Pro Race Driver

Pro Race Driver

Written by Charlie Sinhaseni on 4/9/2003 for PC  

I’m a huge fan of racing games so you can probably sense my anticipation for Codemasters’ latest racing title. Being billed as a “Car-PG” the designers infused a heavy dose of story into the game formerly known as TOCA Racing and the end result is nothing short of spectacular. Simply put, Pro Race Driver will change the way we look and think about racing games in the future. Not that PRD should be seen as a revolutionary step for the genre but rather an evolutionary step that could pave the way for greater things to come.

I find it quite surreal to be discussing the storyline of a racing game in my review. As most racing fans know, storylines aren’t exactly the signature element of a good racing game, but then again it appears that Codemasters is looking to change that notion. While the storyline isn’t exactly the most compelling or entertaining one to have ever hit the gaming scene, it does an admirable job of giving the game a sense of purpose. Instead of randomly competing in races with the sole purpose of gaining upgrades, you feel that you hit the tracks for a reason. In this respect the game is a step ahead of the competition.

The game’s core career mode casts you into the role of Ryan McKane as he tries to follow in the footsteps of his deceased father and pro racing elder brother. The game essentially plays like your normal racing career mode. You’ll compete in a series of races for points, the higher you place the more points you’ll earn. As you progress you’ll unlock new racing series’ which will open up more tracks and cars for you to play around with. There’s a twist though, in between races, and sometimes before the races, you’ll be treated to cutscenes that give the game purpose. Whether it is the introduction of an old pro or new rival, the cut scenes give the game much more purpose than your usual garden-variety racer.

In addition to career mode, additional free race style modes and an excellent online mode flesh out the game. The free time mode is essentially all of the game’s exhibition modes. Here you will be able to compete in an arcade-like race mode that allows you to choose the car and track of your choosing. Of course there are the time trial-like modes and the very neat online feature. Many of the components are locked from the start and must be unlocked via the career mode. I’ve often been opposed to this tactic of extending gameplay life but since there is a great deal of content unlocked from the start I feel it works well here.

Of course the main attraction here is racing and when you hit the tarmac you’ll feel right at home. While some of the controls and the physics are a little shaky, they’re solid enough to provide one of the best racing experiences available. When combined with a force feedback wheel, there’s a real sense of fluidness and reality in the controls that just leaps above the competition. You’ll just simply love racing around each of the game’s tracks because the game has a great sense of control. Sliding around turns only to lose your grip and then regain control as you’re inches away from a concrete barricade really provides you with a rush. It assures you that each and every trip out to the racetrack is an exhilarating experience that you won’t soon forget.

There are a wide variety of licensed cars and tracks for you to shred up and much like the storyline, each of them bring something new to the table. From the long straight-aways of the Mexico raceway to the tumultuous curves of the Vancouver you’re in for a new and unique experience every time you hit the track. As you progress through the game you’ll unlock newer tracks which will really test your driving mettle. Never once did I find myself being bored by the game’s track selection, mainly because the designers did a great job of shaking things up from time-to-time.
Each of the races is nerve racking thanks to the AI’s competitive nature. While the AI drivers will do some brain dead things from time-to-time, such as bump into each other for no apparent reason, they tend to remain competitive throughout the entirety of the race. Every race is generally a wire-to-wire white-knuckled affair that will have you feeling an adrenalin rush as you hit every turn. It’s not to say that the game suffers from rubber band AI either because its performance appears to be consistent throughout. Cause a wreck at the onset of the race and you can expect to pull away from the pack for the rest of the race. One mistake could give the pack an opportunity to catch up to you and wipe away that massive lead that you’ve accumulated. There are no easy turns in this game, every one of them will have your heart-thumping and your palms sweating. In a word the racing is intense.

All of the vehicles are rendered with great detail and the excellent damage model from Colin McRae 3 makes an appearance here. Lots of refining details from vehicles, such as keyholes, are noticeable without much straining and it leads to a superb graphical showcase. Nearly every facet of the car can be broken, damaged or destroyed completely. It really speaks mountains as to how far the models have come in our modern video games. Remember when we were impressed by the now-archaic damage modeling of Need for Speed High Stakes? While that’s nothing new, you truly have to see the damage in this game to believe it.

In terms of comparison the PC version blows the PS2 version out of the water. There’s more refinement in the cars and landscapes and much less of the “jaggies” that come with the lack of anti-aliasing power on the PS2’s hardware. The game is also capable of handling more cars on the track at the same time and the drawing distance has been extended a bit. Still I must gripe a bit about the game’s graphics. The visuals suffer from what I like to call “Colin McRae-isitis.” Common symptoms of this are excellent vehicle models and significantly inferior scenery and road-side design. This was very prevalent in Colin McRae 3 and it rears its ugly head here. Not that the roadside designs are bad by any means. It’s just that when compared to the outstanding vehicle models they are relatively substandard. As a whole package it really diminishes what the vehicle designers have accomplished.

In addition to the graphics the game’s audio has also received a significant upgrade. If you’ve got the hardware to handle it the game can pump out surround sound audio that really immerses you in the experience. The sounds are filtered out through the front and rear channels to accommodate to the on-screen action so that you can have an audio cue of where your opponents are. I did find a few problems with the sound mixing though as all of the engine sounds tend to drown out the voice of your pit chief.

When you’re finished with the offline mode you’ll want to check out the PC-exclusive online mode. Online gameplay is done via GameSpy’s matchmaking service and while I had a difficult time finding a game with more than 5 players the network code seemed to be very stable. The racing was smooth and I noticed no discernable slowdown or hitches when it came from playing online and offline. Players at the time also seemed to be very professional as they were there to race and not to play bumper cars.

There’s another nice touch that I feel I should shed some light upon. Let’s say you’re playing a game and your idiot buddy, let’s say his name is Steve Noah from Operation Sports, sends you an instant message and interrupts your game. Now you’d expect the game to continue to run in the background, causing you to lose control of your vehicle and lose the race right? Well not exactly. In the case of Pro Race Driver the game actually pauses itself when it senses an interruption. So this means that if a download, instant message or error from another program occurs, you won’t have to start the race over from scratch. This seems like a small deal and while it is, it shows just how dedicated these designers were to perfecting their craft.

That’s just it, it’s all of the little things that make this game worth playing. With games like Colin McRae Rally 3 and Pro Race Driver on the market, Codemasters is proving why they’re the best in the business. If you’re looking for simulation-style racing with a bit of flair and panache then you should definitely take Pro Race Driver out for a test run. There’s enough here to please purists, newbies and casual fans of racing.
When a game is billed as being a “Car-PG” it’s bound to make waves. While the game doesn’t quite live up to this ambitious moniker, it does a great job of adding an engaging storyline to what would otherwise have been another cut and dry racer. You know a game is special when it’s just as fun to play as it is to watch. If you’re a racing fan then you’ll definitely want to check this one out.

Rating: 8.7 Very Good

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.


About Author

Gaming has been a part of my life for as long as I could remember. I can still recall many a lost nights spent playing Gyromite with that stupid robot contraption for the old NES. While I'm not as old as the rest of the crew around these parts, I still have a solid understanding of the heritage and the history of the video gaming industry.

It's funny, when I see other people reference games like Doom as "old-school" I almost begin to cringe. I bet that half of these supposed "old-school" gamers don't even remember classic games like Rise of the Triad and Commander Keen. How about Halloween Harry? Does anyone even remember the term "shareware" anymore? If you want to know "old-school" just talk to John. He'll tell you all about his favorite Atari game, Custer's Revenge.

It's okay though, ignorance is bliss and what the kids don't know won't hurt them. I'll just simply smile and nod the next time someone tells me that the best entry in the Final Fantasy franchise was Final Fantasy VII.

When I'm not playing games I'm usually busy sleeping through classes at a boring college in Southern Oregon. My current hobbies are: writing songs for punk rock bands that never quite make it, and teasing Bart about... well just teasing Bart in general. I swear the material writes itself when you're around this guy. He gives new meaning to the term "moving punching bag."

As for games, I enjoy all types except those long-winded turn-based strategy games. I send those games to my good pal Tyler, I hear he has a thing for those games that none of us actually have the time to play.

When I'm not busy plowing through a massive pile of video games I spend all of my time trying to keep my cute little girl fed. She eats a ton but damn she's so hot. Does anyone understand the Asian girl weight principal? Like they'll clean out your fridge yet still weigh less than 110 pounds.

Currently I'm playing: THUG, True Crime, Prince of Persia, Project Gotham 2 and Beyond Good & Evil. View Profile

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