Christmas 2003: I've had my PS2 for a year now, and like I did every holiday I asked "Santa" for new video games. So my mom finds a copy of this really terrible licensed Corvette racing game. Probably something she got on the cheap. With her it was always about putting enough shit under the tree so I'd feel like a "normal" kid on Christmas morning. I never cared growing up, especially by that age. You gave me one game and I'd play that motherfucker over and over again if it was fun. Hell, I still remember playing the "PlayStation Interactive CD Sampler Disc Volume 9" until my eyes would literally tear up after a few hours from not blinking enough in Rally Cross 2.
But it made her feel better, so that's what she did. I definitely didn't grow up poor (my mom could afford a luxury like video games after all), but I was aware of the fact that I never had as much as my friends did when I was young. I could tell it always bothered her come Christmas, and she never felt like she could spend as much as she'd want on me. She just couldn't spoil me with all the ridiculous bullshit that my friend's parents could (probably smart in hindsight). So quantity was always better than quality here unless it was something I really begged for. Because of this, I often ended up with really obscure ass video games.
She gets this Corvette game, and in the midst of her always rushed, absolute last minute holiday shopping she completely misses the fact that it was an Xbox game, not a PS2 game. This was very strange for her. Unlike most parents, she was very young (only 19 years my senior), she grew up playing Commodore 64 and Atari 2600, and she knew that not every video game was made for "The Nintendo". Hell, there was a point where she played the PS1 I used to have more than I did. (To this day I resent the fact that at that age she was able to get further than me in Crash Bandicoot 2). So this situation had literally never happened to me before.
I didn't actually get my Xbox 'til the next year (the first console I would ever buy for myself, actually), so at age 11 I had to look this poor woman in the face and sadly explain to her that I couldn't play this really (seemingly) cool racing game because it wouldn't work in the PS2 that her father had bought me last year (Gran Turismo 3 bundle FTW). Never seen her so embarrassed about a gift in her life. And I felt terrible, because I knew it was well intentioned on her part.
So the next day we go back to return it in the midst of this crazy fucking mob of people. Pretty much par the course for any retail outlet on December 26th. We go to the guy behind the register, and after searching the "database" he tells us that they only make this game for Xbox, PC, and Game Boy Advance. Our PC was a god awful circa 1998 HP machine that was nowhere near fit to play modern games, and playing this on the Game Boy (read: my Pokemon machine) seemed pointless. Needless to say, I was a very sad panda.
Little did I know, Steel Monkeys, the developer of the Corvette game, ran into development problems with the PS2 version of the game. This happened in the middle of some licensing issues which had the publisher switching from TDK Mediactive (yes the guys who made cassette tapes back in the day) to Global Star Software (the guys who Take-Two would buy up and put under their casual 2K Play division). If this game doesn't sound like a disaster yet, it should by now. Luckily for me, the PS2 port wasn't completed until March the following year. This game went so far on the shit scale that is actually came back around to save me in the end.
So in a rare kid-in-a-candystore moment in my childhood, I actually got to pick what I wanted from this huge games store. The catch was the price. I had to keep it under $20 (which was apparently what she paid for this game originally). So I immediately ran to the PS2 section and started tearing through their selection, looking for a racing game that looked cool and fit within the budget I was given. What I found was Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit II.
Hot Pursuit II had launched in October of the previous year, and the game had apparently been put on Sony's Greatest Hits line just prior to the holiday season. Seeing that $19.99 sticker, the red labeling around the PlayStation 2 logo at the the top, and that yellow Lamborghini Murcielago on the cover probably made Christmas for me. The hell with 42nd Street. This was a FuncoLand miracle (props to anybody who even knows what the hell that is).
Without taking this really upbeat blog post down a dark path, the last time I had seen or heard from my father prior to this point was about four and a half years earlier. Long story short, he had his fair share of problems, and my parents split (most definitely for the better) when I was much younger than this. But one of the memories I had of visiting him every on the weekends was playing a racing game with cop chases on his computer, which I would later found out was the first Hot Pursuit game. I don't know if I was conscious of this connection at the time. Maybe it wast just a coincidence. The franchise was huge, after all. But for whatever reason, the second I saw this game, I knew I had to have it.
The rest, as they say, is history. I remember working my way up the race pyramid, beating challenge after challenge, unlocking all the coolest cars in the game (whatchu know 'bout that McLaren F1, doe?). I remember going to my friends house and playing split screen free run for hours, just going in circles trying to escape the cops, calling out road blocks and spike strips every time we'd see one (or hit one). While Burnout 3 is a close second, this game is, in my opinion, the greatest arcade racer of all time.
I made this blog post for a few reasons. First, my roommate is bringing his old PS2 back with him to our apartment after Thanksgiving break, and my plan is to track down an old copy of this game and play it for the first time since I was in Middle School. Second, is that the recent release of Need for Speed Rivals has reminded me of how far these games have strayed from what made them so awesome. In focusing so much on "social connectivity", they've completely neglected what made them fun: tight controls, great cop chases, and split screen play. Third, it's almost Christmas time!
Hope you guys enjoyed this. With any luck, I'll have another one of these up soon.
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About ctg867one of us since 2:47 AM on 11.29.2013
I'm an (aging) dude who plays games and comments about stuff. Been on Dtoid since 2010-ish, back during the Jim Sterling days, though this account's a bit newer than that. Don't post on the FP anymore but you can find me on Qtoid and the Cblogs.
I also stream on Twitch sometimes, if you're interested: