Release Date: November 20, 2003
Buy 'TOKYO XTREME RACER 3': PlayStation 2
I remember Tokyo Extreme Racing way back when it came out on that old dinosaur, what was it called? Dreamcast? Yeah, something like that. The concept of the game design was simple: race around Tokyo expressways and highways, flash other racers and beat them in head to head competition. The trick of was that you raced through the highways and in and around traffic. It was a whole lot of fun back then. I had never played a racing game quite like it. You soon got to know various personalities of different gangs and developed rivalries with these racers. There was the mysterious "Wanderer" who roamed the lanes in a souped up Econoline van and tore up anything that was foolish enough to challenge him. You earned credits to tweak out your car and even decorate it with new paint schemes and stickers. It wasn't a perfect game, but it was unique enough to be worthy of dedication.
Tokyo Extreme Racing 3 for Playstation 2 follows the same formula of the earlier Dreamcast iteration which is not necessarily a bad thing, but it certainly isn't good or shall I say good enough. The overall game design is still in tact, which is not a bad thing. You begin in either Osaka, Yokohama or Tokyo and work your way around each highway segment, mastering them as you go. You move from city to city challenging to local talent there as well. There is very much a gladiatorial vibe to this whole set-up. As you rack up more money by beating more racers you can improve upon your initial piece of junk until you've either built the Millennium Falcon of street racing. There is even a vague little narrative going on that has something to do with "The Powers" and how they "gather" with other "powers" to determine who is the most "powerful". Something tells me that some of that story was lost along the way as the game traveled from Japan to America. It's not as bad as All Your Base Are Belong To Us, but it's pretty close.
What made TER a good racing game back in the day was its unique take on racing. The accurate reproduction of Tokyo's highway system and the racing mechanics were new. Each racer had a life bar which drained as soon as you began to lose the race and you lost more power by crashing into things like pylons or other cars which gave you incentive to drive sensibly. TER3 plays essentially the same way.
TER3's graphics haven't improved dramatically either. A complaint about earlier TER games was that the roads were so dark, which was a touch of realism I did not mind. Things are still dark and pretty drab. There is not much variation in the game's palette to truly distinguish one length of road from another. Were it not for the map or a few distinct landmarks the player would not be able to distinguish one section from another. The car models are competent, but nothing that's going to set televisions on fire. One of the problems with the cars is that they are not officially licensed so there is a cheap "bootleg" feel to each of them. You know it says Supra and it's supposed to be a Supra, but it just doesn't look like a Supra. You are also limited to Japanese makers.
In fairness there are some neat lighting effects from the street lamps. These reflective lights not only serve as a nice touch, but they also make gameplay a little trickier. The key to this game is knowing when to down shift and when to brake. Miss the apex and you're in the guard rail. The spotty lighting makes it tougher to gauge the turns so you really need to learn the turns to be effective. The use of motion creates a good sensation of speed and the draw distance is far enough to eliminate any pop-up.
TER3 attempts to make use of public roadways to make the gameplay experience unique, but one of the problems is that these roadways are so sparsely populated that it hardly makes a difference. One logistical reason is that at high speeds, and the game represents this faithfully, it's very simple to lose control of your vehicle and careen into bystanders. If there streets were more crowded it would make the game too difficult to play. As a result you're left with a relatively straight line race with a few bobs and weaves in and out of traffic. Not exactly a compelling experience.
Another serious flaw in TER3 is the lack of fully fleshed out physics. You can hit a guardrail or a highway pylon at 200mph and not so much as spin out or receive any visible damage. Totaling your car wouldn't be too fun, but at the same time give me a few rolls or screeching spin-outs. What would've been a nice touch would be the use of insurance. Wreck your ride; get it back so long as you've got it covered. The game is going for a realistic angle, right? What's more realistic than that? Keep wrecking your ride, premium goes up and so does the incentive to not get into a wreck. Welcome to the real world kid. The lack of visual damage cues is very disappointing. If I can't crash my car realistically; at least make me wince when I hit the wall. Make me feel something, anything.
Yet another aspect of TER3's tumultuous failings is in the sound department. This is perhaps the worst failing of the game. There are two songs, both of which are awful, which play on repeat. When you're driving around there is one song and when you race there is another. I cannot even adequately describe the music as it defies convention. It is a harshly produced mix of Casio keyboard beats overlaid with glam-rock and techno thrown in to cover all the bases of bad music. I fund the music so distracting I had to turn it off after a short time.
There is no multiplayer function for the game. Not even a means to post times or scores or cars on the internet. There are utilities to customize your car with designed stickers or logos so sharing designs over the internet would've been cool, then I tried to design my own logos only to find the system so cumbersome and unexplained that doing anything other than a black and white happy face takes a few hours only to realize you've picked the wrong format or the wrong shade. I imagine that a USB mouse might make this process easier, but nevertheless it should be doable with the control pad.
What we have with TER3 is essentially the same game that was put out for Dreamcast. The graphics might be better, the sound certainly isn't, but the gameplay is in tact and sprinkling of a lame story about street racing leaves much to be desired. In fact, to charge full price for what amounts to a poor remix of a cult classic is not only inexcusable, it is unethical. If you haven't played TER (it's known is Japan as Shoutoko Highway Battle) it might make a fun rental. If you're looking for a serious driving game with some serious action, you'd be better served with the current generation of racing games that not only innovate but inspire. TER once did that with a novel premise, but now that premise is old and in the face of games like Pro Race Driver (an excellent story driven game) or Need For Speed: Underground (excellent for the fast and the furious) TER3 simply does not hold up and I would be remiss to recommend it. The creators perhaps dreamed of making a "serious racer's game" and so they left out of a lot of the "fluff". In doing so they also left out all of the fun. While the gameplay is pretty solid, the staidness of the graphics, the lack of finish and polish and the distressing lack of improvement or evolution leaves a cult classic racer in the lame category of retro-retreads. It is an absolute shame because the TER series used to be something cool.
Score : 5.0/10