F1 Challenge (Sega Saturn, PS2) | Monaco
Be honest, have you even heard of this one? Before Sony got the official FIA license and Bizarre Creations made the unforgettable Formula One and F1 '97, Sega Sports had the FOCA license, which granted them pretty much the same rights. But it wasn't as comprehensive an experience as PSone's gem. There were only three 'real' tracks (Monaco, Suzuka and Hockenheim), and three bonus tracks. But they pushed the Saturn to its limit - and the game absolutely rocks.
Monaco and Suzuka are the standout moments, but we reckon the latter is the one you have to see. The sweeping S-bends in the first third of the lap are incredible, especially the left-hander which drops away from you... it feels like you're hanging on for dear life. And it's a stunning 3D recreation of the circuit in an arcade style, running at a solid 30fps. If you don't mind sacrificing some smoothness, you can even switch on a rear-view mirror - something commonly believed to have only been achieved in Sega Touring Car Championship on the console (ahem... geek mode cancel).
The ethereal feeling of hurtling down the back straight with the engine screaming is something every Saturn owner should experience. The sky has a fish-eye lens effect and even slants with the track camber (sounds obvious now, but at the time it was a revelation), the other cars are recognisable and it's very, very fast. Strangely, despite its quality, it vanished from store shelves very quickly, never to be seen again. Except on eBay!
Ferrari F355 Challenge (Dreamcast, PS2) | Long Beach
If ever you wanted to see how Dreamcast games could have looked if game development had continued for the same lifespan that PS2 enjoyed, load up Ferrari F355 and select the Long Beach track. Arcade smoothness, realistic physics and the best 3D graphics the machine ever produced. Examine the external shots - there are even 3D drivers in the cars. This is every bit as impressive as PS2's Gran Turismo offerings - perhaps even more so.
This inner-city track, with its tyre-marked tarmac and smooth kerbs that seem tangibly hot from a day in the blazing sun, is the game's finest moment. And if you do actually manage to win, kick back and watch the 'digest replay', while a sweet electric guitar solo plays. It's Sega at its finest - and if you can name any racer that genuinely looks markedly superior in overall effect, you're probably talking about Gran Turismo 5. Considering that Dreamcast is only about as powerful as the humble PSP, that's a phenomenal achievement.
Final Fantasy VII (PSone, PC) | Disc One
Yes, we know we said “levels” and this is an entire disc, but bear with us. Love it or hate it - but really, why would you hate it? - Final Fantasy VII is the most revered role-playing game of the PlayStation era. And one of the big reasons why is a kind, sweet flower-selling girl named Aeris, also known as Aerith.
By the way, if you somehow don’t know where we’re going with this, SPOILER ALERT times a zillion.
Anyhow, untold legions of gamers were captivated by Aeris’ selfless, gentle heart, and her death at the hands of the evil Sephiroth set the standard by which all other videogame deaths – and bad guys - will be measured. There may never be a more innocent, pure maiden than Aeris, a more hateable villain than Sephiroth, or a more moving collision of the two throughout the rest of gaming history. And in order for it to truly resonate when Aeris is taken away at the end of disc one, you need to play the whole game up to that point.
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