DOS - 1997
Description of Screamer Rally
Rally race: A grueling driving effort, several days long. It requires driving, but also physical, talent, and a blind cooperation between driver and navigator. Adaptability to changing surfaces and weather conditions is mandatory, as is handling of accumulated car damage. In short, a rally is one of the most difficult, and diverse, racing challenges in the world.
An arcade racing game: Fun on wheels. An on screen "car" controlled by the player has to complete a set of increasingly difficult tracks under increasingly difficult time constraints. Requiring fast reflexes only, the engine is simplified to the point where car damage is irrelevant, and the on-screen "car" behaves like no car in real life would. Arcade racing games have nothing to do with real life racing, except the way they look.
Arcade Rally racing game: Huh?!
Add one drop of realism, two drops of fun...
It was Sega who first got something truly worthwhile out in this somewhat bizarre computer racing department. Sega Championship Rally was one of the best titles of the year, showing how it should be done. Keep in the elements of fun, coming from the emphasis on quick reflexes, but add an engine that, while still being low on realism (and car damage), takes into account car handling on different surfaces. The PC version, an enhanced port from the Saturn, is still a joy to see and play.
Virgin, on the other hand, were producing their own very successful arcade hits, Screamer, soon followed by Screamer 2. They were both pure arcade, beautiful, and a helluva lot of fun to play. And now, come Christmas, Virgin have decided that they should try and take Sega's rally arcader on its own tracks. And so it came to pass that Screamer Rally came out. So, arcade racing fans, is this worth adding to your already large Christmas wishlist?
Screamer Rally is a DOS game. Somewhat strange in this day and age, especially as it supports 3D acceleration straight from the box. Win95 games usually support D3D (via DirectX), and sometimes 3dfx (via glide), covering, as it were, a lot of different cards. But since Screamer Rally is a DOS game, it has drivers written for specific cards- and no D3D. Installation is also in DOS flavor. It works well, but you have to run a setup utility afterwards, configuring your hardware- and it does not work as well. First of all, it has some problems- for example, I could not change the gear-up/gear-down button configurations, because the computer would freeze solid. You are required to configure your sound card, screen mode, your 3D accelerator if you have one, and your controls- yes, this is done, annoyingly enough, via the setup utility, rather than from within the game. It is also a little funny to see five "DOS extender" messages, in sequence, when the setup utility is run. In any case, if you have the experience and some common sense, you can skip the whole procedure completely, and simply run the appropriately named executable from the Screamer Rally directory.
Screamer Rally has another startup problem. I am referring to its unnerving tendency to seem frozen when started- run the game, the screen will turn black, and then the computer will simply seem to be stuck for about 10 seconds. Coupled with the somewhat buggy setup utility, this may lead impatient people to press the "reset" button, believing it is bugged beyond recognition. And it's a shame, because they would be missing on some serious fun.
Making arcade machines jealous
That must be what Virgin are trying to do with Screamer Rally. I have to say it- I have never, ever seen a racing game looking this good, including in arcade halls. The cars are perfect, never "losing" their wheels during tough suspension work, where in other games you may find gaps between them and the body. They look amazing, even up close and personal, suffering from no pixelation at all. The scenery is incredible too, almost making you wish that you were not limited to the track itself. Clouds of dust, weeds flying from under the cars' wheels, working brake-lights, the mirror-like shininess of bodies of water (like in the mountain reflections in the lake of the Arizona track), realistic shadows... all are supplied and more. You may even stumble upon the occasional night drive or changing weather conditions, although these are present mostly for effect, without affecting your driving much.
Yes, of course I am talking about the 3dfx version. Screamer Rally is one of those games that make buying a 3dfx card worthwhile. But even if you do not have a card present, this game treats you to some of the best graphics you may have ever seen outside of arcade halls. Yes, there is less detail, and some pixelation, but all in all, it still looks wonderful, and certainly better than anything else on the market, including console games. Way to go, Virgin!
I cannot conclude the graphics section without mentioning the fact that you CAN drive the wrong way around the tracks, and also noting two minor bugs. One is a clipping problem- even though Screamer Rally is maybe the best game I have ever seen in this regard, it still allows some unnecessary background detail to float through to the front, for a very short while, in extreme circumstances. Try crashing into a cliff wall at high speed, in a bend, more or less parallel and with other cars around you and you might just catch a glimpse of "the other side of the wall". The other problem is actually related to the game engine, but has a graphical representation. Again, in extreme circumstances, like when you jump in the air, get hit by another car, and then land in such a way that one corner of the car is on different level ground as compared to the other three, and you will notice the car going forward on one wheel. Just for a second, mind you, but it looks funny in the replay.
Talking about replays, Screamer Rally offers a full race replay, using a free camera, when a race is complete, similar to other arcade games. I was a little disappointed in this feature, as the camera seemed to be a little too distant for my tastes most of the time, but all in all, it looks great, and the camera angle chosen for each bit of race is usually perfect. This is the only replay feature available, and sadly enough, you cannot save replays. And lastly, but important to note, Screamer Rally does not offer different driving views- just the one, standard, behind-the-wind-shield-but-in-front-of-the-wheel one.
With the game looking so good, it would have been a huge letdown if the sound was anything less than great. Well, it isn't on par with the graphics, but I wasn't let down. The roar of the engines is real and believable, and you can easily know how close or far you are to your opponents simply by hearing their engines. The music is good and not interfering, although not really adrenaline pumping, and you have the option of changing tracks from within the races. Solo crashes and the screech of tires are actually annoying, sounding more like missed notes on an electric guitar. But its those engines, and surrounding sound effects, like bumps against the ground and metal-on-metal, that make for an overall enjoyable experience. The sound effects are so good in this regard that they influence your driving, and you can actually hear the track's layout by listening to your in-front opponent's engine revs.
Driving and other trivia
Driving your car in Screamer Rally is, simply put, lovely. Contrary to many other games, in this one you cannot simply leave your finger on the gas pedal most of the time, using the right and left arrow keys to turn when needed. Oh no. You will need to brake, but you will need to brake gently, because the physical model will not hesitate for even a split second to send you reeling towards the sides. And even that may not be enough, if you actually wish to win any races, because of your opponents (more about later). You will have to use real life driving techniques, like steerlock and simultaneous gas/brakes to drive around Screamer Rally 's fiendish bends. The fact that the road surface is, at times, far from flat makes for an interesting challenge, and changing road surfaces, which really affect your vehicle, add to the fun.
But it wouldn't have mattered if there weren't any worthwhile adversaries, and this is where Screamer Rally truly shines. I have to admit that I have yet to win a race in Pro level- and even Normal is pretty tough. And I am no slouch either. The easiest level, Rookie, can still be a challenge for people with little arcade experience. The computer controlled cars in Pro mode are simply frightening- they will nudge you out of their way if they can, sending you to the sides with a cunningly calculated bump to your "side and behind", coming, as it were, too fast on the inner curve and using the bump to straighten themselves to exit the bend (Shumacher, eat your heart out). Of course, you can use this technique very effectively yourself, and it shows, incidentally, how good the physical model is. Screamer Rally does not include that arcade idiocy of slowing the other cars down so you can catch up with them, then accelerating them when you are in front, meaning that if you mess up early you will have a tough time regaining the lead. In fact, to win a race in Pro you simply have to drive perfectly for the whole race, because the smallest of mistakes may find you going quickly down to 3rd or 4th place. Experience helps here, and you will have to spend a lot of time learning each track's hidden secrets if you wish to do well in Pro level.
You can always turn down the difficulty level, of course, mostly allowing for more mistakes from CPU controlled vehicles. They may choose a less-than-perfect racing line through some bends, or brake just a little bit too late. Yes, they also go slower, but overall, the feeling is that those CPU drivers are actually worse, and not that the game is simply slowing them down. A minor detail, perhaps, but one that adds a lot to the game's sense of realism. The one minor problem with your opponents is the fact that they are always graded the same- for example, it was always car 5 that was leading the computer pack. This makes the game consistent (the same driver has the same skills), but after a while becomes a little too "expected". It IS important when you run in a league, as you know who your real opponents are after the first race. I just wish I could make it random between leagues, like it is in the pure arcade mode.
Modes and options, then. Well, Screamer Rally has all the basics- an arcade mode, where you run one race for fun. A time attack mode, in which you race against the clock and a ghost car, or simply against the clock but with the track "split" with invisible checkpoints. These are not used to limit your run, but rather to allow you to see, in subsequent laps, if you are actually improving your performance in that particular bit of track, by giving you the previous time between the two current checkpoints. Quite clever, and even better since you can customize your car, and using this mode, see immediately if you are doing it right. Car customization, which is available both here and in the league mode, allows you to change 6 settings: Handling, Brakes, Tire Type and Pressure, Front and Read suspension. Championship (or league) mode is where you uncover additional tracks (you start with three, and have up to seven) and cars. Each of the four consecutive leagues pits you against better opponents, and uncovers an additional track. Multiplayer modes include network, serial link and split screen.
Controls, as I said, are changed from the setup utility and not from within the game. In game options include choosing between auto and manual transmission, the number of laps for each mode, and opponent level; Toggling computer opponents on and off during multiplayer races; Toggling the ghost car in time attack mode; Toggling damage (although I did not see how this affected the game) and music on or off; Setting the detail level, and checking the extensive high score tables, which include the 15 top scores for each possible combination of laps and modes. No highscores are pre-recorded.
The manual is fine, although not extensive, but it does include a short, handy description of each track and car. Virgin also included 3D patches for Screamer 2 on the CD.
Sega, eat your heart out
Screamer Rally is, undoubtedly, the new arcade king. It beats Sega Rally hands down, and as much as I liked that game, I won't be returning to it now that I have this one. I strongly recommend a compatible 3D card to play this game, and some patience towards its DOS origins and peculiarities. Screamer Rally isn't revolutionary in any way, it is simply better at what it does than anything else available, PC or not. And if you do have 3dfx, where it truly shines, then there is only one thing to say: go buy. Now. Clear enough?
Review By GamesDomain
Comments and reviews
DJ Fury 2019-10-20 -1 point
BIFFMAN 2019-07-17 1 point
The setup won't work with default DOSBox settings (though the game itself will. Edit the following lines in dosbox.conf just for setup
MarkTheMorose 2019-07-15 -2 points
Daisy1968: did you get the ISO version or the Rip version? Possibly the music was CD tracks, so you'd need to get the ISO version and 'mount' that to get the music tracks. Otherwise, the game may have a setup program that you need to run to configure sound settings.
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