They say you always remember your first, which is why Porsche Challenge holds such a special place in my heart. That and the fact it’s the best damn racing game ever made. I remember when my step-dad, my younger brother Cody and I went shopping one day and came home with a PlayStation, Tekken 2 and Porsche Challenge. What the history books won’t tell you is that much to my pre-teen chagrin I didn’t actually want a PlayStation. Instead I wanted a Sega Saturn – after all we did give the Mega Drive a fair flogging and it served us well. Plus, the Saturn had Virtua Fighter, Sega Rally and Daytona USA – all the games you could play at the local arcade but now in the comfort of your own home. Alas it wasn’t meant to be and we ended up with a PlayStation instead of Sega’s ill-fated Mega Drive follow-up. Fair to say we dodged a bullet there.
The Alpine express
Despite my disappointment I was excited that we had a new console in the house, and it wasn’t long before my yearning for a Sega Saturn was replaced with a newfound love for PlayStation. With only two titles to choose from, I quickly mastered both, but it was Porsche Challenge that got my engine revving the most.
If you’re not sure what Porsche Challenge is let me give you the lowdown. Released in 1997, Porsche Challenge is a part sim, part arcade racer where players get behind the wheel of the pricey and sexy Porsche Boxster. I don’t think it was direct promotion of the Porsche’s new Boxster model (at the time), I mean let’s be honest, how many people are going to go drop $100k+ on a sports car because of a video game? Although the first page of the game’s manual was the Boxster’s tech specs so maybe it was some type of early doors digital guerrilla marketing.
There were six characters to choose from, each with their own flavoured Boxster and fatuous backstories (for race car drivers) which were detailed in the game’s manual (ah, the good old days of game manuals). Marco (blue Porsche), was my pick of the bunch and works as a mechanic to earn a crust, Rachel (pink) is a Swedish model, Beat (green) is an English DJ, Nikita (yellow) a French journalist, Taka-bo (red) is a teenage Japanese hacker, and Dan (white) is an American kickboxer.
What made Porsche Challenge so brilliant was that despite its limited track numbers there was a good amount of variety thanks to the developers spicing things up with different modes. While there may have only been four tracks (Stuttgart, USA, Alpine and Tokyo), the tracks would change depending on the mode. In Classic Mode the tracks would be the standard versions with no alterations, but in Long Mode, changes such as shortcuts and barriers would be made to the track every lap, meaning that drivers needed to pay attention if they were going to have any chance of winning. The third mode, Interactive, totally randomised the track layout and could change at any moment. There was also Time Trial and Practice modes as well as two-player splitscreen, so the amount of content squeezed out of four tracks was impressive.
A part of Porsche Challenge’s allure was that it would ‘feel’ like being behind the wheel of an actual Porsche Boxster – something many of us will never experience. Its hybrid arcade-simulation mechanics meant that it separated itself from other racers at the time such as Ridge Racer and Need for Speed, which were purely arcade racers (you can switch to arcade mechanics should you wish). To its credit, Porsche Challenge was surprisingly difficult, maybe it was because of the game’s catch-up AI (which can be disabled) which never let you get too far in front, or maybe it was because if you had a bingle it was very tough to make up the ground. Either way, much like anything else practice made perfect, and after a while Marco was virtually unbeatable.
If red goes faster, why am I not winning?
Let’s not forget the icing on the cake; the amazing soundtrack, which was full of Prodigy-inspired bangers and is a classic example of a video game soundtrack of its time. The game’s main menu theme was so memorable it has been my phone’s ringtone for a long time now.
Do I genuinely think that Porsche Challenge is the best racing game ever? No. That title is reserved for Wipeout 2048 (I defy anyone who suggests otherwise). But Porsche Challenge was my first real experience with not only a racing game, but a game that I felt an attachment with on the PlayStation.
Part of me was hoping that PlayStation would pay homage to the title and include it on the PS1 Classic, and I have often wondered whether a modern day Porsche Challenge game even work. Probably not. Let’s be honest, a game based around racing the same model of car has incredibly limited appeal. I guess they could spice it up and have all kinds of Porsche models available, but licensing limitations may hamper this.
I’ve played Porsche Challenge a handful of times over the years, and while it elicits strong feelings of nostalgia, it pains me to admit that the game hasn’t aged well. Everything from the control scheme to the recycled four tracks feels dated. That’s not to say it’s not fun, because it is still an enjoyable and challenging experience, but with the advancement of modern day game development it’s hard to look back and feel the same way you did all those years ago. But no matter what happens in the future, Porsche Challenge will always hold a special place in my heart.