Rage Racer was the third in the popular Ridge Racer series by Namco, and even the designer admits it was a bit of an oddball!
As a new artist at Sony/Psygnosis, I was lucky enough to play Ridge Racer months before the PlayStation launched in the UK and it did not disappoint. Perhaps to prevent CD loading boredom, a minigame of Galaxians could be played whilst the disc loaded and if you killed them all it would unlock a bunch of extra cars! If only more PlayStation games had used this technique rather than a screen with “Loading…” which even plagues smartphone games these days which should load in a few seconds, but I digress…
Definitely an arcade racer, it set the standard for many PS1 racing games to come, and whilst Ridge Racer: Revolution may not have added that much, it was still firmly in the arcade mold. This time the loading minigame was Galaga, and again, shooting the enemies would unlock more cars.
Then in 1996 comes Rage Racer. The first departure is the name: officially part of Namco’s Ridge Racer series, this was loosely the home version of their arcade game Rave Racer. If you don’t notice the difference, it’s not surprising as there’s only one letter!
The second departure is no loading minigame, going for a more standard CG animated intro instead. Perhaps adding a quick version of Bosconian or Xevious just wouldn’t fit on the CD? Hell, even a cut down Pac-Man or Dig Dug level would have been great, but I suppose using it to unlock more cars may have compromised the fourth departure (see below).
Departure number 3: Whilst the first two games had bright arcade graphics, Rage Racer took a darker path, more reminiscent of PC games like Doom or Carmaggedon. Everything looked a lot grubbier thanks to the rendering system they used. This would be remedied for Ridge Racer Type 4.
Departure numero quattro: Namco took a step away from pure arcade action by adding a career mode that involved earning money to upgrade cars to compete in different races, giving the game more longevity and feeling slightly more like a car based RPG. This made it very different to the earlier titles and their arcade counterparts. Perhaps this was an intentional decision by Namco to make it appeal to home console users.
Along with the career mode, the cars could also be given custom paint jobs. I can still remember spending the time to make all my cars have a distinctive off centre yellow stripe, just… because!
Whilst none of these changes made the game bad (I actually really enjoyed playing it and have probably played it twice as much as the others in the series thanks to teh career mode) they all added up to a radical departure from what was surely a winning formula that just needed more tracks. According to wikipedia, Nobuhisa Mikoda (the games designer) even admitted that the game was “somewhat off series…”
Grab a physical copy on Ebay.