Game Description: Fast-paced, arcade-style driving action hits the Dreamcast in the form of Ubi Soft's Speed Devils—only this time, it's personal. The first thing you'll notice is the game's emphasis on presenting recognizable rivals throughout the races. Instead of competing against faceless "computer" foes, you meet 17 rival drivers with distinct personalities; these defining characteristics come out in their driving tendencies. Yu Kioto's calm demeanor, for example, is reflected in his calculated, mistake-free driving. It's a cool feature that gives the single-player game depth: you not only have to handle wacky obstacles as you roar around the track, but you have to handle each driver differently.
A recent trend in the videogame industry is that the launch of a new videogame console brings with it an onslaught of racing titles. The racing titles simplicity (making it relatively easy to develop) and graphic capacity (great for showcasing machine prowess) make it a an ideal candidate for eager developers to bang out for just such a occasion. The Dreamcast, for example, launched with as many as five racing titles; each offering a suitable showing in both the graphics and speed departments. But, to little surprise, amid the games flashy visuals, there was little in terms of innovation or fun gameplay. Speed Devils, on the other hand, presents us with quite the opposite scenario; the game won't wow you with stunning graphics, but its arcade gameplay may be just deep enough to add up to a good time.
In Speed Devils' defense, Ubi Soft intentions were to go out and create an arcade racer, not a racing simulation. Taking that into consideration, it would have been inappropriate to compare it against the likes of Gran Turismo 2 or World Driver Championship and so I never did. Nevertheless, Speed Devils has its own set of problems; one mainly being that it struggles even to live up to its arcade roots. Arcade games are known for being over-the-top with wacky animations, large graphics that sport bright, dazzling colors, and booming sound effects and music. All this, of course, is tied up into a nice package with fast-paced and relatively simple gameplay. So as far as arcade racers go, Speed Devils is one for three.
The graphics in Speed Devils are standard Dreamcast fare. Speed Devils sports a decent share of special effects exemplified by the changing weather and environmental lighting. However, it doesn't go unnoticed that the graphics overall are pretty primitive. The car models, while competently representational, are really lacking in detail and maintain an unsophisticated appearance. Even worse is that the paint jobs on the cars seem to have been done by artists with a fatal case of color-blindness. When I perused the inventory of cars available and waiting to be unlocked, I never got a strong urge to actually get these cars because, aside from sporting more powerful specifications, they just looked butt-ugly.
The environments and background art in Speed Devils also suffer a similar fate. Rocks, bridges, buildings, and you-name-it are simplistically rendered and gives the world I was playing in a low-tech, or even unfinished, appearance. To add a bit of diversity to the surroundings, Ubi Soft scripted a few hilarious events into each track (such as a Tyrannosaurus Rex charging through a movie lot or a UFO crashing in Roswell, New Mexico). Unfortunately, this does get old after seeing them for the umpteenth time and, on top of that, they didn't exactly animate smoothly so they could become somewhat of an eyesore. In fact, Speed Devils looks a lot like the arcade "classic," Crusin' USA—a game that is well over half a decade old. As for Speed Devils' sounds, the soundtracks and sound effects sounded fine when I first started playing them, but after a few tracks, they all seemed to blend onto themselves and, in the end, the acoustic experience is rather unmemorable.
Given the comments Ive made thus far in the review, one may wonder why the game didnt get a rating of two or three. Well, the game has one saving grace: the Championship mode. In this mode, the game takes on more of a GT race where I would race amongst a group of other drivers in a competition to advance and be number one. The cars excellent handling and my opponents competitive AI made the races a lot of fun. But, and heres where its gets interesting, the whole premise is that I am an upstart in the underground, street-racing arena and a big name player has supplied me with a car to race and win with (the suppliers incentive is his own money, which he is betting on me with). The more money I make for him, the bigger a name I will become, and the happier we will both be as a result.
As you would expect with this type of "sport," there are loads of seedy things that can be done during and after a race. For instance, bets are the norm among the different drivers where thousands of dollars or even their own vehicles are wagered. The conditions can be anything from "Radar Busting," where you try to race past consecutive police cars (who are scanning the tracks with radar guns) by driving well above the top speed limit on their guns, to simply finishing a race ahead of a certain driver. If betting is not your thing, then money bonuses can be achieved in other ways. There are rewards for the driver who retains a lead for the longest amount of time as well as for the driver who reaches the highest top speed. Needless to say, money is an important asset to build throughout the game. It not only furnishes bets, it also buys upgrades for your car— which you will certainly have to do and do often if you hope to win or, if you so desire, your money can be used to obtain a new car entirely.
To give the game more of a simulation feel, or perhaps to just extend its replay value (or both) Ubi Soft added a condition which dictates that in order to advance to the next class, a certain amount of points had to be tallied. While it worked fine early on in the game, this often meant racing the same group of tracks over and over for no reason other than accumulating points. Even more frustrating was this usually came down getting a faster car in order to beat certain tracks which lead me to either race the same tracks even more (to build up the finances necessary) or try and win one in a bet; whichever came first. Another ploy to extend the games replay value came in the form of the two-player mode. The problem is that this mode is, too literally, a two-player mode. Despite having up to five different modes, they are all reduced to races involving two cars on a track. And unless you and your buddy are intensely competitive, this mode will get dull in a heartbeat.
All in all Speed Devils could have been a fine Dreamcast racer. All Ubi Soft had to do was iron out a few wrinkles (like the ones Ive mentioned here) and make the gameplay less arduous. It may have even been a decent showcase of the Dreamcast's abilities like Tokyo Xtreme Racer. But the lack of polish drags down a game that, while fun the first time around, quickly slips into mediocrity.
To be perfectly frank, Speed Devils is one of the worst games I've played all year. This thing is ugly from top to bottom. It's not very original or cool (although it thinks it is), the gameplay is weak, the graphics are dull, the music sucks and most of all, it's boring—Speed Devils lacks any kind of excitement whatsoever. High energy is what carried games like Daytona USA and F-Zero X over the edge. High energy even saved San Francisco Rush from being a complete waste of time. Unfortunately, high energy is something Speed Devils doesn't have.
The Championship mode Dale mentioned is at least notable, if only because it's the only thing that gets Speed Devils out of the traffic jam on the Generic Racing Game Expressway. But the racing itself is so blah that I found it hard to get excited about the idea of betting against other drivers. Sure, it may be enticing to accept a challenge from some cocky competitor, and the rivalries that form as a result of the races make things interesting. But ultimately, you have to race, and it just isn't any fun doing three long laps around several poorly-designed, desolate courses. All the environments are very quiet and plain. There's literally no life in this game—it's like every race location was quarantined by the government. Sometimes rocks will fall in front of a car's path, or the shark in Hollywood will try to get you (oh, scary), but that's about the extent of the game's surprises. There are no wild crashes or collisions to get your blood pumping, either. When a car hits something, it just stops dead in its tracks.
The game doesn't succeed in selling the seedy, money-racing underground, either. Not for a moment did I feel like I was part of some bad-boy club like the game wants you to believe. I didn't feel threatened by "The Bet-taker," a lame Kingpin rip-off who talks to you in these long, rolling text boxes. However, I think the fact that Ubi Soft couldn't come up with a better name for this guy speaks volumes about their creativity (or lack thereof). None of the game's "personalities" really made an impression on me now that I think about it. All of the racers are supposed to be wild and crazy, but they're all represented by static, comic book-style drawings and boring text (ala Road Rash). Even worse, the game depends on these half-baked, half-realized characters to pump up the action before each race by showing you their unique driving styles and tendencies. If these guys drive any differently from each other, you wouldn't know it by watching them during a race, and it certainly doesn't make the races any more interesting.
And of course, Speed Devils follows the old adage that all bad boys and girls must drive hot rods from the '60s and '70s. Haven't we progressed at all since the days of Grease? I don't care how tough you're supposed to look in an American muscle car, the cars in Speed Devils are just plain ugly. Speed Devils also tries to convince you that you're being naughty when you speed past cops and their radar guns. Big deal—the cops don't even react to your presence anyway, so the whole thing is pointless. The game rewards you by giving you extra cash, but it would have been better to have the cops come out of their speed traps to chase reckless drivers. I guess that might have actually been fun or something. Instead, the word "busted" flashes across the screen. (Busted—that's a cool word, right?)
Speed Devils is supposed to be a next-generation racing game, and instead it ends up making the Dreamcast look really bad. How can we be expected to play something like this when we have Crazy Taxi, a game that could be called the very antithesis of Speed Devils. The game doesn't look good, it doesn't sound good, and it doesn't do anything that's particularly interesting. I can't recommend a game like that. An injection of some high-octane fuel might have given Speed Devils some drive, but as it is, this vehicle is just running on empty.
Parents may have serious issues with this sort of seedy subject matter, like breaking the speed limit and gambling with other racers for their cars or money, but in keeping with the aloof nature of the game, it all comes across as lighthearted fun.
Hardcore racing fans should look elsewhere for their racing fix as Speed Devils is one of the most over the top racing titles this side of San Francisco RUSH. There is no realistic physics engine and car maintenance to get in the way of the racing action. You may be happier with Sega's upcoming racer, Sega GT.
Arcade racing fans will probably find themselves right at home with Speed Devils because from beginning to end, it is fast and unorthodox racing action. However, given its dated graphics, and lacking playing modes, not to mention its limited two-player mode, relegate this title to the "rent first" pile. For most definitive arcade action on the Dreamcast, I would suggest Sega's Crazy Taxi.