Tuesday was quite a busy day, to say the least. While I knew that I’d be visiting Sega for a product launch, I was unaware that Namco was also running an open day. Many thanks are due to Kevin Williams of The Stinger Report for informing me of the event, and ensuring that this report could happen! And with apologies for the slight delay, let’s get on with it.
So, upon rocking up to Namco’s HQ, we discovered a big model of Jin Kazama advertising Dead Heat Street Racing (presumably while waiting for Tekken Tag Tournament 2, or something). Like Sega’s GRID, which we’d played earlier in the day, Dead Heat Street Racing features real-world cars and locations. That’s where the similarities end, though. For a start, Namco’s game takes some artistic license with the four featured cities – London, New York, Chicago and San Francisco – in order to cram in the maximum number of recognisable landmarks (rather neatly including County Hall, Namco Station’s London home). Meanwhile, the cars are all recognisable racing standards such as the Nissan Skyline and Dodge Viper.
It’s on the car selection screen that the first interesting feature kicks in – the PIN entry! It’s fantastic to see manufacturers working around operators’ general memory card aversion to provide save functions. In addition to the standard car and course selections, you get a familiar returning feature from Namco games: the driver’s photograph. Apart from being displayed above your car during your race, it can be saved for use in all future games to represent CPU drivers (though annoyingly, it doesn’t stay attached to your PIN). Once you’re done with all that bumph, it’s off to the race you go.
Once you’re in, the racing is rather like that found in The Fast and the Furious series from Raw Thrills. The four courses are laden with jumps and other fun sections. Collisions with on-course obstacles such as phone boxes, crash barriers and such are of little consequence, allowing players to concentrate on the race. However, Dead Heat eschews the stunt system featured in those games, and that’s not the only difference. For one thing, the game seems rather more difficult – it’s always a struggle to maintain a lead if you ever get one, and the AI is somewhat opposed to letting that happen. The other thing is that the courses, while not as numerous or varied as those in Raw Thrills’ games, seem to be that bit more engaging.
After each race, you’re given the option to upgrade your vehicle and save progress with your PIN. Your basic upgrade takes you from one nitrous oxide canister to three (very useful!), and from there upgrades such as spoilers, new wheels and other items become available. Eventually, these add up to make a fearsome racing machine!
Dead Heat Street Racing is not the new Maximum Tune some people were waiting for, but the racing action is hectic and visually exciting, while the PIN saving is a very welcome feature. At present though, the game is very light on content with just four available courses and no apparent secrets. There’s also currently no word of the 3D “Maximum Heat” version making it to Europe. That doesn’t change the fact that Dead Heat is a fun, accessible game which should go down very well indeed.
Meanwhile, Raw Thrills’ Super Bikes 2 was also on display. The cabinet seems rather well put together (the monitor is pretty lovely too, it has to be said) and has that distinctive Raw Thrills look. If you’ve played the previous Super Bikes game, you’ll know exactly what to expect here! The game takes place over 11 courses which are almost like roller coasters, such is their design and visual variance. Before you race, there’s a useful choice of upgrade for the bike (I chose the engine, as I tend to). Obstacles don’t pose much resistance and you can pull stunts from jumps and even off other racers.
Unfortunately, this series just doesn’t seem to work for me. A small part of it is undoubtedly the heavy pre-race use of digitised sprites, which don’t appeal even as a nostalgic throwback to the mid-90s. More worryingly, I managed to saunter into first place without realising it and maintained the lead for most of the race, until a bout of unexplainable incompetence knocked me into third place almost literally dead on the finish line. Regardless, the general audience will no doubt get a lot from this game, as they did with Tokyo Drift and Super Bikes before it.
Deadstorm Pirates was also knocking about in its final form, and it’s as good as I remember from EAG. As I’m sure you all know by now, the game is a fixed-gun shooter much like Sega’s Let’s Go series, but with a slightly less light-hearted pirate theme. It’s a fairly pretty game, running on Playstation 3 based technology, and the cabinet is a nice enclosed deal. The gimmick for the game is the pirate ship’s wheel, located between the two guns.
Standard features of the fixed-gun template are all here: relentless and numerous enemies, bosses with multiple weak points that require elimination, and the Let’s Go-style compatibility rating at the end of a stage. Where Deadstorm Pirates sets itself apart from the competition is in variety of play. Fairly normal features such as power-ups and a choice between mid-stage treasure chests are fine, but the addition of the occasional cannon sequence does a lot to alter the pace of play. Additionally, the wheel allows for some slightly more involved mini-games, the best of which involves steering the ship around obstacles (properly, rather than in a QTE reaction test fashion, though it does that too).
I quite like Deadstorm Pirates, it’s involving and attractive. I was playing the non-motion version and didn’t mind a bit, with five stages (with a choice of route for the middle three) there’s enough to the game to keep me interested. However, it is soon to lose its status as an arcade exclusive thanks to its low-key inclusion in the Razing Storm PS3 port. Will that matter at all? It’s too early to tell, but it seems a rather more compelling arcade experience.
Then, to round out the show, we have a few other video games: the ever-lovely Tank!Tank!Tank! which is still doing the rounds, looking like a cross between Alien Front and Earth Defence Force; the very popular Terminator Salvation from Raw Thrills and Play Mechanix; and H2Overdrive, a favourite of mine since I first played it at ATEI 2009. All in all, a reasonably positive showing from Namco!