, tires, nitro's etc) and there is also a car dealer who will purchase you unused vehicles for a fair price. However, it's a good move to keep at least two cars, because if you lose your only vehicle in a vendetta, you're pretty much screwed
The ultimate aim of the Championship is to work your way up to the top to earn the right to challenge the mysterious 'Driver X' to a vendetta and win his car, but due to the length of the Championship and the amount of challenges involved, it will take you some time to become the champ. Along the way, you'll unlock new tracks and vehicles - all of which add to the overall longevity of the game.
The tracks, as mentioned earlier, are all quite good and can be raced either in normal, backwards, mirrored or a combination of the three. Add to this the variable weather options and daylight settings and you have a lot of customisation at your behest. Some of the tracks are re-used but in 'summer' or 'winter' flavours, but new hazards are added and the different climate makes for some new shortcuts - e.g., in Aspen 'Summer,' a big lake at the bottom of one hill will see you come a cropper more than once but in the Winter, the lake is frozen over and makes a great shortcut through a forest.
Also worth a mention are the real time hazards that present themselves during the races. In Louisiana, a tornado sweeps through a town and can throw your vehicle about and cause you to loose position, and likewise in Mexico, a volcanic eruption will throw debris all over a certain section of the track creating obstacles to negotiate. Granted, you can actually avoid them quite easily when you know where they occur, but it's a nice effect and adds variety to proceedings.
It's obviously no secret that I really like Speed Devils, but it's not perfect by any means. The earlier races in the Championship mode are a bit mundane because of the lack of speed the vehicles possess, and the frame rates of some of the hazards are a bit jerky (in Hollywood, there are various 'special effects' monsters that attempt to block your progress, but most of them just look out of place and are very crudely animated - especially the T-Rex and King Kong).
Furthermore, even though the Championship is excellent, once it's been won there isn't really much more incentive to play. Once all the tracks are unlocked and you've won all the cars, all there is to really keep you playing is the Arcade mode, but even that gets a bit familiar after a while.
But these are faults that any game can be accused of having - even the mighty Grand Theft Auto is guilty of becoming monotonous and boring after several hours play, so I suppose it shouldn't really be taken as a fault that is specific to Speed Devils.
What you do have to remember, though, is that Speed Devils is a game that is running on 7-year-old hardware and isn't that much younger itself, and when you consider this the graphics, game play and features suddenly become even more impressive. An excellent addition to anyone's Dreamcast collection and more fun than a lot of current racing games on more capable hardware.
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