Originally hyped up as the Dreamcast’s Gran Turismo beater, when Metropolis Street Racer eventually surfaced it became clear it was nothing of the sort, and is all the better for it: you won’t find Sega GT on this list.
To use the game’s slightly cheesy tagline, it’s not about how fast you drive, it’s about how you drive fast, and as the first game to measure performance outside laptimes and race rankings it deserves its praise. Its Kudos system, where players are rewarded not only for winning races but doing so in style with power slides and slick overtakes, was a true step forward. More importantly, however, you’re only as good as your last race – if you return to a previously completed circuit and perform worse, your Kudos diminishes. You can even set higher goals for yourself – want to give your opponent a thirty-second headstart? Think you can win in an underpowered car, or keep your average speed above 100mph? This kind of player-led gameplay is a true innovation and extends the gameplay almost infinitely – you determine how you want to be challenged and then measure up to your own standards.
On top of this, MSR is accurately modelled on real-life cities – you’ll recognise the landmarks in San Francisco, Tokyo and London as you race along the three different districts in each city in hundreds of course variants. The game also uses real time to calculate the appropriate timezone, so Tokyo’s in full swing as the sun sets in San Francisco, and there’s mist, rain and downpours to contend with, both features Bizarre Creations have only just put back into Project Gotham Racing 4.
Equally important to MSR‘s brilliance is the soundtrack, all created by serial Sega Top 50 namedrop Richard Jacques (did I mention I met him once?). Each city has three radio stations playing distinctly different styles, from country to MOR rock and J-pop to jazz. Real-life presenters announce the songs, give “shout outs” and read sponsored links, adverts for real products (Tango’s being the best) feature and there’s even interference if you drive under a tunnel. That’s to say nothing of the quality of the songs themselves, which hit all the right marks in each genre whilst being highly enjoyable in their own right. Hearing I Can Still Believe at GameCity in 2006 was a highlight, and in its original form here it’s still a wonderful pop song.
I’m not a racing fan at all, but all it takes is a few laps with the Dreamcast wheel to realise it’s as fresh, enjoyable and important as when it was released those years ago. With Project Gotham now out of Bizarre’s hands, I wonder if we could see the MSR name resurrected.