Update: I was unfortunately not aware of Shamus Young's severe criticism of Fallout 3 available here to link in the original piece and I regret that. It dovetails rather nicely with what I've written and it's much better executed than my piece. I strongly recommend anyone...
I've played alot of racing games in my time. From f-zero gx to wipeout 64 to al-unser jr, They all try desperately to break out of the monotony of just going from point A to point B really fast. Star wars: episode 1 racer works off an original idea and comes close to succeding, but doesn't quite make it to the head of the pack.
If you haven't seen the movie, the racing works off the ancient idea of chariot races moved up to sci-fi action. The player sits in a little cockpit which is dragged along by two enormous hovering engines. Weapons are not allowed (except for one cheater...) and the only restrictions are the other racers.
This makes for a neat game premise and works pretty well. The only way to win races is to go the fastest and avoid the obstacles, which proves difficult in some tracks. You'll encounter everything from rockslides to explosions to meteor showers which all try to dent, smash, and otherwise destroy your odd-looking vehicle.
You start the game with just a few pods, all of which are suitable for beginners. They're not fast, but turn well. They also have bad parts. Playing through the game, you can bet money on races, which allows you to buy parts. The only way to gain new pods is to come first in a race. You then gain the track favorite's pod. This works well most of the time, but you can't always come in first and you'll find yourself repeating tracks to gain a racer you badly wanted.
The actual racing works fairly well. Everything is fast, but there is little interaction between racers. You can just plow through somebody else and the only way either of you would know is the small "crash" sound that plays. I would have like to force people off the track, but sadly this is not the case. The maps are all varied and some courses are a real thrill, with large drops and dangerous obstacles. (what other racer has people on the sidelines SHOOTING at you?) You have the option of repairing any damage, which slows you down but keeps you alive. In certain pods, using the boost option too often will cause an overheat and start a fire. It's a great "Oh CRAP" feeling as you're flying along and suddenly your right engine starts shooting out flame.
The sound is very nice, with engines whooshing and all the crashing and metal scraping noises realistic. You can also taunt other players which is fun, if a bit useless. The only gripe I have is that when other racers are within proximity, they make an intensesly annoying high pitched sound which I suppose is air rushing through their exhaust, but is annoying nonetheless.
graphics are also good. Even with the capabilities of the computers of the time this was made, alot of the tracks are very creative and look nice. The racers are all realistic, and your pod maneuvers how you would think it should.
The game, being a lucasarts game, comes with all the pods from the movie, and way more than you saw there. Someone in the graphics department deserves a pat on the back.
The multiplayer, sadly, is only available through LAN. It would have been a huge boost if they included IP capabilities, but unfortunately lucasarts decided to skimp on that idea. That alone could have pushed this game from being ok to being a heck of alot of fun.
All in all, this game is a decent racer with a good premise. It's fun to play through the campaign, but after that the only options are to go back and play the same levels over again or find a friend and play over a lan.