Some feats of human endeavor have simply hit a plateau and will advance no further: the presidential autobiography, the drunken bar fight, the hot dog-eating contest, the movie biopic, the musical-legend-in-his/her-golden-years duet album. In these areas, revision is unthinkable; sameness becomes a structuring principle rather than a liability. Every once in a while, however, this wisdom is turned on its head, and an idea, maybe one that seems a little crazy at first, catches fire, revitalizes old forms, and we have what’s called a “game changer.”
For the racing genre, Glacier 3: The Meltdown is not that game-changing game: It’s like an artifact from early-’90s arcades, the kind you might still see at shopping malls and in movie theater lobbies. Tempting though it may be to chalk the game’s throwback texture and jerky movements to nostalgia, Glacier 3 feels, finally, cheap and fly-by-night (and weirdly unfinished), the kind of thing that might blow your mind if you caught a glimpse of it while standing in 1989, but 20-plus years on it’s a bit like Lola at the end of the Barry Manilow song, wearing faded feathers and a Havisham-grade evening gown while attempting to obliterate any thought that might separate the present from its glorious past.
The only thing that dates it to within five years of its release date is a pronounced design influence on the vehicles by the 2008 Paul W.S. Anderson demolition-derby-dystopia actioner Death Race. Team 6, Glacier’s designers, might have been better off had they spent less time cribbing that film’s death-proofed gunship/crotch-rockets and more time taking a page from Anderson’s textbook on matters such as hybridizing the anything-it-takes-to-win mentality with the guiltless pleasure to be had from blasting or mashing or skewering a rival racer into the next life. For all the minutes getting setup, picking the right car, figuring how to do basic things such as drive and shoot, there’s next to no gratification to be had from winning or, if it’s the big draw for you, smokin’ other drivers.
Not at all thrilled by Glacier 3, I turned to my gaming companion for a second opinion. It’s possible that I’m simply being unfair, that I should try to “meet the work on its own terms,” that sort of thing. (It’s possible, too, that I am forever ruined for racing games by that other big racing movie from 2008, the Wachowski’s brilliant and criminally underrated Speed Racer.) My fellow gamer—who turns 10 in a few months—is about as likely to win the 2011 Fields medal as to be indirect about his opinion of video games, and he told me that the game is pretty much pants (my words), and also helpfully pointed out that the controls are not intuitive at all (ditto). Between him and me, there are several games in our house that are in heavy Wii rotation, but Glacier 3 won’t be one of them.