Some problems are bound to arise when a developer makes some massive changes to its well-established franchise. Longtime fans are bound to be alienated (just ask the guys in Metallica) at the expense of acquiring new ones. It’s a sacrifice that every single juggernaut is forced to make in the entertainment industry but in hopes of reinventing itself, Namco has effectively bastardized one of its most beloved properties at the expense of its hardcore fans.
From the start you’ll have a small assortment of race types to participate in. You’ll have access to Race Life, single race, multiplayer race and time trial variants. If you’ve been following the coverage for this game you’ll know that Race Life is the game’s story-propelled career mode. In it you’ll assume the role of an attractive young girl who makes the natural leap from ambulance driver to freelance racer. As you win more races you’ll learn more about your racing team via some beautifully rendered cutscenes oozing with the quality that we’ve come to expect from the guys at Namco. Overall the story isn’t really all that intriguing although the designers through a few plot twists into the mix and give you a rival in a female by the name of Gina. I have to wonder if the names were changed for the American version of the game though, somehow the name Gina stands out in a field that includes Matsushita and a bunch of traditional Japanese names. There’s just something out of place about it but I really can’t put my finger on it.
If you’re too lazy to deal with the cutscenes and the structured races you can always jump into the requisite single race modes. Multiplayer races can be had via the in-game split screen mode although online support has been omitted completely. This leaves you to race with one other opponent in a very simplistic and boring head-to-head race. Let’s just say the multiplayer isn’t really one of the game’s strong points. If you’re planning to pick up the game stick to the racing life mode. You’ll get a large number of races that span over 14 separate chapters. Best of all you’ll be able to participate in a wide variety of races such as rally races, drag races and the requisite circuit races.
As you could have guessed, winning more races furthers your progress in the game. At certain points of the game you’ll unlock new vehicles and new circuits to tear up. Most, if not all, of the circuits are modeled after real life locales. This lends them a very realistic feel that makes them fit in with the game’s realistic motif. In addition to the revamped gameplay the franchise also includes licensed vehicles instead of the shoddy generic ones that adorned previous iterations. The lineup of cars here is pretty consistent with what you would expect out of a Japanese racer. I’ll admit that it’s nicer to tear up these circuits in the helm of an Acura RSX instead of some cheesy generic vehicle.
R:Racing adds an interesting gameplay element via a health bar that resides above the opposition. As you put more pressure on them the bar fills, when it’s full the driver has a higher tendency of slipping up and putting their car into a wall which would allow you to pass. In theory it’s a very good idea but most of the time you’ll already have accumulated enough speed from their draft to pass them before the bar completely fills. In the end, this interesting feature is rendered useless on account of other existing gameplay mechanisms. That’s just beginning of the game’s problems.
80mph drives through windy mountain roads feel like garden-variety Sunday drives thanks to the weakest sense of speed that I’ve seen in a long while. Even when you’re going in speeds in excess of 100mph you never really feel like you’re moving too fast and you’ll always have ample time to react to upcoming curves. To offset this the physics are set to feel more realistic so while it may not look or feel like you’re going 100mph the game still registers your vehicle as so. So if you’re taking a U-Turn in what feels like 20mph but is actually 80mph you can expect your vehicle to fishtail out of control. To compound this problem is the wildly erratic physics. It seems like the designers wanted to develop a system that was true to the Ridge Racer roots while throwing in some simulation style elements. The end result is a bizarre mesh between sim and arcade that doesn’t quite get the job done. It’s not as bad as the physics in Auto Modellista
but it’s really difficult to perform well in the game on a consistent basis.
If R: Racing Evolution
has anything going for it it’s the deceptively beautiful visuals. People who happened to wander in and out of my room during my time with the PS2 version of the game couldn’t tell whether the game was being played on a PS2 or an Xbox. In terms of graphical competence I’d say that the only other racing game that I’ve seen on this level of quality is the upcoming Gran Turismo 4
. You’ll even get some really nice effects like the reflections of street and the stripes that adorn the curves. What I can really appreciate about the visuals is that they rely on sheer technical beauty as opposed to flashy eye tricks like in Need for Speed Underground
. All of these cars feature a healthy amount of polygons and the tracks themselves are strikingly beautiful as well. Some of the pavement even features a quasi-bump mapping technique that gives it a realistic looking texture. Overall you’ll be very impressed with the visuals whether you end up picking up the PS2 or Xbox version.
Most of the sound effects are up to par as well. The Xbox features some excellent surround sound effects while the PS2 version utilizes the Dolby Pro Logic II technology quite nicely. You’ll hear the engine resonate from the center channel while the rumble of your opponents will come from your rears. You’ll be in constant contact with your pit crew throughout the duration of the races so you can expect to hear a lot of narration. Those aren’t too bothersome but the inane taunts from your opponents will probably want to make you turn that volume knob down a couple of notches. I’m talking about a Midnight Club 2
level of annoyance here.
There are some major problems with the actual interface itself. On my initial play I had difficulties finding the save function so I assumed that it employed an autosave feature. Imagine my enjoyment as I booted it up later on the find that my two hours of gameplay had been unsaved. After that I made it a point to find the save function and after consulting the manual I still had difficulties locating it. Only after I inadvertently exited the game’s core gameplay mode did I realize that you have to go to the main menu to save the damn game.
If there’s a lesson to be learned here it’s that you really shouldn’t mess with a good thing. Namco effectively bastardized one of its most beloved franchises, and for what, this run-of-the-mill racer? It’s a pretty pony, that’s for damn sure, but good looks won’t give this one a free pass. The fact of the matter is that the racing in R:Racing isn’t interesting nor is it the least bit entertaining. Unless you have a fetish for Asian girls in low cut racing suits (and let’s be honest, who doesn’t?) avoid this one at all costs.
Expensive cars? Check. Hot babes with low cut tops? Check. Slick graphics? Check. Fun game? Che- oops, looks like someone forgot to add the gameplay.