After disappointments like CyberRace, Delta V, and Zephyr, experienced gamers are just about conditioned to be skeptical of science-fiction racing games. But anyone who gives Slipstream 5000 the benefit of the doubt will find it to be a challenging, entertaining title.
Slipstream takes place in a future where some of the great natural and man-made wonders of the world have been turned into the most dangerous racetracks in history. Youíll pilot your hovercraft through the Grand Canyon, along the Amazon, and down passages beneath the great pyramids of Egypt.
There are 10 different tracks, all rendered in 3D polygon-based graphics with detailed texture maps. Some of the scenic vistas youíll pollute with exhaust fumes are downright striking: the tunnels in Egypt are covered with hieroglyphics; in New York City, Lady Liberty is just visible on the horizon; and the icy Norwegian fjords are stark and forbidding.
The flying machines in Slipstream look great, too: the designers gave realism a miss and opted for a sort of retro-sci-fi look. The ships look like those little die-cast spaceships you may have played with as a kid, adding a sense of nostalgia.
You start a single race or 10-race season with $750, which you can spend any way you like. In addition to the two blasters that come standard with every Slipstreamer, you can buy missiles and mines; turbochargers that give you a brief burst of speed; and system upgrades that make your weapons more effective.
Once youíve readied your ride, you move on to the race itself. The action opens with a corny TV broadcast, where youíll get a quick preview of the course youíre about to tackle as a Slipstreamer blazes through it for the cameras.
With the introductions out of the way, itís time to start your engines, fly like crazy, and shoot anything that tries to pass you. Of course, your opponents will be shooting back. Damage from their weapons -- or from bashing your Slipstreamer against a wall -- affects two systems: your engines and your steering. Fortunately, every Slipstream track has the futuristic equivalent of a pitstop -- an energy tunnel that fixes your machine and recharges your turbo booster.
In addition to structural damage, youíve got to worry about the effects of the more exotic weapons your opponents may be carrying. Some of them screw up your steering; others cut your speed in half; still others send you pinballing along the track at top speed. These effects are temporary, but a little trouble goes a long way in a game where split seconds count.
And they do count in Slipstream. This is one of those games where the action is so absorbing (and the sense of motion so convincing), you may catch yourself swaying back and forth in your seat, leaning into turns and craning your neck to try and see around the next curve.
One of the gameís few drawbacks lies in its steep hardware requirements. It runs pretty smoothly on a 486/50 with just a few of its detail settings turned down, but youíll want a Pentium to run this baby with all the visuals cranked up.
Saving games is another sore point. You can only save your progress at one of two post-race scoring screens. Itís all too easy to click "Continue" and skip past that screen without saving -- and once youíve done that, you canít go back.
Those problems aside, Slipstream 5000 provides excellent, fast-paced action. Add a replay option that lets you watch an entire race after itís over, plus modem and network support for multi-player racing, and youíve got a terrific game.