For the past three years now, Midway has tried to fill our nostalgic needs with its Arcade Treasures volumes. Whereas the first two entries featured a veritable smorgasbord of game types (everything from SpyHunter, Paperboy, Marble Madness and Smash TV to Gauntlet 2, NARC and the Mortal Kombats) volume 3 tries very hard to follow a theme; retro-racing classics. Fans of these games will find something to enjoy, but as a whole, volume 3 suffers most from not including the original cabinets that these games originally came in. But I suppose a compromise had to be made.
I remember playing San Francisco Rush in the arcades and what made it a novel idea at the time, same with all of these games, was truly the experience of sitting in (or straddling) a cabinet and actually believing that with wheel in hand (and pedals at my feet) I was actually driving these cars. The other thing that I realize now is that these games were best enjoyed in short bursts of tokens/quarters and were not meant to be taken in for hours at a time like you would do with a Burnout or Need For Speed title. It's with sadness then that I report that although it's nice to see these games again, they haven't really aged well and, taken out of the environment that made them special, don't appear to be more than a mild distraction.
Volume 3 includes eight games (San Francisco Rush 2049, Hydro Thunder, San Francisco Rush: The Rock Alcatraz Edition, Super Off Road, Badlands, Race Drivin', S.T.U.N. Runner & Off Road Thunder) and one "track pack" for Super Off Road which is simply an updated version of the original with a few more tracks to choose from and a cool little Dune Buggy. Of all the games included, San Francisco Rush 2049 will get (and deserves) the most attention. The version included is actually a port of the 1999 Dreamcast version which features a certain "career" element to it that makes it highly replayable. SFR2049 also features more modes of play than all the other titles and is not only the best looking/playing title, but the one that is the most stable.
San Francisco Rush 2049 - Everything that the Dreamcast version had (except for the load times; I remember the DC loading a lot faster than this) is in this version. You can still take hours upon hours to find all the Gold and Silver coins (which unlock new cars, parts, tracks and modes) as well as run races, use the practice mode to find shortcuts and improve your flying skills or play the addictive stunt mode. With friends over, you can also play Battlemode (2-4 players) which has aged surprisingly well; feeling a lot like a Twisted Metal title. The racing, for the most part, is forgettable since the stunt mode is still the most fun mode in the game. Is it as much fun as you remember it though? No, not even close. Much like the racing, the stunts now feels a little slow and clunky. We've been spoiled by racing games in the past few years. SFR2049, as mentioned earlier, is also the most stable game included. When you play with friends the framerate will take a nudge, but will never drop as much as in the other games. On the audio side, SFR2049 features the best music of the bunch and also the best mix. Graphically, the cars and environments still hold up fairly well, but some effects (especially in stunt mode) look a little amateurish. Did I mention I miss the cabinet? As with all included games, there is an in-game info section that gives you background information on the game as well as a gallery with pictures of the original brochure which is a lot more interesting than it might sound. In the case of SFR2049, I had actually completely forgotten about the keypad that kept track of you until I saw it again in the literature.
Hydro Thunder - This one still looks pretty good in the wave department and maneuvering the water is still fun for a bit. The game has several tracks and boats to try out and it also thankfully features a sound option so you can turn the SFX and music off. The audio is pretty annoying and getting low on Boost will drive you crazy. The A.I. in this one is also fairly aggressive but racing with a friend is still more fun.
Offroad Thunder - I was actually looking forward to this one since I had completely forgotten about it until I saw the three young pit girls on the menu screen. Then I remembered trying this one out in the arcades as well (I was young; sex always sells). Unfortunately, this one doesn't hold up at all. Even though there are three modes included (race, demolition derby and capture the flag) the graphics and physics are so horrible that you won't want to play any of them. The trucks still look passable, but the track textures are just plain butt ugly. Also, the small gimmicks (like a crappy looking hubcap flying towards the screen, etc) are laughable by today's standards.
San Francisco Rush: The Rock Alcatraz Edition - A lot like the racing portion of 2049, but it features only 7 tracks and isn't near as much fun.
S.T.U.N. Runner - This one may have faired better in the arcades where it had a cool straddle-style cabinet, but at home, on a dual-shock, this one is a little laughable. I had never played this one before and I don't think I was really missing out on anything. Most of the racing involves some Tron-like tunnels with a crappy little laser gun and wireframe cars as obstacles. The one thing that this game did have that gave me pause for thought was the boost pads along the tracks that reminded me a lot of Wipeout's.
Badlands & Super Off Road - I'm lumping these two together for the simple fact that their play mechanic is identical but different from all the other games on Volume 3. The driving in these two games (and the "track pack") is from a top down perspective and feel a lot like games I now play on my PDA when I'm bored. Needless to say, I do enjoy these types of games a lot and these ones are pretty cool. In each case you can earn money and upgrade your vehicle (and weapons in Badlands) which gives the proceedings a career-like flavor that was enjoyable and addictive. These two were my hands down favorites after SFR2049. The visuals aren't anything special and the audio isn't very noteworthy, but there's no denying their playability.
Race Drivin' - Vaunted as the industry's first true racing simulation game, I found this one to be lacking in the Driving and Simulating aspects. The graphics have not particularly aged well, which is forgivable since this game was probably about the gameplay engine than the visuals, but after a few runs I was thoroughly unimpressed with Race Drivin'. I also tried the Super Stunt Track thinking it may prove more fun, but unfortunately, this wasn't the case. I suppose it's nice to have this one included from a completion point of view, but I doubt it will get much playtime in any console.
As a whole, Midway had good intentions with the release of Volume 3, but perhaps ostracizing its audience with a racer-only title wasn't the best idea. The load times for all titles are annoying, the music and audio is a mixed bag and the graphics definitely show their age. But, as with all things, there is a niche market for this volume and I'm sure that there are older gamers out there who wanted nothing more than to add these titles (especially SFR2049) to their libraries. As a bargain priced title, SFR2049 may well be worth the price of admission alone and the other titles can simply be considered bonuses. While not for everyone, fans of arcade racers (and they know who they are) will love this compilation. It's just too bad about those cabinets not being included.