Saturday 3 March 2018

Porsche Challenge for the PlayStation

There are games in my collection that have knocked about for 20-odd years. Since returning to gaming, there are some that have got picked up again for a blast of nostalgia. There are others we fed into our latter day consoles as warnings that no amount of fond memories can make a game good with the passage of time. And there are yet others who've sat in their stack glowering at me, daring to be played again. Porsche Challenge is such a title.

We got our PlayStation as an engagement present. Along with it came Tekken II, Worms, Crash Bandicoot, Adidas Power Soccer, Rayman, the obligatory demo disc, and our aforementioned sports racing title. Each of these save the footy got a good play, but it was Porsche Challenge that became the bane of my existence. No matter the number of tries, for whatever reason I just couldn't get it. Even the simplest of corners in the game proved too much for me, and so I was relegated to look on in a sulk as my significant other mastered the game and completed it with seeming ease. When the PlayStation 3 came along and the PS1 collection was disinterred, Porsche Challenge sat there mocking me. Everyone has a snapping point and mine was finally reached last week. It was time to meet it head on, to resume where we left off two decades ago.

Porsche Challenge is pretty standard PS1 racing fare. There are four tracks to race around, and these are modified slightly as you progress through the game. Five opponents take to the track against you and the simple task is to win each race. Along the way there's a timed checkpoint system to encourage sharp and efficient driving. And unlike other racers of the time, there is but one car, the Porsche Boxster. But is it any good?

Well, yes, if you like PS1 racing games. It was overtaken by the steam roller that was Gran Turismo, and for plenty-of-frills arcade action is easily surpassed by Ridger Racer Type Four, leaving it trailing in the wistfully-remembered stakes. Holding it back is its lack of variety. As it was based on a manufacturer's license and, apparently, close cooperation between the studio and Porsche itself this was something of a novelty, though it was preceded by Core's Jaguar XJ220, Gremlin's Lotus Esprit Turbo Challenge, and Sega's licensing of the Ferrari F40 for OutRun. Still, this was enough of a selling point then to give it a little bit more market clout and gaming press interest. The Boxster was marketed as an aspirational but relatively affordable luxury car, and just like OutRun before it the game was used to sell a lifestyle. You get to choose between six different drivers - a model, a mechanic, a journo, a hacker, kick boxer, and a DJ. There are supposed to be differences and rivalries between them, but I couldn't spot them. Anyway, your cadre of glamorous drivers have accompanying them some contemporary-ish tunes, redolent of the faux 70s instrumentals we later find in Driver, and for night time racing in Japan we get some light techno a la the Wipeout series. I suppose the package does a good job of selling the Boxster, but it limits the game's longevity. Yes, racing around Porsche's own Stuttgart test track is a nice touch, but doing it three times and three times in reverse is a bit wearing. Confusingly, when you do clear the game you get some grainy FMV footage of past Porsche models, which begs the question: why weren't these included as optional or unlockable motors?

Apart from lastability, the game also suffers from quite annoying rubber banding. Each racer has a rival who starts at the back of the pack with you, and as you work your way to the front they stick with you, meaning if you make a mistake just in front of the finish line they can sneak up and cost you a try. This is especially annoying on the snowy Alpine track, as a hillock immediately prior to the end can send you spinning out of control. The one saving grace is your AI nemesis can also similarly lose it, though more often than not they don't. Nevertheless, when the tracks become dynamic (i.e. bits of it open and close at random), sometimes you can waylay your opponent by nipping down a shortcut they missed - something I'm not entirely sure the game is supposed to allow.

The main question is how did we do this time round? Well, it turns out that I'm a better gamer these days. Though neither a simulator nor properly arcadey, you can't jam down the accelerator and tear around the game as you might in Ridge Racer. Brakes have to be applied sharply, and frequently. And once mastered the shame of 20 years fell away and, at long last, the ghost of its challenge was laid to rest. Is it worthwhile having a go? Yes, if you like racing games, but don't expect anything too different or better than any other PS1 driving experience.

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