Scorcher is a futuristic racing game written by Zyrinx, a group compromised of former Amiga demosceners. As you can expect from such people, their games - such as Subterrania and Red Zone on the Megadrive - are all extremely visually attractive, on par with the best professional game coders out there. Scorcher, for example, easily moves some of the best quality 3d graphics Saturn - the landscape is incredibly rich and diverse, there are many different terrain objects, and the game is abound in extremely high quality textures. You even get transparent smoke effects, and multicolored lightmaps every one in a while - unfortunetaly, these special effects are less noticable as they are a bit rare. Still, it can be said that the visual quality is on par with the best Saturn titles. What is even more impressive, that all of this is generated through carefully optimized code, with minimal use of the Sega Saturns video functions. Even the pumping techno music (which I have to admit, I enjoyed a lot, even though I normally dislike techno) is generated real-time instead of being pre-recorded on the CD.
Unfortunetaly, there is a downside to all of this technical virtuosity: the game itself is horribly dull. The music, composed by Jesper Kyd of Hitman fame, is very repetitive and fails to create a proper atmosphere for the burned out, almost post-apocalyptic world. There are barely any sound effects, other then the motor noise, jump, and crash effects. The graphics, while awesome and detailed, are boring and small. You don't have huge areas to navigate through, instead you have very narrow patches of futuristic steel and conrete. Furthermore, every racetrack seems to be suspended in the air, and you can barely see anything outside the track itself. This can be extremely frustrating during a city level for example. While the coders at Zyrinx created an incredibly detailed illusion, this illusion itself is inherently flawed.
Interestingly, this is not quite apparent on early levels: the game seems to progress from wider landscapes and elaborate valleys to spiraling, randomly thrown together steel patches. One could wonder if it was the developers themselves who overlooked their visual goal, or if it was their very aim to create such racetracks.
On the outside, Scorcher is definetaly a mixed bag of good and bad. But in the inside, everyone unanimously agrees on one thing: the controls are horrific. As with any futuristic racer, you have a futuristic race device, in this case, your character controls a perfectly round shaped, green forcefield. Zyrinx made the mistake of applying all the unique physics that come with this ball shape, and this makes the game very hard to control. Let's imagine a different kind of game for a moment: imagine that you have a small, metal toy ball, on a piece of paper you are holding in your hands. Your goal is to move the metalball to spots drawn on the paper, but you can only do so by moving the paper itself, using it to affect the motion of the ball. If you tilt the paper just a little bit, the ball will start moving slowly, but if you tilt the paper too much, or even for too long, the metalball, due to its heavy nature, will build up momentum. Once it has done so, its hard enough to keep it from falling down, yet alone to shepherd it to the right direction!
This is pretty much how Scorcher works too, except you are the ball itself. It's hard enough to take just a simple curve right, without falling down from the narrow race track. Later levels are further complicated by numerous traps and all kinds of extreme turns, uphill paths and spirals. Add the overly strict time limits, and the extensive, unnecessarily realistic physics system associated with your race-ball, and you have an almost completely uncontrollable game at your hands. Your race-ball behaves exactly as your speed and the terrain dictates, flipping over and around, desperatly trying to roll back into shape should it turn upside down, screwing with the controls that much more. In theory, if you can utilize your momentum properly, you can easily blaze through the tracks as they are highly speed-orientated. But thanks to the almost inert controls, this is close to impossible. Should you finish one track in anywhere but the last position, you gain valuable extra seconds for the next race, but alas these are lost if you restart the race from the pause menu - something you may want to do quite often as there are no penalties for it, at least as far as I know.
Even the few powerups the game offers cannot make controls much bearable - due to the extreme reliance on your momentum, the Turbo boosters are way too likely to literally rocket you out from the racetrack, and the Jump powerup is as dangerous as it is necessary to use (although, in many cases you can "fly" through obstacles provided you have enough speed). The powerups are located in the form of neon green floating triangle boxes, regenerating after every lap. Picking up one of these boxes will charge a gauge of the same color located next to your speed and time display. Green powerups will enable you to use the Turbo boost (with the A button) and blue powerups will allow you to jump (with the C button). Activating any of these will drain your meter, of course. A small amount of them is replenished if you fall out of the racetrack however. You can also activate a specific terrain object, a colored panel with an arrow on it, by "rolling" through them on the racetrack. These will create a trail of turbo boosters on the ground which operate seperatly from your power meter (for green panels), or a set of bumpers that slow you down (red panels). None of these affect the other players. While you won't see the red panels much, the green panels appear two to three times per level and can give you a massive speed boost, more then enough to pass all opponents (especially early on the race) before you are blown out of the racetrack.
Because of the frustrating difficulty and near-impossible controls, this game is only worth it if you can find it cheap: you can marvel on the wonderful graphics and perhaps enjoy some of Jesper Kyds earlier works, but as a game, Scorcher does not have any value. Other then the 6 race tracks (the last one being unbeatable without a cheat device), playable through a championship, a time attack, and practice modes (this latter giving you infinite powerups and time), the game offers nothing, not even a multiplayer mode.
It should be noted that the PC port of Scorcher has the game music recorded and played back from CD Audio tracks, which are much easier to access in case you are looking for this game solely for the music.