I've always been a fan of the Ridge Racer series. Despite the realism and fine tuning Sony's Gran Turismo series offers, nothing beats the old arcade feel that Namco's driving simulation series offers, and with that exhilaration comes the thrill of speeding up, overtaking your adversaries, and crossing that finish line to the sound and smell of sweet victory. Since the age of the original Playstation, the 'Racer series has remained strong and prolific, spawning numerous titles and sequels that continue to showcase the great lengths technology will go to make racing games as real (or unreal) a driving experience as they come. However, the one title that sticks to my head like a golden egg is the third installment of this illustrious series that, in my opinion, redefined the Ridge Racer experience altogether - Rage Racer.
Released way back in December 3, 1996 for the Playstation, Rage Racer was in ways the precursor to Gran Turismo in terms of delivering an advanced single player career driving game experience. In that mode, Players could use the money they win from races to buy and customize other cars and rides, which become available for purchase as the game progresses. Courses start off easy at first, but more challenging one ones pop up as they are completed, offering more prize money and better competition to take on. There are a total of 5 Classes the player must breeze through, as well as an Extra Gran Prix mode that, upon completion, brings on Class 6, which is the finale of the game and offers more secret cars to purchase at the shop menu. Car manafacturers were entirely fictional, but most of the vehicle models were patterned after existing ones, even including a Truck and a Mini Cooper in the mix.
Like the past games, Rage Racer takes on an arcade style of gameplay, relying on speed and drifts to make it past obstacles and sharp turns in a race course. The player can choose between Automatic Transmission and Manual Transmission, with the latter providing a more "realistic" approach to controlling the car. Fundamentally, the game was still Ridge Racer, taking a lot of liberties from the Arcade game "Rave Racer", but adding some console elements and tweaks not present in the other games. Graphics were pretty much a step forward in Rage compared to its predecessors, and aside from the customization and single player options, this game formally introduced the female mascot and face of the series, Ms. Reiko Nagase. She happens to provide the game with some much needed fan service, and is most probably the announcer that speaks as you make waves in the game.
What is probably the big highlight of the game for fans like myself is the outstanding Electronic Music soundtrack produced by Namco's then new sound team. Unlike the other games, the sounds were more jazz and techno based, with tracks like "Hurricane Hub", "Lightning Luge", "Rage Racer", and "Silver Stream" being among the popular choices. The latter song happens to be my favorite track among the bunch, and it's the kind of song that makes for some smooth listening when you're driving fast.
Back in it's day, Rage Racer was phenomenal for a racing game in the PS1. Before Gran Turismo changed and defined the genre as we know it, this was the best driving experience players could enjoy and zip themselves into. Namco always delivered some quality products, and their Ridge Racer series, despite having some bumps and skids on the road, always came up as solid presentations in the end. I'm glad to have run into this classic again, and it's sweet to pop it in the ol' PS1 and enjoy it despite its age.