The best driving simulator available for any system, Ferrari F355 for the Dreamcast is not a game for the casual driving game fan. At three bucks a ride, the arcade version is a bit rough on the wallet, but it's probably cheaper than sitting in a rusted out Dodge Dart next to some guy who smells like an old ashtray teaching you to parallel park. The experience of playing the arcade version for the first time can be both fascinating and frightening, and strangely enough, a barometer of your social skills. When you sit down for a session and notice the small crowd behind you, do you pretend that you know what you're doing (and fail miserably), or do you just grin and do your best to stay on the track and actually finish the race (and fail miserably)? Either way, you have to get up and face the music at some point. Now thanks to Sega and Acclaim (!), you can transform your 98-pound weakling driving skills into he-man techniques in just two weeks at home.
When I first heard that the home version was being done, I was a bit skeptical, considering the less than stellar port of Sega Rally. But AM2 put the utmost care into the final product, and as you're playing, you can practically feel Yu Suzuki standing over your shoulder (watching you fail miserably). F355 offers fantastic graphics, precision control and perfect sound effects (the music we'll deal with later)- in fact, Ferrari thinks of it as a "true Ferrari racing simulator" if that means anything to you. If you ever dreamed of owning a Ferrari F355, now is your chance to see if you can actually drive one before you sign that check.
More likely than not, after a few courses you'll end up settling for your brother's old Buick- this game is very difficult, to put it mildly.
But at least you'll be spinning out and crashing into walls on the best looking tracks on a racing game. In fact, you'll post some of your worst lap times because you're checking out something you didn't see before. What's even more incredible is that the game runs at 60 frames per second with no pop-up to be found anywhere, furthering the illusion that you're actually driving on a real track (especially if you're using the DC wheel). The arcade version had a triple screen cabinet with the two side screens for the left and right side cockpit views- the home version just goes for the behind the wheel view, which works just fine. Some folks hate the viewpoint in the game, and I did the first dozen or so times I sat down to play, but I soon grew used to the fact that you don't drive a real car from behind or slightly above (unless you're a well paid guardian angel). Once you grow comfortable with the view, you also realize that a lot of racing games are all about you steering the game camera around a track rather than driving a real car.
Once you get good enough to show off some skills, invite some friends over for a test drive, and watch the jaws drop- F355 is probably the best looking game this year for any console. From the tiniest details on the cars, the drivers inside shifting and whipping their steering wheels around, to the "magic weather" effects, you'll be in total awe of your DC. The two-player mode is just as good, with only a small amount of detail missing, and since you're racing against each other, you won't feel too bad about having a crappy run- your buddy will be doing much worse. If anything, your friends will probably want to run out and get their own copy (and a Dreamcast if they don't own one). You can also post your best times on the Internet via the modem- that is, when you get good enough.
If I had to be really picky, I suppose I could complain about the lack of any sort of damage model, and the fact that you really can't crash your car. In the game you hit stuff, feel the jump pack rumble a bit, then you watch the other computer cars drive on by perfectly (if you should get so lucky as to pass a few). Again, the idea of the game is to learn to drive the F355, and I'm sure that's what the developers want you to do (wait for the new Daytona, if you want to flip like a brick). Also, all the cars are the same, so some may get bored with this lack of variety- again, no big deal.
The real problem is the music- Sega has always has odd music in its driving games, but the Sammy Hagar sound-alike here must die! If they actually got Sammy to record the tunes, more power to them- but I can't think of a single person I know who listens to this stuff these days. With the music cranked, it sounds like MTV circa 1985 or so- yeesh. Although, it would have been a fun touch to hear "I Can't Drive 55" coming from the car radio, now that I think about it. You can always turn down the volume on the Options screen (like I did after two races). Anyway, after a few weeks, you can head on back to the arcade and play the game with renewed confidence in your abilities. The guys will be giving you the thumbs-up, and the chicks with big hair will dig you- too bad you won't have a real Ferrari to drive your babe of choice home in, but the subway is safer than the highways these days anyway…
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