With the advent of home console 3d the racing genre literally exploded in the late 90s. It isn’t like today where we are lucky to get a few sim racers and maybe an arcade racer a year. Racing games run the gamut, cartoony, kart racing, arcade, sim, F-1, and even futuristic. Wipeout carried the torch that F-Zero lit and became the quintessential futuristic racing game that generation. But it wasn’t the only one. Akklaim’s Extreme-G came out of left field with its wild track design and speed.
The N64 was no stranger to the racing genre. Of its nearly 300 game library close to fifty of those is some form of racing game. It’s easy to see why; back then they were cheap and easy to make. Most companies created three tracks and maybe six or seven cars and called it a day. And we paid $50 for it. You can’t deny the influence Wipeout had on Extreme-G. With its slick Designer’s Republic front end and techno soundtrack it spawned many imitators. Extreme-G aims to provide that same experience on the N64 and succeeds to an extent. It has a wealth of content and modes to keep you occupied for a while. But it could have also used tighter controls and design.
The main mode of competition is the Extreme Contest. The Extreme Contest is broken up into three championships, with each increasing the track count by four. At twelve tracks this is longer than most racing games of the time. It is a little deceptive; there are only four environments with three different track variations. But they are so different you would be hard pressed to even tell. Going through the contest on Meltdown mode is grueling as you go through all twelve tracks. But this is how you unlock everything.
Extreme-G biggest standout feature is its track design. More than any other racing game at the time it truly takes advantage of 3d to create virtual rollercoasters. The various loop de loops, corkscrews, and sheer drops are the things we dreamed of but weren’t possible in 2d. Although there are only four environments (city, desert, mines, canyon) the variety is kept high through smart design. I would even say it might have had an impact on F-Zero X as that game featured similar elements such as riding on walls and ceilings.
Next to the track design the game is also extremely fast. With nitro boosts you can reach blindingly fast speeds that border on ridiculous. Even at these insane speeds the computer is never that far behind. It isn’t necessarily due to rubber band AI but because of the large number of weapons. There are over twelve weapons with some really cool effects. They cover the spectrum from various homing missiles to shields but there are a few unique ones in the lot. The Ion Side Blast projects beams of light that prevent other cars from passing you. The tractor beam pulls competing racers backwards to let you pass. My favorite is the Static Pulse, which creates a rolling tornado down the entire track that screws up your controls. In addition to steering weapons play a huge role in coming in first.
The game’s speed does come at a cost. The controls as a whole aren’t as tight as I would like. Even with the hidden cars I still found it tough to avoid hitting walls most of the time. Combine that with high top speeds and you’ll spend most of the time slamming into walls and corners. Add far too many weapon shots from behind and it gets frustrating. It isn’t game breaking but does bring it down a notch.
There are a wealth of modes in addition to extreme contest that give Extreme G longevity. Aside from practice and time trial there are numerous multiplayer modes such as capture the flag, battle, and even coop Grand Prix. Shoot em up mode challenges you to destroy as many drone cars possible on the various tracks. I think it was smart to have a mode that focuses on the large weapon supply. Like most Akklaim games at the time there are a massive number of cheat codes that add even more modes to the game. I won’t spoil them but they are all fun to play around with.
The production values in Extreme-G are pretty high although it does come with a few caveats. The track design is stellar and is backed up with great art direction. But the excessive blur and fog kind of ruin it at the same time. The various weapons showcase some cool lighting effects. But the framerate drops to the single digits when the action gets too heavy. Probe certainly tried with the generic techno but it wasn’t good then and is bad now. Wipeout and its curated Euro beats laugh at this game.
Extreme-G is a flawed but okay game. Once you’ve adapted to its faults there is a wealth of content to enjoy. But I would still recommend F-Zero X or Wipeout 64 first.