Release Date: August 23, 2005
Buck is a sad, sad, American stereotype. He's caught up to his neck in the seedy criminal underworld, forced to drive at excessive speeds with overpowered ballistic weaponry in order to simply keep from winding up as a grease stain and a chalk outline. It's enough to make someone wonder why you'd even get out of bed in the morning.
Welcome to the world of 187, where fast cars and death line up side by side and crowd the express lane. Our man Buck, the lead character, is pegged by a criminal kingpin to be his "running man." In race after race after bloody race, Buck will sit in the gunner's seat of a fabulous vehicle, trying desperately to not be on the losing end of the endeavor. I'm not sure here exactly what provoked this whole scenario - the disc seems very light on storyline - but suffice to say, our boy's got himself in a heap of trouble rivaling C.J. over in San Andreas.
Make no mistakes here: 187 is not GTA. Instead, it picks up some of the best elements of racing and vehicular combat into one massive blob of "vroom & boom." Imagine, if you will, the intense speed and powersliding mayhem of Burnout 3 intermingled with Twisted Metal's death arenas and heavy weaponry, all coated with a thick layer of "urban camo" paint, and what you'll have there in your thinkbox is something not unlike 187. Each of the (at least) four available modes is all about driving fast while pumping out enough lead to make sure the audience at home knows what you're trying to say.
The most primal form is Deathmatch, where the sort of unspoken tribute to Twisted Metal is the strongest. Cruising in a pickup with a mounted gun in the back, you'll do your best to either blow up your rivals' cars or kill their drivers, whichever one makes you happy (although only destroyed cars count for points), all while avoiding explosions and flying gatling gun rounds. In contrast, Whip Racing is all about running fast, driving hard, and not losing it. Your gunning can't guarantee your victory; no matter how well you put them down, no matter how much ammo you let fly, no matter how many mines or rockets hit them like a hammer to the cranium, these guys will get back up again and come after you like bats out of Hell. It's not exactly what anyone would call fair, but then again, death racing isn't about the fairness.
Rounding out the runs are Knockout Whips, which are simply modified Whip Races where the last-place driver blows up. If the stock Whip Races didn't push you to drive fast, that sure will. Finally, there's my personal favorite: The Hit. You, in a speed demon of a machine, will be pointed at a target and his flunkies. Your mission, should you choose to accept it (and really, you've got no choice in the matter), is to tear through traffic like a cruise missile with only one goal: tear that cat down like a cheap poster. If there's any race that'll put a hardcore hurting on your driving skills, it's this one: if you monkey around and turn yourself into a basket for hot lead, the target will be gone before you can turn the key in the ignition, and then it's bedtime for Buck-onzo, you dig?
And let's not even look away from multiplayer modes. The purest, simplest, and most visceral of them all is, as always, Multiplayer Deathmatch, where you and several of your best and closest homies - the kind who don't mind being ventilated in the virtual sense - hook up and snipe. Online play is planned (though it wasn't available for testing in the press release), along with a special two-player mode as seen once before in the budget bomb Starsky & Hutch: while one person takes the wheel and drives like a proverbial maniac (or a literal one, maybe), the other one grabs his favorite piece of steel, locks, and lets the gun do the talking. It's an easier way to play, since you don't have to try and focus on too many things at once.
The preview build I've been playing is, as near as I can tell, not 100% complete yet; it seems to be missing much of the story (even though it features the "Story Mode"). Built on a strong engine with good framerates and exceptionally done maps - some are frighteningly twisty or so loaded with traffic you can barely breathe. The normal racer may find themselves entirely overwhelmed by the mayhem or confused by the addition of ammo, while someone more accustomed to Burnout 3 will be dragged back by less "enhanced" physics: while these cars will slide and spin, it's not the arcade whirl-fest that's been popular off and on. Fancy stunts will give you booster power, sure, but keeping those wheels pointed forward is the order of the day.
The only seriously disconcerting element at this point is the challenge factor: this thing can be really hard, especially when you're worried about not only driving champion style but not getting shot to death (especially by one-shot-one-kill fire 'n' forget rockets), it's really simple to slide back in the pack and have no way to get anywhere near the front again. The AI drivers are simply way too perfect right now, especially when they don't miss very many shots and notch gun pickups all the time. I've also got some qualms about the "urban" theme; while it can be done well (see San Andreas or 25 To Life), here it seems applied like paintbrush mascara. It's too thick, too obtuse, and turns from something interesting (especially for us white folk) into a gimmick with more cheese than a deep dish pizza.
It's a strictly wait-and-see attitude at this point for 187, but as it stands, this is a rather tight setup that takes a stock gimmick - ye olde vehicular combat - and bends it around just enough to come up with something patently original and, at the very least, exciting. If the challenge can be mellowed out, the courses maybe made a little more forgiving, and possibly tone down on the 'tude, it'll be at least a unique racing title, and one that decides to buck the trend of underground racing and insane speeds.