Back in the mid-90s, the Screamer series was seen by many as the King of all racers. I remember many a worshipper of the PC master race sneering at anything a console could produce in favour Virgin Interactive's 3Dfx enhanced series. Screamer Rally is the franchise's third game but can the gameplay match the visuals?
While I tended to believe that consoles offered better experiences when it comes to arcade racing, Screamer Rally and its predecessors are an exception. Back in 1997, nothing looked like it in the home market. Even classic console games like Ridge Racer, SEGA Rally or Nintendo 64's Cruis'n series couldn't come close, and they all came out around the same time. The seven highly detailed tracks found in Screamer Rally are varied in their location and their design with more than enough background scenery to gawp at. Catch it all in up-scaled 3Dfx mode and you're in for a nice, crisp image. There's no denying this game is one heck of a stunner.
The controls are just about what you'd expect from the era, with responsive arcade-style controls and handling, even if drifting - which is a necessity on the harder difficulties - is a little unpredictable. In the beginning, you can choose from one of four cars for each race. Two front-wheel drives and two 4x4 with varying stats apiece. Each controls noticeably different and if you spend enough time with the game, you will be able to pinpoint which one is best for each terrain type. Beyond that, the Championship Mode allows you to customise the cars further, altering their suspension, tyres, breaks and handling. I'm no car nut so I didn't spend much time tweaking, but I suspect my lack of drifting skills wasn't helped by ignoring it.
The four angles each showcase the gorgeous graphics and impressive speed.
To begin with, there are only three tracks unlocked - China, Canada and Italy. To unlock the remaining four, you'll have to compete in the Championship whereby finishing in the top 3 in a league will award you with a new course. Once they're available, they can be accessed in the Arcade, Time Attack or Multiplayer modes. Sadly, the online multiplayer is no more and I suspect the LAN serial link no longer works, but there is a split-screen 2-player 'Combat Mode'. Players race one-on-one or with four other racers (change in the options menu) on any of the tracks which have no discernable reduction in detail, frame-rate or draw distance. Such graphical downgrades for split-screen multiplayer was the norm back in the day so this was quite a technical feat.
Enemy AI is decent for the most part, with an attempt to make them appear to be on their own path instead of following a predetermined route. They can be a little dumb, though. On the snow-covered Sweden course, all opponents will comically slide into each other on the first corner allowing you to slip on by if you're lucky. They'll soon catch up, though, with this corner being their only hurdle. They're far more adept at taking corners than you are (or at least the Screamer novice that I am). On the flip side, other cars seem to have no problem dealing with sand on the Arizona track while I couldn't seem to get any traction right up until the finish line. Thankfully, these are the only two tracks where I noticed any issues and even then that could be down to a lack of skill or patience on my part (to claw back some gamer cred, I was something of a Rage Racer and WipEout 2097 guru back in the day - you'll have to take my word for it).
There are a number of options with which to tinker around with,
saving up to 4 customizations per vehicle.
I've played a good amount of both the standard DOS and the enhanced 3Dfx version of the game, and I must say that there are slight differences to each beyond the obvious graphical fidelity. I found the DOS version to have less noticeable pop-in when rendering the horizon, while the 3Dfx has a small number of polygons searing at the edges on some of the more bumpy terrain. None of this is game-breaking, and may not be noticeable if you're the unobservant type. Nevertheless, both versions remain highly playable, with the 3Dfx having the edge over visuals.
So, how does it compare to the first two, both of which are available to buy on GOG.com? The first Screamer released in 1995 is a little rough around the edges in comparison but is still a great game. 1996's Screamer 2, however, is essentially the same game. The menus all detail the same information right down to the polygonal view of the track before racing in the Championship League. The same modes return - no more, no less - and the gameplay feels very familiar when going from one to the other. In this regard, Screamer Rally feels a little like a fully-featured add-on instead of a game in its own right. Therefore, deciding which one is better comes down to your personal preference over the selection of tracks - and it's a tough call. In my opinion, Screamer 2 just creeps ahead of its sequel with many tracks having multiple paths to the finish line but either game holds up as a great title.
Being the third game in the series, the developers at Milestone (originally Graffiti) knew how to program a racing game by the time production began. In fact, they're still at it by being the current custodians of the MotoGP and Ride franchises. They know their stuff and the result is that Screamer Rally is one of the best - if not the best - PC racing games of its day.
To download the game, follow the link below. This custom installer exclusive to The Collection Chamber uses DOSBox 0.74 in conjunction with nGlide for the 3Dfx version to bring the game to modern systems. Manual included (note: as the GOG release of Screamer 2 has no manual, I've included that as well). Tested on Windows 10.
File Size: 368 Mb. Install Size: 411 Mb. Need help? Consult the Collection Chamber FAQ
Screamer Rally is © Virgin Interactive
Review, Cover Design and Installer created by me