R: Racing review

Oh and it all looked so promising. The classic Ridge Racer series resurrected in all its tail-sliding glory. A modern face-lift with some real-life road and race classics. A storyline to tie the whole thing together. Girls with really big breasts. Bouncing.

Yet this is a pantomime of a good racing game. If only your TV could transmit the smells of burning rubber it would stink. Consider this: it takes elements from familiar and already successful games and does them worse. Does that make sense? It takes a thoroughbred, it takes steak, then combines them to produce... manure. It doesn't make sense.

The steak is the glorious Gran Turismo 3, which this game apes without shame in many ways, particularly in its visuals and vehicle choices. Dodge Vipers, Nissan Skylines, Subaru Imprezas, blah... you've driven them all before on tracks that looked like this. Only better. And when you did the handling was sublime, but here it's a lash up fit only for a rust-sodden Ford Escort with a bent chassis. This game is confused. The old super-sideways cornering style has been dropped, mostly, in favour of a more 'realistic' approach. But it's a half-hearted decision, and the result is an uneasy mix of arcade drifting and simulation apex-clipping.

The rally cars are particularly badly judged, taking poorly to flamboyant cornering and dumping all their speed in the process. Slides often turn into fights for control rather than deliberate arcs, making it difficult to get any kind of rhythm going and many cars seem to demand a neat, wheels-in-line style, which of course isn't rallying. This may well have a basic pace note system (and some annoyingly generic remarks on your prowess from the co-driver, too), and some OK tracks, but the handling is simply not good enough to let you enjoy them. GT3's rallying section beats this easily and of course Colin McRae Rally 4 and WRC3 kick the hell out of all of them.

The thoroughbred this game impersonates is Toca Race Driver, itself the latest incarnation of a long-loved series. The story here involves more cleavage than Ryan McKane's tale, true, but unfortunately it's tits in more ways than that. Your character is Rena, a young girl who drives an ambulance fast enough to impress the boss of a race team (presumably killing the patient in the process). He immediately enters you for an exceedingly boring oval race in a rear-drive classic DeTomaso - note to developers: never, ever create another oval - before sending you off for training. In a front wheel drive rally car. Huh? You then spend forever on various layouts of Suzuka, a track where gamers have done more laps than Michael Schumacher, winning easily, but losing the will to live. It is the first to have the recently reprofiled 130R, though, if you care.

In what could have been an interesting development, the other drivers names are displayed above the cars and their chatter somehow comes over your pit-to-car radio, making things a bit more personal. Sadly they'll still be trying to wind you up when you're six seconds in front and they're not that witty in the first place. Unless "Oh my god I'm fast" is supposed to be deliberately ironic. And we can only presume "He must be pissed!" is meant in the American sense of being angry... anyway, there's some rivalry, some underhandedness and some respect earned, as well as some confusion on Rena's part over what team she drives for - um, why not look at your overalls, love? Or shall we just switch off the lights and go home? Even TOCA's cheesiness is better.

The road and race car handling's fumbled too, with massively over-light arcade-style steering flipping into heavy, feedback-free understeer if you ignore the annoyingly unrealistic brakes. Oversteer only feels controllable on a dead throttle, ruling out useful powerslides and car performances are poorly differentiated. For instance, at one point you race an (admittedly tweaked) Fiat 500 against five race-tuned Vipers. And win. There's little incentive to get the later cars, unless you just want to look at them in your collection, as driving them's almost as bad as hearing them... really, these are the worst engine sounds since the Commodore 64 ruled the world. The grid sounds more like the start of 'The Only Way Is Up' by Yazz than six powerful engines. Suckorama. Shoot your ears off. There's no excuse.

So, it's like GT3 with fewer cars, rubbish handling and ugly backgrounds. It's got a story like TOCA, but it's naive in the extreme and makes no sense. It's got rallying that's nowhere near as good as the latest WRC or CMR titles. It's got drag racing that's not as fun as Need For Speed Underground's. It sounds worse than a Casio VL-Tone and the music is a crime. Does this make sense to you?

Namco's racer is out now

There's abundant animated cleavage for the truly desperate. However, the heart of the game - the actual driving - is outclassed in every aspect. Don't bother

More Info

Available Platforms: Xbox, PS2, GameCube


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