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. While the game has seen some minor improvements since last May I must say that the end result 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. Thankfully the game has just enough substance to make it worth your while but in the end the shaky physics and rather cut and dry gameplay turn this game into a possible rental rather than a must-buy.
Just in case you forgot you were going faster than 30MPH, the graphics designers added those awesome speed lines!
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, your usual single-race modes which allow for head-to-head and time trails and a huge selling point of the game, an online mode. 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, thankfully the designers had to foresight to throw in the online modes because without it, Auto Modellista
probably has about 10 hours of gameplay.
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. 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.
Even the rain and headlight effects are exagerrated.
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 ALBHA 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 half-dozen games in the past three 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. I was expecting blocky models that animated poorly and looked out of place in the environments, thankfully the game was filled with beautifully rendered vehicles that fit in well with their surroundings.
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.
The game's audio is fair but nothing special. Most of the vocals are provided in the same tone of the guy who yells "Fight!" from the Street Fighter
games in that they sound ridiculously out of place. If anything they'll at least illicit a chuckle or two from you. The menu and race music is suitable for this genre of game but nothing truly outstanding or amazing. Dolby Pro Logic II support may have helped the game's audio a bit but what's here is satisfactory.
Probably the best experience can be derived from the game’s online aspects. Utilizing Sega’s SNAP network technology, each and every race is a smooth and relatively lag-free experience. Single-console multiplayer is good if you like to race against one friend but for some real competition, you’ll want to take your game online. Some of the menus and messages are a bit misleading and confusing but once you get past the “Engrish” barrier, playing online is a real pleasure that really extends the life of the game.
I'm not really sure who to recommend Auto Modellista
to, especially with the recent flood of excellent racing titles. When it comes to arcade racers games like Need for Speed Hot Pursuit II
and Burnout 2
are far more entertaining while Gran Turismo 3
provides a better sim-style experience. Sure the visuals are cool but as the past has shown, a game can't succeed on style and flash alone. Play AM
for a few hours and its troubles and deficiencies really begin to shine through. Chalk this one up as a possible rental, but not much more.