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.