The Dreamcast isn't short of driving games. Whatever your preference when it comes to vehicular racing, every sub-genre is catered for: Simulation fans have got F1 World GP or Metropolis Street Racer, Arcade fans have Daytona or Sega Rally 2 and even fans of the more miscellaneous categories have Wacky Races or Loony Tunes Space Race to entertain them; and generally, most of the DC's racers are of the highest calibre. Enter Acclaim's Vanishing Point - yet another top drawer addition to the stable.
While Vanishing Point shares its name with the cult road movie from the 1970s, it isn't linked in any other way. There are no gay hitchhikers, no police chases and no blind DJs; and whilst this could be seen by some as a negative, Vanishing Point - Acclaim style - impresses with aplomb in other areas.
The number of play modes accessible from the outset puts many other games to shame, and they are quite unique for this style of racer. The Tournament mode sees you pick a car from the showroom and then race against the clock and other computer controlled vehicles on highways and mountain passes that are also populated by civilian traffic. You have to bob and weave through the traffic and avoid the other vehicles involved in the 'heat,' all the while trying to improve your lap times. Other modes include the Single Race that does away with the time based shenanigans of the Tournament and replaces it with straight racing against AI cars; a Time Trial; a Rally (that is in reality just a multi-staged Time Trial consisting of one lap on each track); and finally a brilliant Stunt Driver option. The Stunt Driver game is sort of like the Crazy Box from Crazy Taxi, but injected with the most hardcore anabolic steroids available to horses - let alone man. In layman's terms, Stunt Driver offers the player a shed load of time limited mini games that really will test your driving skills to the limit, and involve things like jumping over a hump-backed bridge to burst balloons or negotiating a twisting track without touching the sides. Of course, the better you perform, the more points you get to bank; and the more you bank, the more challenges you open up. A bit like a vehicle based version of The Weakest Link - but without the eye-splintering repugnance of Anne Robinson.
How so? Quite simply, Vanishing Point looks astounding. The name - I'm told - comes from the game's utilisation of a groundbreaking (in 2000) game engine that models the entire circuit rather than draw it in, ergo eliminating pop up. Very clever, I'm sure you'll agree. If that wasn't enough, all of the (official) car models are superbly rendered, very shiny and very accurate. There aren't any real time reflections, but this is made up for by some great lighting effects and a smooth and consistent screen update, coupled with some super-sharp hi-res scenery to whiz past. So yes, Vanishing Point looks sweet.
So far, Vanishing Point has it all - more play modes than you can wave a knitting needle at, officially licensed vehicles and incredible looks...but how does it play? Well, thankfully, Vanishing Point handles quite well too. The handling model of the vehicles is clearly of the Arcade variety - everything is just a tad bouncy, but not bouncy enough to detract from the fun to be had weaving between heavy traffic. On the odd occasion you do loose control and careen into an innocent, family filled Station Wagon in the adjacent lane, get ready for a spectacular crash. There are no damage effects in Vanishing Point but like in that talisman of the 3D0, The Need For Speed, it matters not a jot when the fender bending moments are as realistic as those found here. Granted, after a few scrapes you'll more than likely find yourself languishing in last place so the effect wears off and annoyance sets in, but the key is to avoid prangs. Obviously.
So there it is. Vanishing Point is a rather accomplished if rarely mentioned driving game that any Dreamcast owner is encouraged to seek out. Never has the phrase "diamond in the rough" seemed more appropriate. Although, I have just finished watching Disney's Aladdin ...