The Wind Beneath My Rear Wing.
Recently, racing games have come a dime a dozen and developers are striving to
keep things new and interesting. Sure, cool
and more cars are nice, but what are they going to do to enhance
Add a story, that's what. Codemasters' Pro Race Driver puts players
into the driver's seat of Ryan McKane, an up and coming driver trying to get
out of the shadow of some famous relatives. His entry into the TOCA touring
car championship and progress during the season adds a great spin on the racing
genre, but will it be enough to lift this racer to the podium? Well, that depends
on if you'd like a big helping of parmesan with your games.
See, Ryan's an arrogant ass with a cheesy background sob story. His Hall of
Fame father was killed in an accident during a big race and his older brother
(who is also on the tour) is hogging all of the glory. This leaves us with a
brat of a character whose angst-ridden story will make your eyes roll right
out of their sockets. I can hear Bette,
Barbra and Celine
fighting for rights to the theme song already.
But if you manage to look past the after-school special script, the story
does indeed add an element that helps move the game along. Games like Apex
have touched on the racing story concept before, but Pro Race Driver
is the only one that manages to successfully integrate it with the game. A little
less cheese and this one could be even better.
The front end takes place in Ryan's office. Kick your feet up on the table
and "check your e-mail" to find a job offer for your next race. Different companies
will give you a chance to race for them in various tournament events. Each offers
a specific car to drive and tournament in which to race. Gain enough tournament
points and you'll advance to the next bracket. Simple as that.
Though the main game takes place in a Career setting, you'll never get a chance to qualify for the races you run. That means constantly starting off in a predetermined position that has nothing to do with your skill or
performance. I miss my pole position.
I'm also a little disappointed that there's no choice in cars as you progress through the Career mode. Some tournaments have an entire field of one specific car, but even the ones that feature a variety of cars fail to give you a choice in vehicles. With these teams, it's either take it or leave it.
Still, there are plenty of real world rides here from manufacturers like GM,
Toyota, and Daimler Chrysler. The chances are pretty good that you'll end up
in the ride you were looking forward to, even if you can't choose it yourself.
Between tournaments, you'll be challenged by a random driver who's out to
make you look like a chump. Defeat him and you'll be treated to his car in the
ubiquitous Free Race, Time Trial and Multiplayer modes.
The racing itself is pretty good thanks to the tight control. It isn't as
sticky as an arcade racer or as slippery as a sim. For best results, you'll
need to do some fine-tuning to gear ratios and downforce prior to racing - just
don't expect to play with any aftermarket parts.
interesting note is that manual transmission does seem to be a little faster
than automatic. It isn't required for winning, but driving a stick might give
you the slight edge you'll need to get to the podium. I've always wondered why
some games don't provide this real world reward for learning how to drive manually;
it's a pleasant surprise to see it here.
The best part about the racing, however, is the terrific damage modeling.
If you're actually trying to win, crashing is probably a bad idea. Accidents
will takes their toll on the performance of your car, but boy, do they look
cool. Slam into a wall at top speed and you'll see your front end get crushed
like an empty can of Mountain Dew. Bounce off rivals and bumpers will fly. Sometimes
parts will just dangle off to the side and debris will litter the track until
it gets knocked away. You could pass some serious time just smashing into things
and watching the car disintegrate.
But while the high poly cars look great, other parts of the game could use some detailing. The characters in the cut-scenes don't look so hot and the rain "effects" are some of the worst I've seen for this generation of gaming. It's a mix of good and bad for sure.
The same goes for the audio. A cameo of "Sweet Home Alabama" and a few other
familiar tunes have been licensed, but if that's not your flavor, you won't
get a chance to change things up. C'mon guys, this is an Xbox! Show me the audio
customization! At least the sound effects and voice acting are well done.
So there you have it. Pro Race Driver may have a generic title, but
the story concept and solid gameplay give it a definite edge. While it's not
really the caR-PG it sets out to be, there's more than enough here to warrant
a try. A little fine-tuning for the next race should go a long way.