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Need for Speed 5: Porsche Unleashed

Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed strays from several conventions previously established by the popular arcade-style exotic-car racing series. For one thing, like its name suggests, Porsche Unleashed features automobiles exclusively from one manufacturer. What's more, the game has a more detailed, more realistic driving and physics model than its predecessors, though the game's realism is scalable. And while Porsche Unleashed has a few minor shortcomings, it nevertheless stands as the most ambitious game in the series since the original. As such, it'll more than likely make you love the Porsche on the off chance you don't already.

Porsche Unleashed looks good enough to do justice to its prestigious German sponsor. The game includes many dozens of different Porsche models from the manufacturer's 50-year product line, and each one bears the unmistakable curvature of a Porsche. The 3D car models are highly detailed: The cars all have working turn signals, brake lights, and headlights, and when you look at them in the garage, you can even check the engine under the hood, pop the trunk, or view the car's interior. The cars shine in the sunlight and reflect street lamps at nighttime, and they can also get noticeably damaged. You can clearly see their independent suspension at work as they corner, thanks to the game's realistic four-point physics model, and you can even see their drivers turning the wheel and shifting gears. You can drive the cars from a 3D cockpit view, from which you get a great sense of speed, but the cockpit view's limited visibility and slower frame rate - as well as the muffled engine noise - make the cutaway first-person view preferable, though you can also select from two external perspectives. The cars in Porsche Unleashed don't look totally perfect, as some of the minor details such as the door handles are part of the texture maps, rather than part of the polygonal geometry. But such details are only evident if you spend a lot of time gawking at your cars in the garage, rather than racing them out on the streets of Europe.

The various courses in Porsche Unleashed look even better than the cars do. Porsche Unleashed is the first Need for Speed since the original to feature extended open-road courses in addition to closed-circuit tracks. The lush natural scenery and subtle lighting effects give you a good sense of where you're driving, whether high up in the mountains at morning or down low by the docks at night. Some tracks offer alternate routes to take, and all of them have plenty of peripheral detail that you'll only start to notice after you've already raced along that stretch of road a half-dozen times. Put it all together, and Porsche Unleashed looks fabulous. The car detail and the great sense of speed you get from behind the wheel, in addition to the quaint backwater European courses and even the game's stylish front-end menus make Porsche Unleashed very classy, much like its namesake. Of further note, you can easily adjust graphics detail and resolution to best suit your system, such that you'll find a good compromise of visual quality and fast performance even on a low-end machine. However, slower computers with less RAM will experience noticeably long loading times before races and even between menu screens.

Porsche Unleashed sounds as good as it looks. You'll hear authentic engine noises and screeching tires throughout each race, along with realistic Doppler effects as you blast by your competition. You can actually hear how powerful the engine is in each of the various cars you'll drive, and you can gauge your RPMs just by listening, rather than by glancing at the tachometer. Porsche Unleashed has more than a dozen fast, funky techno music tracks that help set the pace, although the music might seem anachronistic when you're driving a 1950s-model Porsche.

 

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