I first came in contact with Auto Modellista during last year’s E3 and while I was mildly interested, I was far from impressed. The look of it was unique and appealing, as evidenced by the massive crowds that gathered to check it out, but something was missing. Racing in the game didn’t just quite feeling like racing, the vehicles lacked weight and the tracks were far from inspired. It was almost as if the designers were trying to walk a fine line with the physics in combining arcade-like elements with a heavy dose of simulation-style elements. The game was then released on the PlayStation 2 and all of our fears came to a head, although Capcom had promised that the controls were tightened in relation to the Japanese version the game still had a “skates on ice” sort of feel to it. While the game has seen some minor improvements since its last iteration, I must say that the GameCube version is nothing short of disappointing.
Racing games are a dime a dozen nowadays. Without a defining characteristic or element, there’s a tendency for them to get lost amongst the masses. The game needs a gimmick to survive and differentiate itself away from the others but as Capcom’s Auto Modellista has shown, a game cannot survive on the premise of gimmick alone. Strip away the fancy visuals and the only redeeming element of the PS2 game, the online aspect, and you’ve got a barebones title that doesn’t have a leg to stand on.
In a lot of ways Auto Modellista reminds me of a more organized version of Squaresoft’s PSOne cult-hit Racing Lagoon. There’s a garage life mode which serves as the game’s core career mode and your usual single-race modes which allow for head-to-head and time trails. You’ll probably spend the majority of your time in the garage life mode as it serves as that’s where most of the game’s content lies. It’s not enough to satisfy the cravings of most gamers and the absence of the online mode further highlights this deficiency.
Garage life allows you to tune and tweak your car with aftermarket parts from real companies. You’ll be able to add mufflers, turbo and other performance enhancing products that will help you squeeze every last ounce of horsepower from your imports. While the level of customization isn’t quite up to the level of Gran Turismo, there’s a good deal of customization here. This is one of the few games that I’ve played where I was given the option to change the outward appearance of my vehicle. It’s not just limited to rims and wings either, you can change bumpers, rears, side skirts, headlights and even side-view mirrors. Each car only has about two or three different options available but the ability to change the look of my vehicle was a pleasing and welcome addition.
As opposed to earning cash in the races and purchasing new cars or upgrades, AM opts to go with the unlocking method that is all the rage in your usual arcade racer. Instead of competing in numerous races and saving up the cash to purchase that costly turbo system, all you’ll have to do is place first in a specific race. The same system also applies to the vehicles in the game. You can switch and change vehicles at any point of the game without cost of repercussions and as a nice touch, the AI vehicles change as well to suit your vehicle’s performance level. This means you won’t be racing a Honda Civic against Nissan Skylines and Dodge Vipers because obviously you’ll be left light-years behind the pack. I’m glad that the designers had to foresight to instill these changes because otherwise, the less powerful vehicles would have been rendered useless.
There are a wide variety of tracks to race on, all of which are modeled after real-life locations. There are two types of tracks, point-to-point tracks that take place on what appears to be the countryside and lap-based races that take place in the city or on ovals. The variety that each one brings in them is what really makes them worth racing on again and again. Being able to race each of them backwards also adds a bit of replay value to the game. Of the tracks I’d say that the ones with the least amount of twists and turns are the most entertaining, mainly due to the game’s shaky physics.
It seems like the designers were looking for a compromise between arcade and sim-style physics and the end result is something that is teetering on unplayable. Most of Auto Modellista’s problems can be attributed to its controls and awkward physics. Playing AM is like performing the Icecapades with cars. Vehicles have an enormous tendency to slide all over the track, to the point where maintaining a straight line is the toughest of chores. Most fo the time it doesn’t feel like the cars have four points of contact but instead have one central point on which the vehicle pivots. In most racing games the physics are modeled after the inertia and momentum that is generated by the four tires. Here in AM it feels like the cars have one wheel in the middle of their chasis for which there is only one point for it to rotate. I understand that the need to make this game accessible for gamers who don’t wish to deal with arcade-style elements but I can’t imagine anyone who would be comfortable with these physics.
The vehicles don’t exhibit a proper sense of weight, especially when they head in to turns. It literally feels like there’s no friction between the vehicle and the road, giving the game that sort of wheels on ice feeling that really detracts from the experience. Getting a proper feel for the car is impossible because the weight and momentum ratios seem to fluctuate at well. This is especially frustrating when trying to head into sharp turns. More often then not you’ll end up spinning out while the rest of the pack takes off in front of you, leaving you in its dust. If you’re like me you’ll dread each and every time you head out to the tarmac because each and every turn is an exercise in frustration.
Adding to the game’s problems is the weak AI that hearkens back to the days of the PSOne. This game gives new meaning to the term rubber-band AI. Creep ahead and your competitors will magically speed up, fall behind and they’ll slow to a crawl. It reminds me of playing games with my older brother when I was a kid, he used to deliberately slow down so that I’d have a chance, well in my mind at least, to win the race. I don’t need to be baby-ed anymore, I want a challenge from the competition, not pity.
In a move that really reminds me of Mario Kart the competitors run on pre-defined tracks. Just stay in their way and you’ll have no problem winning the races. They won’t try to ram you and they won’t try to go around you, they’ll just drive behind you, baffled as to who would be bastard enough to block their preconceived path. It’s as if there’s no path finding AI to speak of, I literally won a race by going 60 mph the whole time. I just simply blocked the path that I knew the AI would run and drove at my own leisurely pace without fear of being passed. Besides, it was about time that I treated myself to a Sunday drive anyway.
Thankfully the game’s visuals fare much better than the gameplay and as no surprise, serve as the game’s strongest quality. Surprisingly the translation from realism to cel-shading was a smooth one. Each of the tracks doesn’t look too cartoonish and while the street textures are a bit bland, the roadside objects and buildings just look superb. Capcom has done a great job of creating a believable 3D world composed solely of cartoon-style graphics and the end result is nothing short of spectacular.
What water was to 2002, cel-shading is to 2003. No less than a dozen games in the past nine months have featured cel-shading techniques but this is the first time that it has made an appearance in a racing title. This lends the game a very unique feel that makes the game immediately recognizable from the start. Strangely enough this translates into a very attractive visual package that really shows us what the artists at Capcom are capable of. The graphics are cartoon-ish but not in the exaggerated form that appeared in other titles such as Jet Set Radio Future. Instead, the graphics are much more grounded in reality as they look cartoon-ish yet realistic. Each and every vehicle looks strikingly similar to its real life counterpart. Every curve and distinguishing feature is has been recreated beautifully. Sometimes I cringe when games give me close-up shots of the vehicles because I tend to notice small deficiencies like in accuracies and texture tears. This simply isn’t the case here; all of the vehicles just look superb and will be immediately recognizable from the start.
Keeping in line with the stylized look of the game the artists decided to add “speed lines” to give you a greater sense of speed. Now this works in some situations but in many of them, the lines just look ridiculous. Simply because the lines fly at you with blazing speed while the roadside objects, and the road, approach at a crawl. It’s very disorienting and leads to a very strange sensation of speed that makes you feel like you’re going faster than you really are. Consider the fact that these blazing fast lines come at you even when you’re going 30 mph and you can understand the problem.
When it comes down to it the game looks great but that’s about it. It’s lacking a competent set of physics and the absence of the online aspect makes this an even weaker game than its dated-PS2 counterpart. There’s not much to enjoy about this title and unless you’re a huge fan of cel-shaded visuals you’ll probably want to take a pass on this one.
Add a few more cars, clean up the visuals a bit, keep the same horrid gameplay and strip it of the online element and what do you get? Auto Modellista for the GameCube, a rushed port that obviously was released to cash in on a few desperate bucks.
Rating: 5.8 Flawed
* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.
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