Peak Performance

Peak Performance

Atlus brings a clearly Japanese Style racing game home to the PlayStation.

Jewel Case Release – 1 Ring

Genre:
Racing
CDs: 1
(?? Megs)
Players:
1 or 2 Players
ESRB: Kids to Adults
No Descriptors
Publisher:
Atlus
Retail Barcode:
7 30865 52002 2
Memory:
5 Blocks
Developer:
Cave
Sony ID:
SLUS-00400
Accessories:
neGcon
Released:
March 27, 1997
PSRM:
005750

Scream up and down mountain roads, do doughnuts in the middle of a busy downtown intersection, race through tunnels, over bridges, drive a bus, a scooter, or any of the 20+ cars.  If you don’t like the way I drive, stay outta my way!

  • 20+ cars to choose from
  • Race in either direction on 5 different tracks
  • Includes original Pikes Peak hill climb
  • 3 different camera angles
  • Impeccable details
  • Build and design your own tracks using the first-of-its-kind track editor
  • Choose the time of day for each race
  • Design your own car, tires, suspension color and more!
  • Car name editor
  • 1 or 2 Players

Review

Game systems will always carry a stigma should a genre over-dominate them, with the Neo-Geo’s famously saturated fighting game library being a perfect example. The PlayStation’s early stigma was racing games. There were and are a lot of them on the system, so when a non-brand name racer shows up, it can be lost among the crowd.

Peak Performance was one such game – released in 1997 amid a flurry of other racing games, it’s initial offering found little solace in the mainstream review circuits. So careless were some reviews that GameSpot’s author unintentionally revealed he hadn’t played the time trial mode since his claim of total tracks only included the standard race ones. Decades later and one goofy collector later, it’s time for Atlus’ racing release to get the true review it deserves.

At its heart, Peak Performance is mostly a Ridge Racer inspired offering with a few tugs at Sega Rally’s heart strings. The difference being there are no wide corners to power slide around; this is all about constantly winding thin roads that crawl and creep through the mountain sides. In the standard race mode gamers will have access to three tracks with weather options and the ability to reverse travel direction. In Time Trial, speed demons gain access to 2 more tracks, an extra weather option, and a new mode where you can simply race free of time and competitors, but more on that later.

One of Peak Performance’s charms is that there really is no true campaign mode. Sure one can place first in the races, and earn the best times in Time Trial, but there is no overall quest to be the best. The only real rivals to face are the mountain and the player themselves. That lack of burden gives the game an aura all its own; it’s the escape from the escapes. This release from progress driven game play allows the player to just frolic among the 20 cars in their respective garages and move along at their own pace.

The focus here isn’t about being the best in the circuit – it’s about being the best the gamer themselves can be. Putting that in perspective is quite easy; I was able to place first in the 3 main races with the starting car thanks to the robust Tuning options found in-game. Because of the relaxed feel about it, I never felt distressed in changing various car options or just spending an hour experimenting with other cars. In a genre where the need to get a new car is practically mandatory, Peak Performance’s ‘kid in a candy store’ approach to just having almost everything unlocked and readily available for customization was a breath of fresh air the genre needed at the time.

It’s important to note the game’s most publicized feature – the Pike’s Peak race course. A renowned real world mountainous track with some of the most hair-raising hairpin turns ever seen in a video game. It’s a one car event where the track just keeps getting thinner, and more curved as you go. Beating the track in a specific time limit will open up some of the Special Cars garage, but it’s going to take quite a few spins before you learn every mini power slide needed to overcome the rocky gauntlet. If you’re looking for inspiration, the game’s cover driver Robby Unser did it 9 times in real life.

There’s also a Track Editor, but it’s more of a practice area editor than true track layout creation. Players can lay cones across an enclosed path to create checkpoints and end points, save them to the memory card, and then have at it. For those creative types, it’s the perfect place to build one’s dream training area, but I found myself simply going back to the already provided locations.

From a graphics standpoint, the game does something interesting in that it wasn’t going for exacting realistic details. Yes, there are lots of trees, plenty of color gradients in the mountains, and a ton of amazing little details, but it’s the games vibrancy that needs to be applauded. It just POPS off screen, especially when using modern tools like SCART upscalers or via the PlayStation 3’s HDMI output. Greens are BRIGHT greens, earth tones are bathed in rich sunlit hues (when racing in day time, of course), and blue skies go on forever. For a genre usually tied to the grays and blacks of asphalt and stone raceways, Peak’s visuals are a cheeky celebration of color. Some folks will be turned off by the vibrancy, but I’m not one of those folks.

There’s also some pretty damn impressive attention to details in the small things. You’ll see various helicopters and planes in the skies, working headlights during the night time races, road signs that are actually on both sides of the road with proper front and backs (rather than just being mirrored), and more. The car’s exhaust ports fire off little flames as you shift gears, and you can even see your driver physically move his arm to shift gears and than place it back on the wheel. Granted…there’s no actual stick shift modeled, and he’ll still do it with Automatic Transmission selected, but I can forgive that.

During races, there will be 3 selectable cameras – 3rd person, 1st person, and a somewhat 3rd person chase camera. The first is the best, the 2nd is stuck to the front bumper which makes for some awkward blind spots on the tighter turns, and the third is unplayable at least to me. For those fans of the Micro Machine games, they’ll find it better suited to them.

The weather patterns aren’t really weather patterns, as it’s more a time of day thing. You have afternoon, sunset, midnight, and in some stages, mist. Night driving is really nifty since the headlights function correctly, allowing for some great replay videos. The mist option is for masochists only – I call it the N64 mode. Literally half the screen is gone, making for one of the more unique challenges the game provides.

While the visuals are fantastic, they are not without faults. Sadly, Peak suffers from two of the era’s most heinous crimes. The most obvious is texture pop-in. The programmers and stage designers clearly used every trick they could to keep this to a minimum, including as few straight aways as possible, but when it occurs, it occurs badly. Whole mountains will suddenly just appear out of nowhere. The other could be seen as a glitch, but it feels more like the camera is freaking out. Two of the stages have small sidewalk curbs. When the car touches it, it will start violently shaking back and forth until you get your ass off of it. More than likely something going on with the clipping.

Music is surprisingly enjoyable, especially since its pure 80s Japanese-style rock music. You know when you’d walk into an arcade (well, us older folks) and within 10 seconds you knew where the racing game section was just from the music? That’s what’s here. Guitar shredding riffs all over the place. Sound effects are standard fare, but the engine sound could have used a bit of softening. If the player prefers their gaming loud, the engine noise could be a bit off putting.

The game’s controls are standard racing game fare, so if the sloppy power slide isn’t doable, just hop into the Tuning section and correct the wrongs to whatever feels right. No lie, the first few runs will bounce the player off every available corner in the track, but once their groove is found, it’s a rambunctious, curvy adventure.

To finish off the review, let’s go back to the Time Trial modes. As previously mentioned, the time trial allows for both forward and backward racing options, as well as Free Mode. First, the final track in Trial Mode does something almost magical, and I can’t recall seeing it done in another PSX game. Bay Area is the location of your in-game garages. That is, it’s not just a selection screen graphic – the machines and their storage unit are actually in-game world assets, complete with the back parking lot where the Special unlocks sit. Here, there’s still a time limit to beat, but with a huge twist. There are 30 checkpoints needed to pass-through before crossing the finish line, and all 30 are spread throughout the garage area and the downtown area that’s connected via two expressways. It’s an amazingly well thought out event, but with two very important catches. First, in order to unlock two Special cars in game, it must be beaten in 3 minutes; so far my best time is 7 flat.  The second important fact is that the checkpoints are randomized – every time.  This isn’t about learning a pattern or route, it’s about learning how to get around said route no matter where the flags are. For those who demand a challenge, this is where home will be.

Lastly, Peak Performance actually has a performance boost in the visuals if one doesn’t mind some alone time. When racing in Free Mode, there are no other competitors or time limits to worry about, and the developers took advantage of the extra memory by doubling the frame rate and resolution. Like Ridge Racer Turbo’s Mode disc, Peak Performance’s Free Ride is a visual feast, providing a smooth speedy experience when drivers just want to test out their newest tuning job.

Decades after its release, when it was left for dead by many reviewers, Peak Performance finds a nice little niche in the PlayStation library. It’s a racing game that removes most of the genre’s gates, allowing gamers to drive free, fiddling with their cars at their leisure and provides enough track variety to allow hours of relaxing and visually pleasing racing. Peak Performance may never have gained the popularity of Ridge Racer or Gran Turismo, but then it never really needed to. It’s an easily accessible play-ground anyone can jump into.

 

 

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Variants

  • There are no known Variants for this game.

 

 

Trivia

  • If you watch closely, you can see your in-car driver actually moving his arm to properly switch gears on the stick shift. The problem being there actually isn’t a stick rendered in-game.
  • Released in Japan as Touge Max: Saisoku Driver Master.
  • “Touge”, also spelled ‘toge’ is the Japanese word for pass – in this context meaning a mountain pass or thin, winding road.
  • Peak Performance features several hidden vehicles to be unlocked and found, ranging from sports cars to a huge semi truck and even a scooter and bus. The problem stems from there being conflicting statements on how to actually unlock them. In my time with the game, and using a GameShark to assist in figuring out where I was going wrong, I was able to unlock 3 of the hidden cars of the 5 I tried to do. The bus, truck, and Mclaren car are confirmed in their respective requirements. However, the scooter is supposed to just be ‘found’ on one of the time trial tracks yet never shows. Beating a specific stage was supposed to unlock two vehicles, but only one popped up.
  • The bus and truck are so huge that they sit further back on the car & stage selection screen to accommodate their large sizes.
  •  One of the nice little touches is that your car garages actually exist in game – not just as a Selection Scree decoration. The garages are located in the Bay Area Time Trial track, and you can even spot the parking spots for the unlockable vehicles.
  • The original Japanese version had a somewhat included story mode as well as a section where you could check out advertisements for real Japanese based car magazines. The US version has the story mode removed but an extra track included.
  • Robby Unser is featured on the American version cover with good reason – he has won the game’s featured race, Pike’s Peak Hill Climb, nine times in real life. He’s also the cousin of Al Unser, Jr, who had his own NES racing game.
  • The Chevrolet Pikes Peak International Hill Climb plays a big part of the game, especially when it comes to the instruction manual. Besides a detailed history of the original event and the years that follow, 2 pages are dedicated to what is essentially advertising for the location, complete with contact information and tourism suggestions.
  • Peak Performance suffers a peculiar visual stutter that concerns two parts of the game. The first are curbs. While few and far between outside of a single stage, once the vehicle rides up the curb, the on-screen car will starts to wildly flip between straight and crooked, revealing a clipping issue with the curb. The other involves the environment freaking out depending on the situation. Polygon pop-in, texture warp, and more all show up at random times.

 

 

The Verdict

7Solid

The Good: Essentially a Driver’s Play Ground | Vibrant Graphics | Excellent Speed

The Bad: Lack of true campaign may alienate some drivers | Engine sound is a bit loud