I shoulda taken that left turn in Miami.
The goal of real-world licensed racing games is to be realistic (I’m not talking
about Pen Pen Tri-Icelon here). The whole
idea is to make you feel like you are Al Unser Jr., racing along at over 200MPH,
zooming around those corners and turns. CART Flag to Flag Racing, on
the other hand makes you feel like you’re in wacky computer reality, with some
profoundly wierd mistakes.
The graphics are decent, due the the Dreamcast’s impressive engine, but they
are also sort of bland. Yes, there are a few local landmarks for each track,
mud does fly onto your visor on occasion, and there’s no slowdown, even when
all the cars are on the screen at one time. However, after a while all the tracks
start to look the same. Always the same pavement, always the same advertisements
on the walls, always the same barriers, there really isn’t all that much that’s
different from track to track.
Like most CART games, although there may be a ton of tracks, about half of
all of them are ovals, while the other half just have lots of sharp turns, without
too much variation. Now this isn’t too much of a problem by itself. The point
of racing on an oval track is to test your mettle against other racers (or friends),
and see who’s the best.
To make an oval into an interesting game, the AI has to be halfway decent,
to make sure you get a good challenge. But once you get the hang of the controls
in Flag to Flag, the other cars are pushovers. Within days, one of my
friends completed his life-long dream to lap the 2nd place car.
One thing the game does have is customization up the wazoo. During the championship
races, you can change tire type, aerodynamics, amount of fuel, and even change
the gear ratios for each gear. Not quite Gran
Turismo, but still nice. On the other hand, it would be even nicer if you
had different cars to choose from. In Flag to Flag there is only one,
standard, indy style car. It’s true you can pick from about thirty different
drivers, but there isn’t any difference between the cars, or the way you drive.
A little disappointing.
controls, although not incredible, are at least usable. They try to simulate
how hard it is to turn at high speeds by decreasing how far you can turn as
you go faster. This leaves you with a problem at ultra fast speeds, because
you can hardly turn at all. It may save you a few spin-outs, but it’s not very
realistic, and it takes a little while to get used to.
Speaking of physics, the physics model in the game is nuts! They probably break
every law of physics somewhere in the game. Let’s say you go barreling headfirst
into the track wall. Crash you say? No. Damage your car? No. All that happens
is that you stop with a little crsssh sound. No real jar, you simply go from
200 to 0 in less than a tenth of a second. Even if you suicidally drive backwards
along the track (I have problems), you can actually pass right through the other
cars! The grass acts as a mystical object that slows you down to 50 for no apparent
reason. That’s some good grass.
The best part of Flag to Flag, like most racing games, is the two player
mode. This is always fun to a degree, and there’s still no slowdown in sight,
but you and your friend will still have to deal with all of the other flaws
that are already in this game.
The only other bonus I can think of in this game is the official CART licence,
giving you all the drivers, official logos, and sponsors. So if you just need
to see that cart logo on your game, this dud’s for you. I’m guessing all of
the real CART fanatics jumped into their cars and raced for the local game store
after that last sentence, so for all of you still with me, this game is not
the game you should be spending your money on. There are plenty of better, more
entertaining racing games for the Dreamcast. So unless your first reaction to
the word “CART” is to reach for your checkbook, keep on driving and don’t turn
left into the Flag to Flag parking lot.