Is it Possible to Teach an Old Dog New Tricks?
In the case of XCar Experimental Racing using Bethesda's 3D engine 'XnGine', the answer is yes. Xcar combines a suped-up version of the XnGine engine, now incorporating 3Dfx, a solid physics engine and smooth gameplay to create an overall good looking racing game where you can test drive a variety of speed demon prototypes from different automobile companies.
You may remember the XnGine from earlier games such as SkyNet (basically a 3D shooter). Since then, the engine has had vast improvements in speed, performance and, probably most substantial, the ability to use a 3Dfx board (ie Monster 3D, Righteous) for 3D acceleration. The racing engine will run smooth on higher-end machine and/or those supporting 3Dfx. Player who don't fall in either of these two categories will be forced to switch to low-res with less detail creating a DRASTIC chance in appearance. No more smooth edges with detailed background scenery. No more high-res along with a high frame rate. As long as you have a good system, no complaints should arise about performance or speed.
Closely related to the 3D engine is the impressive physics engine. The only inherent flaw is the fact that a car can never leave the ground, flip over etc... all 4 wheels always stay on the ground at the same time. Each car has a number of features (all of which, of course, are customizable) including things such as wheelbase, weight, engine, tire pressure, tire weight, suspension...the list goes on and on. Obviously, the modification of any field will result in either an increase or decrease in a car's performance in such areas as acceleration, turning radius/turning speed, deceleration, top speed, and tendency to spin out. As the car drives, the player will actually "feel" the car drifting to one side before a complete spinout if, say, a left tire is flat. Increase the car's drag and the player will actually "feel" the drag, due to the slow acceleration, when trying to get top speed at that final straightway. The point is that the gamer can "tweak" his/her car in order to achieve perfection. This is all made possible by the realistic physics engine.
The overall gameplay could best be described as solid: No critical flaws, but nothing extra "special". There are 10 tracks, each with a different rating: easy, medium or hard. Each track provides smooth racing environment with a pixilated background. Unfortunately, some tracks are designed so that one part of the course lies close enough to another that after a spin out or some other mishap, the player could either get lost, cut a huge amount of the course, or drive unknowingly backwards.
As far as difficulty goes, there are many options and variety of courses to attract from the inexperienced beginner to the highly advanced. Options like brake help, track lines, automatic shifting, and steering help, although a nuance to most could help the beginner racer develop those well-needed skills. In addition, there are two game-type options. Realistic-mode, for the simulation-types who want to actually be "in the race", has all damage is turned on, spinning out is most likely to occur and pit stops need to be taken more frequently. Action mode lets the gamer do almost anything. Damage can be turned to off or minimal, spinouts are less likely and fuel is almost never a problem.
The only actual bone I have to pick with XCar Experimental Racing is the lack of organization of the tracks. The option to race circuit includes picking a number of tracks to race in a row. I would have liked to see different circuits all of a basic theme, difficulty, terrain, or some other connection. An ending, reward, or medal for winning circuits would have been another nice feature to implement. The only real gratification one gets of winning is seeing his car in the winners circle... not much.
What we have here is a good solid racing game. The graphics, sounds, and multiplayer support are all basically what any modern gamer would expect from a good game. With no awesome features helping it pull away from the other "good" games out there, XCar won't place first, but it does achieve a satisfactory pole position. Avid racing fans, or anybody interested in racing games (who have good systems) should check out XCar Experimental Racing.