Maybe Dale Earnhardt could do better.
In a moment of much vrooming and buzzing of motors, Jeff Gordon, the young, boyish, comparatively anti-hick champion of the NASCAR racing scene claimed first place at the Daytona 500, the largest race in all of NASCAR's beer swillin' world. Since then, little man Gordon has revealed a terrible, taboo, and ultimately un-republican secret: He has been, and ever shall be, a video game aficionado.
What's even worse than being a lover of computer games (gasp, shock, terror in word form), Gordon has banded together with a bunch of out-of-the-closet game developers to create his very own racing game. It is called (brace yourself)... Jef Gordon XS Racing (JGXSR), a game which was intended to be in excess ('XS' to be chic) of all other racing games, but falls short of it's lofty goal by ironically being too limited.
JGXSR is set sometime in the future. Highly advanced, extremely stylish racecars streak down Corporate-Logo-Clad tracks that resemble laser show funhouses. They battle for first place, repair without the aid of a pit crew, and sprout wings for flight control while catching some atmosphere. The racing is blisteringly fast, the game is extremely flashy, and the entire equation is cut way short by extremely short tracks, none of the bells and whistles that made games like Need For Speed 3 so great, and some graphical omissions that are simply downright illogical.
To begin with the good stuff, (because we at GR know you want to read the bad but love making you wait for it) the actual racing in JGXSR is very tight. Now, I don't mean 'tight' as in the present teenage slang. What I mean is that opposed to other games which let you get way ahead of your competition, JGXSR makes you battle for every inch during every lap and forces you to tense up all your racing muscles right until the very last second. The AI of the opponent drivers is very sharp, forcing you to go neck and neck with the top 2 or 3 cars for most of the race. Often you'll go from leading the pack to limping behind it simply for taking one jump to slowly or stripping a little to much paint from the curb. At first this may seem fairly random, but to get good at JGXSR you must use total concentration and deft control.
Admittedly, a feeling of the tense, millisecond to millisecond nature of NASCAR, wrapped up in an arcade package is what JGXSR is going for. In fact it says so at the beginning of the manual. In this respect JGXSR succeeds admirably, going so far as to let you race up to 40 other cars, certainty a record for a non-simulation racer.
But it is also in this pursuit of NASCAR that JGXSR creates its biggest flaw. The track design also maintains a certain NASCAR sensibility, all the tracks being short, focused affairs that you learn in the same way that you might learn Watgins Glen or Leguna Seca. Unfortunately, this makes all the tracks very short, and not particularly varied save for the occasional 360 loop. Given that there are only 10 tracks, JGXSR is a very brief game. In fact, none of the individual races feel particularly satisfying.
Short track length is countered, again in a NASCAR way, by forcing you to round each track between 10 and 20 times in order to finish the race. The monotony of racing the same short track over and over again can turn JGXSR from white-knuckled, melted-tires fun to the latest sleeping medication. It's sure to make your mind wander off into dreamland while still at the wheel, or keyboard depending on how cheap you are.
Also lacking from XS Racing are all the standard rewards. There is no way to race any of the tracks in reversed or mirrored mode, add new cars, new tracks, upgrades or any of the other now-standard features found in a top of the line arcade racer.
As far as sound and music go, JGXSR is about average. The music is mostly generic but reasonably energetic techno, while the sounds are all the staples you've heard before, with the exception of the in-flight effects when the wings shoot out and for a brief moment you become a pilot, rather than a gravity-bound driver.
There is something baffling about the graphics. It is clear from the first lap that JGXSR was designed specifically to be a flashy, visually stunning sci-fi racer, and for the most part it does very well. Why then, did the developers limit the maximum resolution to 640x480? In these days of 800x600 and 1024x768 standards, this is a peculiar mystery. 640x480, especially when viewed on a large monitor, is downright grainy and jaggy; how unfortunate!
JGXSR is flashy, that much is for sure. All the tracks are bathed in a multitude of colored lights, spotlights, laser beam like effect lights, and other odd special FX. Many of the tracks feature bizarre settings like a circus tent or a casino. It reminds me of a drunken night spent out on the Las Vegas strip. However, many of the textures are bland and repetitive, much of the game is rendered with as few polygons as possible, and only your car is decked out with a fancy reflective crone sheen, the other cars look like props from that three year old racing game that you've stopped playing.
JGXSR features tense, tight racing action, but too little of it. What you do get to play is far too limited, making the game not very far in 'XS' of anything except mediocre offerings like Boss Rally, the type of game we here at GR usually have only the time to ignore.
If you are a fan of NASCAR racing simulations, but you're itching for some arcade action, JGXSR does appeal far more to the NASCAR sensibilities than to those of Pole Position. In this case Jeff Gordon woudn't be a bad choice.
However, for the rest of you out there JGXSR is difficult to recommend. It has a lot of very nice touches in a lot of the right places, but sadly lacks some of the basic necessities, making it merely a great way to wet your appetite for a sequel if they every make it. I'd even settle for an expansion pack, one with long, winding tracks, support for high resolutions, and more use for those kick ass wings.