I haven't played a car game in over a decade. Not out of spite, or because of some bizarre gaming diet where I am not allowed to consume anything with four wheels, but it's just that everything nowadays is too realistic, or trying too hard to be unrealistic. I desire a car game that slots nicely in-between the two without fanfare. A simple, unceremonious racing game is what I'm after; Screamer. That game is Screamer. A third one. It's just, would I actually like it?
If you're unfamiliar with Screamer 1 and 2, I don't blame you. They're old arcade style racing games from the 90's which ran on MS-DOS. I never played the first, but I have fond memories of the second. It came in this white and orange Sold-Out Software sleeve, the sort of one where you'd need to really dig into the cardboard with your fingers and prize it out of there. Eventually I learned to press the sides of the sleeve to create an easy opening. This proved crucial, because boy did I play the heck out of it.
Look up Screamer and it's officially an "arcade" style racer, but to me, it'sthe racing game. Okay sure, it has numbers which track your time and it looks colourful and it's not all that realistic, but it captures the beating pistons of racing - cars that go broom broom very fast.
And Screamer's tracks are part of this magic too. Back in the day, a huge open world replete with racing routes wasn't possible I'd imagine, and now you've got the likes of Forza Horizon 5 which is set in this wonderfully rendered Mexico: a sprawling location filled with lush jungles and volcanoes and coastal towns. Looks amazing, to be fair - but it's not Screamer is it?
I like that Screamer jets your jagged car around the world and plops you in Egypt or the English countryside. One minute you're sliding past pyramids and palm trees, and the next you're squealing through quaint villages like it's the Dorset Grand Prix. It feels reminiscent of a grounded Mario Kart as you flit over the globe. No sandbox here. No points or EXP or garage to manage. The spotlight shines on how fast you can cut through each country's windy corridor and that's it.
Maybe the biggest thing for me is the intimacy of Screamer. I know that this isn't exclusive to the game - far from it - but the way the track renders in front of you as you drive is key to this. I like not being able to see what's coming, basically. There's this sense that you're uncovering the track for the first time as you power through it, which is almost meditative in the way it demands your absolute focus. If it had a map you'd see yourself clear the fog of war.
I just want another Screamer, but I'm not sure it's possible anymore. I bet if the original devs came together and were like, "Let's do a Screamer 3", I wouldn't like it. It's devastating to write this down, but I'm after something that was very much a product of its time. They'd captured something special back then, but if they rummaged through their dev cupboards to find the tools to make a faithful sequel today, I bet they'd notice that after a quick sniff, their bottled up Screamer magic from 1995 had gone off.
Racing games have moved on since Screamer and I'm not sure a sequel that drew from the past could truly take you back to the glory days. It might feel comforting in its familiarity, but peel back the polygons and it would all be 2021 zoomer technology powering everything. Maybe if they packaged it in a Sold-Out Software sleeve and sold it in a random basket in a department store, then maybe I could get behind it.
Shout-out also goes to Moto Racer. This is basically Screamer but with bikes. The first launched only a couple of years after the first Screamer and once again, I played the heck out of it.