Viper Racing

Moby ID: 1614

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The first simulation of sports-car racing that features exclusively the Dodge Viper, one of the most popular racing cars on the road today. Viper Racing combines both the easy-to-master arcade racing mode and the challenge of a serious simulation mode with three levels of difficulty.

A career mode is included to let you earn money to upgrade your car and move up through three different classes of the Viper racing league. Many tracks are included, along with replays, for reviewing races later, and a garage mode, for tweaking your setup.

There are also hacks, including the ability to drive planes, but none of these are particularly useful, nor well-polished, except the 'exotic' car. (Most of the vehicle models are incomplete). Viper Racing's physics were very advanced for its time, and the AI, when set to hard, can even get into car-fights with you!

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Average score: 78% (based on 20 ratings)

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Average score: 3.6 out of 5 (based on 17 ratings with 2 reviews)

An overlooked gem that still sparkles after a decade.

The Good
Viper Racing's single greatest asset has to be its incredibly realistic physics engine. On par with Grand Prix Legends, another mid-90's hardcore racing sim, Viper Racing's physics were far superior to most driving sims of the era, and have only recently been surpassed by titles like Live for Speed and GT-R.

Factors like inertia, torque, aerodynamics, weight transfer, brake and tire wear, and a host of other forces are all accurately modeled in the game engine. Rev the engine and the car lurches a bit. Brake excessively and the discs glow red. Apply too much throttle in a turn and the rear wheels break free, sending you spinning into an outside corner. And if you hit a wall hard enough the suspension will bend, making it difficult to drive in a straight line. In fact, the entire vehicle deforms in a very believable way upon impact, making multi-car accidents fun to watch. Viper Racing was also one of the first PC racing titles to fully simulate a clutch, which can be mapped to a button or a pedal, or set to "Auto" for effortless paddle-shifting.

For those who appreciate physics, Viper Racing is a wonderful sandbox, offering lots of freedom to experiment. The suspension, drivetrain, and aerodynamics are all adjustable, but the sim includes some non-standard features as well. Tapping the "W" key causes the car to pop a wheelie, and holding it down sends you tumbling through the air. A hack called "Horn Ball" shoots a two-ton bowling ball out the front of your car, knocking opponents around as though they were toys. You can even raise the suspension height to twenty inches and go off-roading over desert sands and grass hills. Forget about racing - hours of fun can be had simply experimenting in the game environment.

A physics engine is, of course, just one piece of a bigger picture that includes elements like level design, gameplay, and network play. The eight bundled tracks are all-original and well-conceived, offering a good mix of challenge and driveability, and even a few opportunities to go airborne. They can also be raced backwards for variety. Gameplay modes include time-trials, quick races, and a career mode that offers progressive car upgrades. Computer-controlled opponents are competent and aggressive, with three difficulty levels. Network play allows up to eight players to compete on a LAN. And a few additional vehicles are available for fun, including a powerful mid-engine exotic, a 4WD sports sedan, and even a hackneyed airplane that can soar far above the track.

Viper Racing also offers a wide array of camera views. The typical in-cockpit, third-person, and trackside views are supplemented by a top-down POV and even an in-car view that displays the front wishbone suspension, springs, and wheels, which are entertaining to observe while you negotiate turns and crest hills. A full VCR-style replay complete with basic telemetry graphs is available after every race.

Despite its age, Viper Racing benefits from a tightly-knit online fanbase which has produced dozens of add-on cars, tracks, and utilities, and also organizes racing championships. Though the only car to receive any attention in the original game was the Dodge Viper, the physics engine is versatile enough to simulate front and all-wheel drive vehicles, so the 3rd-party Celica and monster truck all operate in a believable way. Between the original package and all the add-ons that have been created over the years, Viper Racing offers dozens, perhaps hundreds, of hours of playability.

The Bad
Like many hardcore simulations, Viper racing is much deeper than it is wide. Vehicle and track variety is very limited, so casual racers will quickly grow bored. It's a shame that this sim didn't offer a wider variety of cars out of the box. Thankfully, the online community has filled the gap, and GT-spec versions of the Porsche 911, McLaren F1, Toyota Supra, Ferrari 360 Modena, and Lotus Esprit are available as add-ons, to name just a few.

Viper Racing would also have benefited from the inclusion of some real-life racetracks. Though the bundled circuits are fun and challenging, many hardcore sim drivers want to do hotlaps at Spa-Francorchamps or Monza. Once again, the online community has stepped-up and several real-world add-on tracks are available for download, along with a track-management utility.

For all its realism, Viper Racing does lack a few standard damage-related features. The engine can never be over-revved or destroyed, even if you smash into a wall at top speed. Wheels, body panels, and other parts remain firmly attached no matter how violently you wreck the car. Tires never blow and fuel never runs out. One wonders why such fundamental features weren't implemented in an otherwise realistic sim.

Several users have also complained about the omnipresent "reset" feature, which allows both human and AI drivers to immediately restore their wrecked vehicles to the road in pristine condition with a tap of the spacebar. It creates an incentive to cheat and detracts from overall realism, especially during serious races where drivers ought to stay out of the running once wrecked, and it cannot be disabled.

A few quirks aside, the chief complaint about Viper Racing is that there is not enough of it in the box, which suggests that the core of the sim is good enough to warrant further development. Thankfully, most of Viper Racing's major shortcomings have been addressed by the online community, so there are currently no reasons to avoid this title, assuming you can actually find a copy.

The Bottom Line
Viper Racing is a detailed simulation of the Dodge Viper that appeals principally to hardcore sim racers. Casual gamers who wish to drive a few quick races interspersed with fancy mo-capped cinematics and flashy graphics will surely be disappointed, but anyone willing to invest the time and energy to update and master the sim will find it a richly rewarding experience. A wheel and pedals are necessary to really appreciate the driving experience.

Windows · by SiliconClassics (848) · 2008

Best damage model of any PC racing sim ever

The Good
Viper Racing is a bit of an anomaly from the typical "real-world car" racing genre, for one very special reason. Most racing games that use real-world cars are under heavy demands from the cars' manufacturers to make sure that their precious little automobiles don't get banged up too much. (The Need For Speed series is a serious repeat offender in this regard.) In many such games, there is literally no damage model; cars simply bounce off each other like bumper cars. In other games, minor scratches or dents may show up in the paint, but the performance of the cars is not impacted. There are exceptions, of course; Midtown Madness had real street cars that would take damage (even letting the wheels fall off if they took a serious hit), and many games opt to have "damage" that affects various subsystems of the car, but doesn't actually appear as visible body deformation.

In the late 1990s, Sierra came into this industry of not-quite-driving-simulations with an apparent goal of doing serious driving games. Besides cornering the market on NASCAR sims and releasing the brilliant Grand Prix Legends, they also produced Viper Racing, a sports car sim like no other. Somehow, Sierra convinced Dodge to allow them to produce a full-on, ultrarealistic simulation of the Dodge Viper, perhaps the closest thing the Western Hemisphere has to an exotic sports car. The result is a very odd beast indeed, a driving game that spares no expense in terms of its physics model but feels a bit weak in most other areas.

Make no mistake, Viper Racing wants to be a serious driving simulation, so it's not for casual gamers who just want to mash the gas pedal and drive around fast. The game includes three realism settings, but even the easiest "Arcade" setting is considerably more demanding than most other driving games on the market. The computer-controlled opponent drivers are almost brutal in their efficiency; these aren't some goofy clowns who you can just bump off the track or zoom around as in most other games. The AI will hound you every inch of the race. Even when you feel like you've lost them, they're never far behind. The AI is actually imbued with some sort of human-like randomness that make them almost disturbingly unpredictable: At times, you'll think you can anticipate their next move, only to have them do something completely unexpected. These AIs don't act like AIs; they're programmed to act human.

Although the AI is a crowning achievement and definitely a standout in a field of games with linear, simple opponents, the main attraction in Viper Racing is definitely the driving model. No simplistic "let's bind the car's path of motion to the center of the road since the player is pretty close to it" here! Even the "Bemidji" track, so deceptively simple (it's nothing more than an oval with a chicane on one side), can mess you up if you don't handle it properly. There's only one track in the game ("Dayton") which is all about pure speed; it's a basic NASCAR-type track where the curves are made to allow you to go around at full speed. Every other track in the game will require more from the driver than to just be fast.

For the most part, these tracks are very good. They look great (especially considering that this is a 1998 game), and they also comprise an excellent spectrum of variety, from simple speed-centric tracks to winding road tracks that will take you through some excellent scenery, including a desert mesa, rocky cliffs, and pleasant forests. The variety doesn't just come from the scenery, either: The tracks require different driving styles. Some are actually high-speed tracks in disguise, with only one or two corners that require you to slow down significantly. Others are a little trickier, and some are difficult just to finish, let alone win. It speaks volumes about Viper Racing's physics model that "Dundas", probably the most difficult track in the game, has a layout that looks like it would almost be an "Easy" track on most other racing games. Don't be fooled; this ain't Mario Kart. You can't slide around those curves and corners as fast as you probably think you can. Finishing anywhere other than last on this course--especially at the most realistic driving setting--is a major accomplishment.

When you do lose control and whack something really hard (and you will), you'll uncover perhaps the most surprising thing about Viper Racing: It's got the most no-holds-barred damage model of any major PC driving title from any era. Apparently Dodge gave their full permission to let the game treat the car like a real car, and Viper Racing does! Forget about paint damage; glance off a wall with the corner of your car at 150 MPH, and you're not just going to see sparks, you're going to see a hole blasted into the side of your car, and most likely, the wheel bent into a completely unusable position. The body of the car is gloriously malleable, twisting into unrecognizable heaps of scrap just as a car would in real life. The damage model here is so good that you can make a whole game out of just seeing how many ways you can smash up your car. Try to flip it upside-down and see what happens to the top. Try to roll it and see what happens to the side. Blast it between trees and have it carom off them as if they were pinball bumpers. At times, the physics model actually seems a bit over-the-top, turning the car into shapes that don't seem like they should be physically possible, but that's part of the fun. None of this smashing-up is especially constructive (and it won't win you any races), but there's no denying how much fun it is. Kudos to Dodge for realizing that if the Viper is to be taken seriously by people who play the sim, then the sim needs to treat it like a real object.

The realism extends to the garage. Now, you and I know that lots of driving games have garages where you can tweak the car, and lots of games have buying systems where you can earn money from winning races and use it to buy better parts (Viper Racing has this too), but in this game, most of the high-end car upgrades that you can buy aren't simply "buy this and your car performs better" upgrades; they're "buy this and you'll gain an additional level of tweakability in the garage" upgrades. That's right: Even once you've bought that fancy new suspension or that hot new transmission, you're still going to have to configure it in the garage or it's going to do you no good! The number of settings you can set in the garage is simply marvelous; you don't just have a single suspension setting here, you can actually configure separate settings for your shocks, springs, and anti-roll bars. You get a full gearbox to change gear sizes in, and you can set the size of the aerodynamic spoilers at both the front and rear of the car. Best of all, the effects from these tweaks are very strongly evident in the sim. These adjustments aren't just window dressing, nor are they linear; they have complex effects that need to be understood if you're going to make the most of them.

It's clear that Viper Racing wants to be taken seriously, but the game has a somewhat hidden sense of humor as well. It comes with a small selection of "hacks" that allow you to do things like "Pave the world" (make the car act like it's on solid pavement even when it's on grass or earth), or activate the "Horn ball", a huge, heavy ball that shoots out the front of your car when you honk and will smash any cars in its path. There are also a few other car models you can pick here, although none of them are very finished; the airplane is fun but not very controllable (although it is extremely fast). These tidbits form a cute distraction, but overall, Viper Racing is no lightweight.

The Bad
Despite all it has going for it, Viper Racing has a handful of soft spots. First and foremost, despite its emphasis on a realistic physics model, that model sometimes feels questionable. Yeah, of course you can't go around a hairpin turn at over 100 MPH, but can you really spin a sports car like this out of control at only 40 MPH? Viper Racing is so different from most other racing games that it's hard to put it into any kind of frame of reference (especially if you don't actually race cars in real life), so it's hard to say just how realistic it really is, but there are definitely times when it feels like it's actually being overly tough on you. The Viper often doesn't feel like a sporty speed machine; there are times when it feels like a frightened horse that refuses to behave. Maybe that's how these high-strung sports cars really act in the real world, but either way, the game is going to be very tough on beginners who aren't used to driving with this level of flexibility. Just as a high-end flight simulator tends to turn away the casual player, so does Viper Racing. If you're really willing to put in the effort to learn it, Viper Racing will eventually reward you, but if you want a simple, fun game and don't want to spend too much time on it, you're better off just forgetting that this game exists.

The game's laudable AI opponents also have some weak spots. Occasionally, they seem to simply flake out; there's a specific curve section in the Sunset Mesa track where time after time, AI opponents just seem to forget how to drive, spinning wildly out of control, plowing head-on into rock formations, or at the very least going through the curves at ludicrously slow speeds. Other tracks have similarly bizarre Achilles heels for the computer drivers. The AI opponents also sometimes do very stupid things with no apparent reason or provocation. This is presumably part of the randomness that is deliberately programmed into them, and most of the time it works fine, but occasionally you'll see other drivers blithely rolling into bodies of water, attempting to drive through solid objects, or getting into extended ramming fights with each other. Some of this is pretty funny, but you'll occasionally get the feeling that the computer isn't living up to its usual level of competition.

The game's outstanding damage model comes with an inherent price: It's rare enough to find one car company that'll give you this level of freedom, so when you get it, you sort of just have to run with it. The Viper is simulated to an unprecedented level of detail, but it's just one car. You can only race that one car in this game, and while you can make that car behave in an almost unlimited number of different ways by tweaking it in the garage, at the end of the day it's still just one model of car. This actually isn't strictly true, since the aforementioned "Hacks" menu does allow you to pick from a handful of different cars (including a car simply called "Exotic", which is incredibly fast), but none of these cars are raceable in the game's championship mode; they're just for fun. They also have atrocious handling and cannot be adjusted in the garage. The hacks are fun, but they're little more than a distraction. Also, although I've harped on how great the damage model is, the truth is that it seems to mainly focus on the wheels of the car; your wheels can get twisted or misaligned, and your suspension can get damaged, but banging up any other part of the car doesn't seem to do anything except leave an ugly dent. The concept of engine damage doesn't appear to exist here; you can slam headfirst into concrete walls at insane speeds and keep driving, as long as your wheels didn't get caught in the deformation of the impact. Your hood will look like... Well, like you drove into something, but the car will keep on driving as if nothing happened. The damage model looks great, but in terms of its actual impact upon the car, it leaves a little to be desired.

It's perhaps not surprising in a game like this, but I should probably briefly mention that Viper Racing has precious little flash; there's no music (except a simple, unremarkable little ditty that plays when you exit the game), no video (except the usual intro video when you start the game), and unlike many other games that feature a pack of opponent drivers, no shooting the breeze with any of your rivals between races. The opponent drivers are given names, but there seems to be little point to doing this, since they have no personality; indeed, they're never even given a face. They might as well just be Opponent #1 through Opponent #7.

And finally, in a game that does everything else with such realism, there's one vexing "feature" in Viper Racing that racing purists will probably quickly come to hate: The reset button. If you smash up your car beyond the point of usability, drive it into a lake, or even find yourself facing the wrong way on the road, you can simply "reset" your car with the press of a button that will set you back on the road, with no damage, facing the correct direction, and ready to begin driving again. You can use this feature unlimited times, even in the campaign racing mode, and so can all of your opponents. If your opponents were always perfectly on the ball, this feature might be irrelevant, since even if you reset your car, the several seconds it would take to get back up to racing speed would immediately cost you the race; in Viper Racing, it often happens that somebody (either you or a computer opponent) can smash up a car to the point where, in real life, they would simply have to forfeit the race, but in this game, they simply reset and begin driving again, and actually have a decent chance of winning (or at least finishing fairly high up in the rankings). This might be an interesting feature if there were any way to disable it, but there isn't, and that's infuriating. Sometimes you can play "chicken" with the computer drivers and trick them into driving into obstacles, which by all rights should cost them the race, but it doesn't. They'll just reset and lose maybe a few seconds of race standing. Obviously unrealistic, and entirely unfair.

The Bottom Line
A must-have for serious racing buffs. Solid, fun, realistic, and challenging. Arcade drivers need not apply.

Windows · by Adam Luoranen (92) · 2006

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Game added by Seer.

Additional contributors: Victor Vance.

Game added June 15, 2000. Last modified January 22, 2024.