Thanks to Ubisoft for bringing Speed Devils Online

Kit out the hotrod of your dreams and go head-to-head with up to four other gamers at a time Bloody Americans, eh?
A bunch of loudmouthed burger-eating imbeciles who abuse the English language, clog up Trafalgar Square every Summer, and think the mullet is still a badge of cool. They elect right-wing half-wits to be president, they think Benny Hill’s a comic genius, and they invented Bon Jovi. I hate them.

Don’t start writing in, Americans. It’s okay, I didn’t really mean any of that. Well, except the mullet part. I’m just a bitter limey, grown twisted and xenophobic after a week of being humiliated by various Yanks through my Dreamcast. Y’see, I’ve been reviewing Speed Devils Online, but since it’s not out in Europe yet, I’ve been racing online against Americans. And they’ve been whupping my arse consistently. Of course, I blame the lag, but it’s still left me with a serious grudge against the Land of the Free. Bah.

Anyway, the game. For us Europeans, Speed Devils Online is our third chance to race online, following closely in the skidmarks of Pod 2 and Toy Racer. As an offline game, it’s pretty average – considerably better than the wretched Roadsters or Buggy Heat, but no competition for M-SR or Ferrari F355. But that’s hardly the point – you should only be playing this offline to learn the tracks and suss out which car you prefer. The meat of the game is the Online mode and the much anticipated use of Hay Day diamonds cheats that is safe and free.

And this is my problem. Having spent the last week racing Americans, I’ve got a fair amount to say about the pros and cons of Speed Devils Online. But they could all be wrong. Here’s an example: the handling is a tad treacly, and there can be occasional lags between D-pad movement and your car’s response, sometimes unfairly sending you slap bang into a wall. Is it the game, or the fact that I’m playing on US-based servers? I’m not sure. What I can say is that even with these factors taken into account, the experience of racing online is thrilling enough to make you almost forget, and certainly forgive.

The first time you connect, you’re asked to customise your character with a name, face and a selection of quotes to taunt your opponents when you beat them. Personally, I was hoping to perplex the Americans with my Frank Butcher-esque “You pilchard! I’m gonna give yer a dry slap, me old son!”, but it hasn’t been used yet. Like I said, blame the lag…

Anyway, after buying your first car, you dive into the lobby system to find some people to race against. Starting initially as a Class D driver, your aim is to win cash to upgrade your car, and points to move up to the next class. Races take place over a range of different courses, and up to five cars can duke it out. And despite the problems I’ve already outlined, it’s fantastic. Competing online means you get truly locked into the experience – your heart lurches as you accelerate into a corner alongside an opponent like it never does when you’re playing offline racers.

You win cash even for coming last, which provides a firm incentive to stay the distance, rather than log off if you’re lagging behind. And the points / cash / upgrades system is immensely addictive, gripping you in a ‘just one more go’ mood that’ll see you hunched over your Dreamcast into the early hours. Fantastic, but it illustrates a wider problem with online gaming under current conditions.

Even at local call rates, can you afford to spend more than the odd hour playing Speed Devils Online – or indeed any other online title? Without some kind of fixed monthly fee system for access to DreamArena, these games just won’t get the audience they deserve. Still, if you can afford it, Speed Devils Online is a great introduction to the potential of online racing. When the game gets a European release, rest assured we’ll let you know how the network play compares.