Hypersonic.Xtreme (HSX) Review

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Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Blade Interactive

Platform: PlayStation 2
Reviewed on PlayStation 2

Toe the starting line in a futuristic racing ship that defies gravity and hurtles you along at mind boggling speeds. When the racing is done, take a break and try your hand at designing your own custom racetracks with the in-game TrakEditor.

Rob de los Reyes

Let us be abundantly clear. Hypersonic.Xtreme hit retailers at an opening price of $10. It would be easy to construct a list of all the things that aren't in HSX. There is no plot, no character development, a smallish number of pre-built tracks, no weapons, few power-ups or randomizing elements, no ship upgrades and no real record-keeping. But at $10, you probably expected that, and it seems almost beside the point. What you have in HSX is a solid, no-frills futuristic racing game like Wipeout and a slew of others that have come before it. (Actually, you get one frill – the TrakEditor, which lets you build and save courses of your own design.) Frilly or not, a quick glance at the packaging will tell you substantially everything you need to know to decide whether HSX holds any interest for you. And if it does, you might as well just buy the blessed thing rather than shell out for a rental. HSX is a straight-up racer, with average-to-good looks, good ship handling, and a simple-to-learn and use track builder. Nothing to blow you away, but also nothing to sneeze at.

If you have played any of the games in the "future racing" subgenre, you've played HSX. Levitating, rocket-powered ships speed around tracks with corkscrew twists, giant loops and gaps and ramps suitable for gravity-defying jumps. Each ship is uniquely designed and accompanied by a particular pilot. The pilots are a decorative add-on – they don't affect the ship, and the only information you're given about them could fit on a driver's license. Each ship does, however, come with different balances in terms of grip, reheat (relates to boost ability), shield, acceleration and weight. These differences seem to matter – you really do notice the damage you take in a flimsier ship and the speed you lose in a heavy one. The ship designs pass the "cool" test, although you hardly ever get a good look at one outside of the ship selection screen.

That's also true of the scenery. It's all reasonably attractive even if not up to the latest and greatest technology, but you'll hardly notice anyway. Most of the time you'll be focused on the next turn, ramp or loop – when you're upside down on a track you're not counting the pixels in the scenery. Unless you're fortunate enough to find yourself out front (or unhappily far to the rear), you won't be doing a lot of sightseeing. The action is a blur of color lending a genuine sense of overwhelming speed. That speed is part one of the game challenge. The second part is seeing anything at all. You view the game as though looking through a camera with a lens. At times, "rain" will accumulate "on" the camera lens in order to obscure your view. And when it isn't rain, it's snow. And when it isn't snow, it's the smoke billowing out of your damaged ship. The third part of the challenge is competition against AI that just seems to have better ships than you.

In light of all of that, it's amazing you can even finish a race, let alone win one. Except you can and do. That's due in no small part to the responsiveness, tightness and predictable handling of your ship. That's a good thing. The only trouble is a cramp-inducing control scheme requiring you to hold down the X button for regular throttle and the triangle button for the (very necessary) speed boost. It would be nice to have the option to change the control scheme to something more comfortable. It's not a fatal flaw, but something as important as pain-free gameplay simply has to make its way into every game, even the $10 variety. Winning is easier in the cup races where multiple laps in a race give you an opportunity to come from behind. Screw up in a slalom race, however, and you might as well reload. Many racing games share that vice, so it shouldn't be all that daunting for dedicated race fans.

In contrast with the racing portion of HSX, the TrakEditor is quite elaborate. The complaint here is not lack of detail, but that a gamepad is a clumsy tool for course design. Both the printed manual and the in-game tutorial do a good job giving you the information you need to use the Editor. Irritatingly, however, some portions of the in-game tutorial remain locked until you win certain races. It seems an odd solution to the problem of how to keep users playing your game – the whole point of the Editor is that it is powerful enough that you could spend a lifetime never designing the same track twice. Why place deliberate barriers in the way of that power? In any event, even without winning a single race you'll be able to start pumping out playable tracks in short order. The gamepad makes fine-tuning troublesome, and you'll have to work through layered menus more than you would in a PC game, but good results are very much achievable with a bit of patience.

Hypersonic.Xtreme really is one of those games that gives you exactly what you expected when you first picked up the box. On that basis, and given the bargain pricing, let the packaging be your guide. There are better racers out there, but none that ship with the pretty good track editor inexpensively packaged here. If HSX raises an eyebrow for you, how wrong can you be for $10?

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on March 11, 2003 9:23 AM.

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