Written by: Rik

Date posted: October 3, 2015

If you hit the water, nothing disastrous happens, but you do get a sploshy sound effect.

If you hit the water, nothing disastrous happens, but you do get a sploshy sound effect.

I guess this is the second of an inadvertent double-header of DOS-based futuristic racer reviews. I didn’t intend anything of the sort, although the two games did come out around the same time, they both involve racing with futuristic flying craft that fire weapons, and the game in question here, Slipstream 5000, as a PC exclusive, would actually be rather interesting to compare with the sloppy conversion of Wipeout, a console favourite, which also happens to be relatively fresh in the memory. (What a shame, then, that I haven’t really bothered to do it – ho ho).

I can’t really put my finger on why, but Slipstream 5000 really appealed to me when it first came out. I think it was partly because it looked nice and appeared technically competent, plus the demo ran nicely on my 486 (ok, here’s my opportunity: unlike some other futuristic racers I could mention). Oh, and there was split-screen multiplayer, too, although I don’t think it ever saw significant use once I bought the game.

Slipstream 5000’s premise is nicely summed up by its introduction video, in which two flying craft race each other over water and then through some skyscrapers before causing the Statue of Liberty such a panic she has to duck her head to avoid a collision. Yes, it’s racing all over the world, although you don’t ever actually get to fly at Lady Liberty – she appears on the New York track, but only in the far distance, as if you’d been on holiday and taken a catch-all boat trip of the sights.

Some tracks are more imaginatively designed than others.

Some tracks are more imaginatively designed than others.

As with all 90s arcade racers, your options include single race, time trial and championship, with the number of races in the championship season (a maximum of 12) determined by the difficulty level selected. The racing itself is not just your typical hovering above the track type affair, within the confines of the course you can fly up, down and all around. At times it’s a bit more like flying a plane than anything else, albeit a plane that can just hover in mid-air without any input from the pilot.

The presentation is defiantly uncool: solid, but with a cheesy, low budget feel. At times, that spills into a slightly more troubling area of stereotypes and uncomfortable characterisation. Building on the racing around the world theme, the various pilots at your disposal are of different nationalities and ethnicities, and while one or two of the voiceovers are fairly harmless (unless you happen to be an extremely po-faced superfan of Roger Moore or Sylvester Stallone) there are others which veer into potentially offensive territory.

At best, it could be described as uncomfortable and cringeworthy – as a 14 year-old boy it seemed in keeping with the general naffness and immaturity of the gaming world, much like the various characters in, say, Street Fighter 2 – but hearing it all again some 20 years later, it just feels wrong. Plus, in Championship mode, each race is introduced by two commentators (the inexplicably-named Lyall Mint and Crystal Eyes), who compound the general air of discomfort – and the unwelcome nature of their presence – with some ill-considered jibes of their own. On top of all that, fans of Leisure Suit Larry will be delighted by the skimpy outfits and pixellated cleavage on display in the profile pictures of all female pilots.

Speaking of the racer/craft profiles, although some amount of effort has gone into each one, the details provided seem to be of no practical use, and though some on the internet claim that there definitely is a difference between them, that’s not based on any information given to you by the game (and nothing obvious presented itself to me after a few hours’ play, either).

Japan!

Japan!

The racing takes place on a variety of courses, set – as we mentioned – all over the world. Some are open, outdoor expanses, while others are more tunnel like. Effectively, though, you’re always in a tunnel or corridor, and while in some outdoor races you feel like there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to just fly up and over the whole course straight to the finish line, you can’t (obviously), although there are branching alternative routes in each race.

You can upgrade your ship with weapons and other various systems upgrades, the possibilities for which increase over the course of a championship season. Even if you don’t partake, each craft comes equipped with a standard blaster and turbo system, and there are various on track pickups and drone ships that can provide boosts and repairs as needed. Each track also has a pit lane, allowing you to repair damage at a cost of a slightly more circuitous route. There are no brakes – despite opposing racers and commentators making semi-frequent references to them – it’s throttle on or off, although you can set the controls to have the ship throttle on as default and use what was the throttle button to reduce speed instead.

The races seem quite busy, with your ears under constant assault from a cacophony of awful voice work, the sound of blaster fire, and also the sound of getting hit by blaster fire (which is akin to the noise made by hitting a broken tambourine). All of which can’t really hide the fact that the action is actually rather slow and sedate. Six laps also seems a bit long, although you seem to need them to battle to the front, without ever having a sense of whether you’re racing well or not.

Imagine the fun you could have with these two, eh? Eh? Sexy fun! At night!

Imagine the fun you could have with these two, eh? Eh? Sexy fun! At night!

Occasionally, you can get quite badly stuck on an opponent or a bit of the track, which can really mess things up for you, but generally you don’t really have a sense of how you’re doing. Even if you avoid collisions and anything that might be interpreted as an accident or mishap, you still seem to pootle along in the middle of the pack for long periods without knowing how the race is going to turn out.

The only real sense of speed comes when you fly through narrow tunnels, otherwise it all seems quite slow really, regardless of what the speedometer says. There’s a vast array of weapons available, but none of the ones I bought seemed to have any great effect on opposing craft. In a single race, your income is limited anyway, but even in a championship, where your wealth accumulates, they don’t really seem like a wise investment.

Technically, Slipstream 5000 is really very nice: smooth and attractive, with a variety of external cameras and full race replays. In the corner of the PC underdog, I’d love to champion it more enthusiastically. But the fact is, as a racing game, it doesn’t really cut it. It’s not just that it’s desperately uncool, and a little bit racist, it’s also lacking the requisite focus and excitement of a decent arcade racer.