1998 was the year of Grand Theft Auto
(the original one with the top-down view), Planet of death(pod)
. Vangers didn't catch on much back then, because there wasn't any genre it fit. Even if it does some things similarly to GTA (open world top-down driving game with missions and unstructured gameplay), its premise and game world are much more confusing, and most reviewers and players couldn't warm up to it, though some did. (Actually, that probably hasn't changed.)
What sets Vangers apart?
Voxels: Vangers has been implemented with a voxel-like world (that was before the prevalence of polygon-crunching graphics cards), which means that the terrain doesn't have a surface made of textured polygons, but is sculpted out of tiny cubes (like square pixels make up a digital photograph, but in 3D). (Think minecraft with finer grains.) This means that you can deform the terrain: vehicles leave tracks, weapons make craters, you can move under water, through tunnels (sometimes hard to spot in the top-down view) and, with the right equipment, even burrow along like a mole. Unfortunately, this is also the reason why Vangers still runs at 800x600: if you upped the resolutions, either everything would be very small, or the Voxels would appear larger, and everything would still be blocky.
SciFi: Vangers is set in a confusing world, or rather a "Chain" of worlds (do read the "preface" eventually), with seasons that affect gameplay, weird installations, the purpose of which is initially unknown, and strange creatures that talk in riddles. You need to discover much of the gameplay as you go along.
So how do you get a feel for the game? Review the controls in the options - you will need to move, turn your vehicle over and use the KiD a lot. Set the game to fullscreen. Then click yourself (somewhat to the right) through the prologue into the buying screen, pick up a shipment of Nymbos, exit the burrow, click on the lower right panel to set your compass for Incubator, and take off. (I set my camera to zoom and tilt, but not to rotate, because it is very easy to get disoriented.) You'll find that with your small, lightweight car, terrain matters a lot. There are roads, some obvious, some not so much, and unfortunately, you need to stay out of the way of stronger Vangers for the time being. Reach Incubator, sell the Nymbos, get some Phlegma, trade it back to Podish, buy better cars and equipment, ask the councellors about the things you saw, figure out how they work and how to reach other worlds in the chain, take part in races, take down other Vangers and loot them, become a motorized Scifi mercenary.
If you like off-road driving and can keep going in the face of confusion (and if you don't mind a time machine trip back to when screens had 15", 640x480 was a good game resolution, and 800x600 looked definitely wonderful - and games had to ask before saving 64MB of persistent world), Vangers
will reward you with huge and deep world full of surprises -- and driving.
I can safely say that there hasn't been any game like Vangers since 1998, because if there had been, I would have played it. (Hard Truck Apocalypse
, also published by Buka, comes close, but it doesn't have voxel terrain and isn't nearly as strange as Vangers.) I'm very happy that it has been overhauled to run on modern systems.
P.S.: I just found my old Vangers mousepad with the yellow and blue liquid and the floating mechos!
I just wrote the following in a forum post, it may help inform your buying decision.
So some people may be thinking, "that's an interesting game, but chances are high I won't like it much" and then conclude that they'll buy it if it ever goes below 4$ or whatever. Those of us who know and love Vangers know the game is worth more to us, but I can understand that people who are curious are reluctant to buy.
In that regard, if you like top-down off-road racing, with small vulnerable vehicles that can roll over and right themselves and do both small and really long jumps with a built-in spring device that charges up, you probably won't regret buying this for the full price, because if you get frustrated with the alien SciFi, you'll be able to just go and tool around the area some more in your mecho and have fun.