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HW1 Previews the Dreamcast PAL version
Page 1 of 1
Author: bktoh
Date of review: 04-April-2000
Type Of Review: Miscellaneous

A few weeks ago, in the heat of the Playstation 2 launch, I was drooling over the idea of getting my grubby paws on one of those new consoles. Yet, just last week, I walked into my local game store and bought myself a brand new PAL Dreamcast. For those of you old enough to remember the events of last year, you may recall reading my review of the original Japanese Dreamcast (purchased with my hard-earned dosh), which is still buried in our reviews section.

So what on earth possessed me to get a UK PAL version? Well, when I shifted to the UK, I left my Dreamcast in the custody of a friend, and have been using my PC for games and going online.

First of all, I was very impressed with the quality of the games appearing on the Dreamcast. Sure, no one can deny the immense power of the PS2 Hardware. I have seen it in action, and I can attest that the PS2 can churn out an immense number of polygons per second without even breaking into a sweat. But if you were to compare, say, Soul Calibur on the Dreamcast with Tekken Tag Tournament on the PS2, you will notice that both games feature extremely detailed 3D models running at 60fps with no slowdowns. Arguably, the characters on Tekken Tag may be more detailed, but it has reached the point of diminishing returns and it isn't that obvious, even on my 32" widescreen TV.

What sold me eventually was Crazy Taxi. Like most Sega arcade games, the gameplay can't be faulted. It was one of those games which forced you to throw in every token into the arcade machine. Seeing as the arcade game was running on Naomi hardware, which is essentially a Dreamcast without a GDROM drive and more memory, it was only a matter of time before it made the transition to the Dreamcast. As much as I liked watching the replays on Ridge Racer V, it lacked the appeal of playing Crazy Taxi.

The store I was in was having a promotion on the Dreamcast, bundling 4 full priced games with the DC for the price of ONE game when you bought the Dreamcast. So I ended up with Virtua Striker 2000.1, Tomb Raider 4: Last Revelation, Crazy Taxi and Soul Calibur. They even threw in an RGB cable for my TV for free and a used copy of Worldwide Soccer 2000 for 15 quid.

Anyway, I brought it all home and plugged it into my TV, and started playing these games. Look for a more thorough review of Soul Calibur and Crazy Taxi soon at Hardware One.

Just some quick notes: the Internet capability of the Dreamcast is actually pretty good. The fonts are too large, even at the smallest setting (to maintain readability), which makes reading Hardware One a little difficult, but still manageable. Even British Telecoms has begun promoting the Dreamcast as a way to get online. It is incredibly easy. Just pop in the GDROM, connect up three wires (one to TV, one for power and the other for the phoneline) and you are online in about 15-20 minutes (including registration). This includes "typing" on the "virtual" keyboard on the screen using a gamepad. I got so frustrated that I ended up buying the DC keyboard for 20 quid. MUCH better. So for about 240quid, you ended up with a great games machine AND a set top Internet device. Quite good value for money if you ask me.

Also interesting is that many games have a 60Hz mode. Consoles normally originate in the Japanese market, and then shifts to the US market. For these two countries, the TV standard used is NTSC which runs at 60Hz. When it comes to the UK/European markets, the consoles have to be adjusted to display properly on PAL TVs, which run at 50Hz. One of the gripes you will hear from UK/European console gamers is that the console manufacturers cheat by slowing down everything by 1/6. This results in more sluggish games, and worse, the displays are letterboxed and squashed. You see, PAL uses 625 horizontal lines of resolution while NTSC has 525 lines. To make the original image fit properly, the PAL consoles introduce black bars at the top and bottom to pad out the lines (from the original 525 NTSC image) to 625 lines. Circles or spheres look oval in most PAL games, and this has persisted since the first PAL consoles appeared, including the Sega Saturn and Playstation.

BUT Sega recognised that most gamers now have access to multisystem TVs, much like in Singapore. So while ALL games default to 50Hz like their PAL predecessors, some games also give you the option to run at 60Hz so you get a full speed, full screen game, just like in the US.

Looking at the coming games, the Dreamcast line up looks quite solid actually. I am not sure if you have played Sega's Virtua Tennis in the arcade, but that runs on the Naomi board as well, and the Dreamcast version is expected in July. Earlier on the horizon, Dead or Alive 2 is also out. Preliminary reports on the net indicate that the DC version holds its own, even when pitted against the PS2 version.

As for the PS2, will I still want one? Of course! Like there was ever any doubt. There is room for another console in my heart. I guess I just wanted people to recognise that the Dreamcast is still a viable alternative to the PS2 and shouldn't be dismissed... just yet.

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