Great body, but not enough under the hood.
It's 2 am. You just got out of the club and are headed over to the local Denny's for a late night snack. As you merrily cruise down the freeway, a set of headlights close in on your position. Before you know it, a Honda/Acura/Toyota/Mitsubishi/Nissan pulls to your side just long enough for the two of you to exchange glances. You slam on the gas and the race is on. Welcome to my world. Welcome to the world of import racing.
Take one car, add performance parts and a ton of accessories and you've got the basic idea of import racing. Then take the gameplay of Sega GT, stir in the customization of Tokyo Xtreme, slam it together with the visual stylings of Jet Set Radio and you've got Capcom's import racing game, Auto Modellista. If you're an import gearhead, this is one game that will definitely get your attention. But will it be all show and no go? Let's find out.
The game is broken down into two simple modes: Arcade for a quick race or even a head to head match with a buddy and Garage Life, where most of the action drops. You'll customize your own garage and fill it with the best performance car you can put together. Then head out to the track and let the competition get a good look at your rear end.
The interesting thing about Garage Life is the amount of customization that can be done. Besides being able to set up your garage any way you want, there are a ton of after-market parts that you'll find for your car. And I'm not just talking about generic 'sport tires' or 'suspension level 2'. I'm talking about Toyos and Teins, GReddys and Goodyears, Volk and Veilside. Yep - real world manufacturers! All the parts in the game can be found on the streets somewhere and all you tuners will have a better chance than ever of building a video game version of your own car. It's about time.
Interestingly enough, the parts don't cost a thing. As you win races, more and more parts are simply unlocked. You'll also unlock stuff for your garage and new cars to test out. Not a bad reason to keep winning those races.
Auto Modellista features arcade style racing with one little twist - cars drift like the tracks were given a liberal dose of grease before the race. People used to arcade sticky tires will be in for quite a shock as they slip and slide their way around turns. It definitely takes a little bit of time to get used to. Other than that, cars will zip through the tracks with little regard for anything else. Crashing into other cars won't slow you down much and hitting the walls is usually not a problem.
That's where Auto Modellista falls flat. Once you learn how to hit the walls correctly, you'll bounce into the lead in no time. This doesn't help much during the mountain courses, but nail this technique and you'll never have to use the brakes in a street course. No skills = no problem.
Speaking of tracks, Auto Modellista only has a handful. The seven tracks go from mountain tops to simple dirt tracks, but they don't provide much in the way of diversity.
The AI can also be a little screwy on occasions, sometime for and sometimes against your favor. Every once in a while, you'll have a nice lead only to fall prey to a guy that's sporting enough NOS to blow himself up. Then again, sometimes you'll feel like there's no way you'll be able to catch the leader, only to pass him up right before the line.
But at least you'll be able to experience the game's headline visual feature throughout. Auto Modellista's visual style makes it stand out from the pack. The cel-shaded look applied to a serious racer does wonders in the showoff category. This thing beats strobe lights and under glow kits any day. Even the effects bring out the visual flavor. Speed lines draw at top speeds, "screech" lines draw as a car slides and the halos of nighttime lights look great. There are some aliasing problem that mar the shiny surface of this auto, but for the most part everything looks well polished.
And if you're lucky enough to have your PS2 set up with a broadband connection, you'll be able to take the race to the cyber streets. Auto Modellista supports online play and gives you a chance to run against people around the country. Due to the wall-bounce technique, racing isn't as fun as it could be, but it's nice to be able to show off your creations to the other racers out there.
Although Auto Modellista does an outstanding job in its visuals and customization, the racing aspect certainly did not get enough attention. With the mechanics of Gran Turismo, this one might have been a winner, but as the wheels turn now, the actual gameplay feels like running the quarter mile over and over and over. If you've ever been to Hot Import Nights, this is definitely something to check out, but moderate racing fans might want to test drive this car before putting down the first payment.