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Jimmie Johnson's Anything with an Engine – hands-on

Jimmie Johnson is a superstar NASCAR driver – he's the only person to ever win five consecutive Sprint Cup championships, and he's considered hands-down to be the greatest NASCAR driver of the past decade. The highest racing pedigree in the world doesn't automatically mean a game with his name on it will meet the same quality standards he's set for his own career, but from what we've seen so far, Anything with an Engine's NASCAR-meets-Mario-Kart approach looks promising.

Graphically, it looks remarkably good for an XBLA/PSN title (the Wii version will be a regular retail release). Beyond the graphics it also feels quite robust for a downloadable game, with 10 different tracks and tons of vehicle types to choose from, all of which handle differently. That's where the "Anything with an Engine" comes in, since Jimmie himself wanted to include all manner of unconventional propulsive devices, from lawnmowers to giant bomb casings. We only got to play one track during our session, but we played it twice with two drastically different vehicles, and both seemed to handle well in their own ways.

Once you've selected a suitable vehicle, the game plays somewhat similarly to a toughened up version of Mario Kart. Vehicles each have customizable front and rear weapons, so that it's as much a race as it is a combat arena. Unlike Mario Kart though, bumping your opponents plays into the competition too – one of the few obvious NASCAR references in the game. As you pass another racer, you can hit a button (which one will depend on which button configuration you prefer – there's a classic racing setup and "kart" style control setup) to activate your side-rams and bump the other player off the track. If your vehicular apparatus becomes damaged, there's a pit stop on each track that you can drive through to make repairs. Just like in NASCAR, it'll slow you down a bit but the trade-off is often worth it.

The combat elements make Anything with an Engine geared toward multiplayer, and it allows up to four player splitscreen or eight player online play. While you can definitely annoy your friends with missiles and bumps, we're told that Jimmie insisted on not including any obnoxious forms of rubberbanding. Struggling players will have some modest help though, and certain small shortcuts only open up when you're trailing behind, but remain closed if you're in the lead.

We're also told that the personality and humor of the driver characters will play into the game too, but at this point the voiceovers haven't been added. It's a good sign that developers Isopod Labs are primarily concerned with how the game actually plays, and will focus on adding a flourish of humor only after they're satisfied with the gameplay. Because of that though, we hope a solid racer doesn't get overshadowed by obnoxious and unnecessary voice acting (see entry six in ourTop 7... Awful fake accents), so we're eager to see how the final product turns out (it could actually be legitimately funny, who knows). In the meantime, we leave you with the first trailer for Jimmie Johnson's Anything with an Engine:

Dec 8, 2010

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