On the Road Again
Just when you thought it was safe to get back on the streets, Namco launches R: Racing Evolution on to the console racing scene. With recent spotlights on solid racing games like Project Gotham 2 and NFS: Underground, R has plenty of ground to cover to take the checkered flag. So does it have enough under the hood to win? Not exactly.
You see, R tries hard to incorporate a ton of various features that we've seen before in other games. The problem is that it just doesn't do as good of a job as the each of the original games, nor does it really add anything significantly new to the racing mix. What we end up with is only a fair racing game that has potential, but just can't quite match up to the genre's other heavy hitters.
R: Racing Evolution follows the story of Rena Hayami, a former maniac ambulance driver turned maniac professional race driver. In this respect, the game closely resembles Codemasters' Pro Race Driver, with a story driven main mode. Along the way, Rena will make new friends, new enemies and experience the thrills of becoming one of the top professional racers on the scene in a decent story that keeps the game moving.
Other than Racing Life, R comes equipped with Event Challenge mode, which allows you to buy into special races or purchase performance upgrades and new cars. The remaining modes are pretty standard, including Arcade, Time Attack and Versus selections.
The racing in R tries to walk (drive?) the fine line between an arcade and simulation style of play, but doesn't do a really good job either way. For the novice, there's the default option for brake assist that will automatically moderate your speed when going into turns. It sounds great on paper, but you might as well let the computer control the steering and acceleration as well, since this feature allows you to keep the gas mashed the entire time and hit every curve with the greatest of ease. This is undoubtedly one option you'll be turning off.
For more the more discerning driver, there are a host of adjustments and settings that can be made to the car. Shock compression, drive ratios, ABS, steering response settings- it's all in here, just don't expect it to make a huge impact on the ride.
As mentioned before, you'll be able to purchase new cars, performance upgrades and more through the game's Event Challenge mode. Like Project Gotham's Kudos system, R rewards good driving with cash reward points known as RPs. RPs are awarded for good cornering, passing a car, and avoiding collisions among other things. Naturally, the better you drive, the more points you'll earn. It's nice to see this kind of reward system extend the life of the game a bit, but it really doesn't offer anything impressive.
R's racing style is like that of Gran Turismo with a pinch of NFS: Underground thrown in for good measure. You'll race on everything from familiar circuit style tracks like Suzuka and Monaco to rally courses with a little drag racing action thrown in for good measure.
The number of cars isn't as impressive as the GT series, but does include manage to include a decent variety. Vipers to Volkswagens, BMWs to Bentleys, R manages to provide a range of cars that doesn't just cater to one kind of crowd.
The one unique trait that R brings to the table is a pressure meter that measures the amount of stress other drivers feel from your performance. Get right up on the tail of an opponent and the indicator bar over their car will turn red. Stay right on their tail long enough and they just might make a mistake that will allow you to pass. It's really not a bad idea, but do this many professional racers cave into the stress of being followed?
The audio and visuals wrap this average game up in an average package. Cars and tracks look fine, but lack real detail and the sound is satisfactory with the exception of the annoying buzz that is the pit boss screaming in your ear.
In the end, R: Racing Evolution turns out to be an average game. It's got a lot of good ideas that we've seen before, but isn't able to pull it all together. Still, it's got a decent story and extras that will continue to challenge after Racing Life is done.