What's in a name? Total Immersion Racing, or TIR (as emblazoned futuristically across the cover), is a racer that by its very title aims to compete in the same league as simulations like the epic Gran Turismo 3. Unfortunately, this "gran" dream of "total immersion" is unrealized, as TIR is only a moderately average attempt at GT style racing, featuring the standard checklist of bare essentials but nothing truly new or sweet to add.
TIR houses some 18 total cars, representing several real contributors to the world of open road European style racing, from Audi and Bentley to Panoz. Initially, you are only given access to two different cars. TIR locks out of most of the cars and tracks, forcing you to beat challenges to earn your way towards more options.
The standard cattle call of different modes include Challenges, Time Trials, Single Races and a Career mode. When you start the Career mode, you join a racing team replete with your own race coach.
I like the idea of having a coach, but besides fairly general advice between races, the coaches don't really offer anything helpful. During the practice races, the different coaches use the same voices and spout out hackneyed phrases like "Practice will help you on the final race" and "You need to go fast on this last sector." Gee, thanks Einstein.
What I want is some REAL advice. I can imagine practicing on the French countryside. My coach would walk me through on his headset, telling me to take the car down to the 90s for an upcoming turn or the best way to handle the winding road up ahead. That's what a race coach does, right? At least TIR offers some marginal help via a superimposed red line during the practice race to teach you the ideal steering route.
The steering, even with the brake assistance turned on, is pretty loose and takes some extra practice. That sense of knuckles-to-the-floor speed isn't always there, especially since the cars are so high off the ground. It almost looks and feels like they're floating.
One of the touted features of TIR is that your competitors hold grudges. If you are particularly aggressive against an opponent during one race, he will come right back at you the next race. Alternately, if you leave someone else alone, he is more likely to think you're a pushover and treat you more passively.
Most of us, though, are equal opportunity bullies when we race. You don't choose to bump the heck out one guy and then politely blow kisses at the next. Part of being a real racer is combining professionalism with the ultimate goal of winning, which doesn't afford you the chance to selectively treat opponents differently. Isn't everyone simply trying to win?
Having the AI keep a tally of your interaction with the other cars isn't big enough to change the face of video game racing. It's almost out of place here, probably more appropriate for an arcade style or even kart racer. Nonetheless, if you decide to be particularly cruel to one gimpy opponent, you can be sure he'll have his heart set on some revenge.
Visually, TIR again takes the middle road with mediocre backgrounds and mixed quality overall. Sometimes the concrete turf has a mid-day hazy glow that just cries out realism, and then other times, it's a dull muddy gray. Distant objects in the background appear in a lifelike blur, and then suddenly something just pops up, drawn in on the distant horizon. The light that peters through between the trees looks too flat.
The cars show a nice polished shine, but nothing that will get you out of your seat. While off-roading across grass and dirt embankments, you'll notice some nifty dust and gravel kick up. Some added visual details while the tires are squealing against the pavement would have lessened the floaty look.
TIR offers three different selectable perspectives: third-person nearly right up against the bumper and two first-person views. It's all a bit claustrophobic - a further pulled out third-person view would have done wonders.
There really isn't anything to bowl you over in the sound department either, with standard jazzy music and typical but appropriate rumbling race noises.
Again, the title of Total Immersion Racing is an overstatement. TIR ought to be politely referred to as SIR... Sorta Immersion Racing. Everything works, but it doesn't offer anything that hasn't been done better before. And in the race to be the best, why accept anything less?