Wangan Midnight


Review by Greg Wilcox



Graphics: 8

Sound: 8

Gameplay: 8

Overall: 8

Genki's latest import PS2 driving game, Wangan Midnight, combines the visuals, control and gameplay of its popular Syutokoh Battle series with hand-drawn character art and animation similar to the popular anime Initial D. In the states, Syotokoh is better known as Tokyo Extreme Racing, with two games appearing on the Dreamcast and one on the PS2. It's all night racing (usually 11pm to 4am) against opponents and traffic on actual stretches of public expressways in Japan in a selection of popular super-tuned street racers.

This also means that Wangan is another great niche racer that will put off a few players with its fighting game style life bars, heavy reliance on drift style driving, and very similar looking stretches of real estate to race on. That said, it's also a love letter of sorts to the Z-class Nissan (Remember the Datsun 280Z?). The main character drives a bluish purple Fairlady Z, and for nostalgia value, it's the coolest car in the game, despite some tough competition. As this is mostly a story-driven game, there aren't dozens of cars to choose from or unlock as you play. In fact, only a select few cars from Mazda, Mitsubishi, Nissan, Subaru, and Toyota are represented here. There's also a cool Porsche here, but it goes by another name, as I guess Genki couldn't afford the license.

WM has 4 modes of play and a Reply Theater option, and it supports Logitech's GT Force Wheel, for those of you who spent 90 bucks on it, and want to get even more use out of it. In AC Scenario mode, you can pick any car and a section of highway to race on, and then you have 10 seconds to find an opponent. Once you do, the screen flashes, your rival makes a flashy intro, then the life bars scroll out and it's showtime! Beat him (or her), and you get to advance. Fail, and it's Game Over, and quick trip to the showers for you. Mission mode has you driving the Z, and is the story based portion of the game featuring series a of battles against CPU opponents where set goals have to be accomplished in order to clear each stage. There's the usual Time Attack mode found in most racers these days, an the i-Link mode is for those who crave some 2-player action (and have access to two Japanese PS2 systems, an i-Link cable, to copies of the game, and 2 TV sets).

The rivals and their AI are both gauaranteed to make you grow and pull a few gray hairs as you make your way through the game. Often, you're at a disadvantage as soon as the race begins because the computer places the competition just ahead of you, and with the faster cars, you have NO room for error. It's really cheap at first, yet if forces you to drive flawlessly in order to succeed. Of course, pushing your rival into a wall or right behind another car or truck helps as well. The handling is quite slippery, especially if you're a hamfist that plays too many fighting games. It's all about finesse here and learning to drive with the lightest touch on the controller.

Graphically, the game looks a bit better than the last Tokyo Extreme game (Zero), with the addition of the new character portraits that appear with dialogue boxes as you play. The car models all look great with slick lighting and reflection effects, but Gran Turismo 3 still has the edge overall. You'll be checking out the amazing Replay mode and more than likely be saving your best races to a memory card to check out every little detail. The tracks you'll be seeing a lot of are well-rendered too, but occasionally you'll spy a bit of pop-up in sections where taller structures line the sides of the road. You'll most likely be too busy trying to blow the doors of your rivals to notice this much, though.

The only other thing I didn't care for was the character art. I found these guys and gals a bit flat and unattractive, and felt no connection to the hero other than I was borrowing his car for a while. Then again, anime isn't all about spiky-haired characters who all have to look sexy for merchandising purposes, I suppose. Then again, I can see some US publisher trying to add characters and cars and make the game an awful Fast and the Furious clone (a terrible movie, by the way). In the end, Wangan Midnight doesn't impress or innovate as much as the Gran Turismo Concept games or Auto Modellista, but it's still a worthy purchase for import race game fans, and those who can't get enough of the Syutokoh/Tokyo Battle series.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:36 PM