When I was a lot younger, I remember my dad giving me a stack of books on old cars and auto racing, which led to a years-long obsession with anything having to do with cars. Of course, living in New York City for 30-plus years cured me (you either ride the subway or walk everywhere if you're a REAL Noo Yawkuh). But playing video games for years has re-lit that old flame, but something was still missing. The Gran Turismo games were pure heaven, but I really wanted to drive a Dusenberg around a hard dirt track. Spirit of Speed 1937 is a pretty decent attempt to give Dreamcast owners the chance to race some truly classic cars. While it doesn't have the smooth looking graphics or framerate of Shutokou Battle 2, the game wins you over with its selection of great classic racers from the past, great music and sound effects, and some really tough tracks to race on.
Bugatti, Auto Union, Napier-Railton, Dusenberg, ERA, Miller, and a couple of little companies called Alfa Romeo and Mercedes are represented here with 13 cars total. Not a whole lot of cars, but you'll have your hands full with what's here, especially if you choose to drive with manual transmission. Let's just say that things were done a little differently way back then. Compared to most other DC titles, the game looks a bit first-generation, but GOOD first generation. Backgrounds have loads of depth, and details such as crowds of spectators dangerously close to trackside and the assorted trees and buildings are also very well done. Judging by the Windows CE screen that shows up after you turn the game on, I'm gathering that this is a port of a PC game. Actually, the back of the case has photos from what looks like the PC version, which is a bit misleading, if you're one of those folks who judges games based on what's on the back.
The gameplay in SOS is more of a Gran Turismo-style racing simulator than a pick up and play game like Ridge Racer. Every race option will have you keeping track of your tire wear, oil, and gas supply, and you'll definitely want to do a practice run or three until you get used to the handling on most of the cars. In some of the longer races, it actually helps if you choose a slower car! Sure, your ego will suffer a bit as you get lapped twice or more by some demon in an Alfa Romeo P3, but when he has to hit the pits because his tires are shot and he's out of fuel, you get to make your move. The course designs are really something, and range from a small, fictitious Montana circuit (1.25 miles), to the long, odd course at Avus (11.8 miles!). Some of the tracks will probably make you wonder how anyone would be crazy enough to zip around them in an open cockpit at over 100 mph.
The game has a few problems that get in the way of enjoying all this history. First of all, the framerate varies a bit too much, and if you're driving a really fast car, it always seems as if it's not moving fast enough (pay no attention to that speedometer!). Secondly, the game is only for one player, which is not such a good idea these days, especially for a racing game! This is just the sort of game that parents could buy for their kids as a sort of historical treat, or something that Grandpa would love to play with the kids on a lazy weekend. Finally, the game really could have used a few more cars and tracks, but I guess that will come if a sequel is ever made. Hopefully enough people will be willing to pick up this game and enjoy it enough so that there will be one. Spirit of Speed isn't perfect, but it's one of the few games that has subject matter that makes it worthy of a purchase by anyone interested in automotive history.
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