Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer
LucasArts signal a change in direction for new Star Wars games
You'd have thought that LucasArts' first game to be based on the new Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace, might have been a space combat sim, or perhaps a Quake-style shoot 'em up. But no. Shock horror, the first in what will undoubtedly be a long line of new games are to be a third-person action adventure and a simple racer. The former you can read about on Star Wars: Episode I - Racer you can find out about right here.
The title Racer gives the game away somewhat. Based on the Pod racing scene that crops up early on in the film, the game puts you in the shoes of the young Anakin Skywalker as he scoots around eight worlds in a choice of 20 Podracers.
Considering both games are to be released simultaneously on PC and PlayStation at the end of May, the decision to create a racer isn't all that surprising -racing is about all the ageing PlayStation can handle, after all. What is surprising is that the games will be released over here well before the actual film. That situation could change, but there's a danger than some may put off buying, waiting for the film's release before committing to the game. Then again...
Download Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer
The hit Nintendo 64 and PC 600 mph pod racing game is scheduled to make an appearance on the Dreamcast this April (to coincide with the VHS release of The Phantom Menace). The DC conversion is practically perfect: it's as fast and smooth as you could possibly want it to be. The graphics are topnotch, and the frame-rate flies along nicely, even in the two-player split-screen mode (unfortunately, to meet the April deadline, the team didn't have enough time to implement a four-player option).
The Dreamcast version will also have some non-gameplay Internet features (you'll be able to post and compare high scores), and LucasArts is planning on revolving some promotions and contests around them.
Now this is podracing! It seems fitting that the most exciting sequence in Episode I has spawned the best game based on the movie. Racer on the Dreamcast is a direct port of the PC version, which results in a far better game than the N64 cartridge. Still, it does succumb to the same problem that plagues almost every PC-to-DC port: quick and dirty conversion. While the game is a beautiful, fast and exciting experience, it's a shame that LucasArts didn't take the time to optimize it a little for the Dreamcast. The simple craft and level models make the DC version feel like it was made for low-end Pentium computers. Even so, Episode I Racer won't disappoint any Star Wars fan who craves to relive the speed and excitement of the racing sequence from the movie. The frame-rate is fast and smooth, creating an awesome sensation of speed. Playing through the championship mode allows you to unlock dozens of tracks, new podracers and drivers. Couple that with the fact that you can buy Pod upgrades with your winnings and you have a seriously customizable racing game on your hands. The two-player mode suffers a little in the frame-rate department, but it's still fast and furious racing. Players can even upload their top scores to the Sega Web site. All in all, this is a game that Star Wars freaks will play no matter what the reviews say, but it's also a game casual racing fans should definitely check out.
At first glance, Racer's incredible speed will make your jaw drop. In fact. I've never seen a faster racing game on the consoles. The graphics are pretty good, too (except for a couple of chunky textures). Once you play Racer for a while though, the excitement will lull. Basically, it's a bare-bones port of the PC version. So that means the courses are very interesting, there are a lot of pods and pod upgrades and the Al is ridiculously easy until later levels. That's more or less the story. The game does have a couple of DC-exclusive bells and whistles--specifically, the ability to post high scores and talk to other Racer chums online. Not a huge deal, but kind of neat.
Ah, finally a game that restores my belief that The Force can exist in a good video game. Racers are a dime a dozen these days, but I have to say that this is a unique racing game with its own merits outside of the Star Wars license. Sure, it helps to have "Duel of the Fates" trumpeting melodramatically as you scream down tunnels, but it's only icing on the cake. Plenty of well-designed tracks keep the game interesting, and I think the learning curve is just about right--which is important since this is a very fast game. But really, it was slamming young Anakin's pod into a wall at 600 mph that really sold me on Episode I Racer.
LucasArts has a surprise for gamers and Star Wars fans alike. Two new games, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace for the PlayStation and Star Wars Episode I: Racer for the Nintendo 64, are slated for release on or around the May 19 opening of Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace. This means you'll be able to see the movie (if you can brave the long lines), then prolong the experience with gameplay. GamePro got an early look at the titles, and both PlayStation and N64 owners should be happy--the games took strong on both systems!
At Last, We Hill Have Our Revenge
A long time ago on a PlayStation near you, LucasArts developers were hard at work on a game that not only uses the Phantom Menace story to advance the action, but also follows it faithfully for the entire game. Like the movie, Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace starts with a conversation between Obi-Wan Kenobi and Qui-Gon Jinn that soon turns into a melee that has you running for your life on a huge space station. From here, things become even more exciting.
GamePro's recent visit to LucasArts Entertainment in San Rafael, California, yielded a look at actual gameplay. The Phantom Menace for the PlayStation uses an isometric overhead-view reminiscent of Metal Gear Solids. According to Joel Driskin, product marketing manager at LucasArts, the game also features non-linear play and no hard-time constraints, which means you're not on the clock to finish a mission, so you can pretty much explore anywhere you want. In fact, you get to do it all in this game: solve puzzles, combat opponents, and find clues. Segments of the game have a definite RPG feel, such as the partwhere Obi-Wan bargains for engine parts in Mos Espa while trying to keep the peace in a hostile cantina. There are also search missions that require you to bring a character safely to the end of the level, like when you rescue Queen Padme.
The Boy Has a Dark Side
Although it was unclear how man/characters from the movie will be playable, LucasArts did confirm at least four without indicating whom they are. Obi-Wan Kenobi is a definite--and the one playable character we saw in the demo--and we suspect that Qui-Gon, Anakin Skywalker, and possibly Darth Maul could be in the lineup. A variety of characters seems likely, given that you'll use the very un-Jedi-like blaster, along with lightsabers and Force Powers (that let you use the Force to pull weapons and items toward you).
The action and exploration will occur through roughly 12 levels with the games ending matching the movie's. "Lucasfilm wanted to make sure we didn't take the story line in a different direction," says Driskin. "Although there will be lots of hidden things and multiple paths, we made sure that the spirit of The Phantom Menace movie experience is re-created faithfully in the game."
As well it should be. Never in video game history has a movie debuted simultaneously with two separate and distinct video games. You'd be hard-pressed to find even one movie/video game release so close (Sony tried and failed with Mary Shelleys Frankenstein on the Super NES and Genesis, and let's not count Street Fighter: The Movie--we mean real games, not slapped-together Van Damme mishmashes). A lot is riding on The Phantom Menace. If the movie is terrific and millions rush to theaters to see it, the game had better draw at least an equal amount of admiration--especially amongst hardcore Star Wars fans, who are as picky as Siamese cats. As Tom Sarris, public relations manager at LucasArts, states, "You won't see us advertise the games at the movie premieres or at any theaters in general. We certainly don't want to cheapen the experience of The Phantom Menace as a moviegoing phenomenon. We prefer to enhance it for the crossover Star Wars fan and video garner" It looks like the Force is with LucasArts once again. (For info on Star Wars Episode I: Racer for the N64, see the following pages.) LucasArts had a pretty good racing game on its drawing board for a while, but no franchise juggernaut to help propel the game, like Dark Forces and Masters of Teras Kasi did. Just as the project was nearing completion, it was determined that there would be a racing sequence in The Phantom Menace. The glare from the light bulbs popping over peoples heads was blinding, and Star Wars Episode I: Racer was born.
Driving You Crazy
As a Darth Vader-starved generation watches the preview for Star Wars Episode l:The Phantom Menace, the/ see that things are not well in Skywalker country. Led by Obi-Wan Kenobi, young Jedi pupil Anakin Skywalker prepares for a long and dangerous journey, during which Skywalker's talents as a skilled pilot take shape. In one of the most exciting sequences in the long-awaited prequel, young Anakin pilots a pod-racer in a thrilling Ben-Hur-esque race against the galaxy's toughest pilots. This sequence, sure to thrill moviegoers this summer, has evolved into a full-fledged racing game, available this May on the Nintendo 64 and the PC.
Gamers will experience the thrill and excitement of the pod-racing sequence in a Wipeout-style tournament and circuit racing game, complete with more than 21 pod-racers. The action takes place on over seven worlds for a total of 21 tracks; there will also be hidden and mirror tracks as well as a few hidden pod-racers for extra depth.
The Pod Couple
But first, the question must be asked: "What the hell is a pod-racer?" According to the game's lead programmer, pod-racers are comprised of two giant jet-engines attached by two bungee-type cords to a control pod where the pilot sits. This attachment between the engines is pretty fragile and could snap at any moment A thin beam of energy crackles between the engines, preventing them from bouncing around independendy of each other. As the jet engines are propelled forward, the pilot-pod lags far behind, much like a chariot
At press time, the crew at Lucas-Arts had the racers traveling at over 600 miles per hour--about the speed of the craft in Wipeout XL But the crew also stated that they were in the beta-test stage and hoped to increase that speed to over 700 mph.
Although racers are unarmed, there will be plenty of action. The stages include lava pits, water traps, and other StorWors-specific hazards (like Tusken Raider attacks). You'll also be able to run people off the track, thereby damaging their engine attachments or stabilizers.
Racing Against Scum and Villainy
Lucas Arts disclosed that you'll play as Anakin Skywalker, who faces off against a band of galactic misfits who range from the semi-human to the downright scummy. You'll even go up against Anakin's nemesis from the film's pod-race sequence, Sebulba, as you race for pink slips in an outer-space drag race.
Racer will have a slew of options as well, like trading the money you win to upgrade your craft for better maneuverability and power, racing against characters to unlock tracks or hidden pods, and even competing with a friend. In fact, the PC version will allow an eight-person multiplayer race, while the Nintendo 64 will allow two people to compete via a split-screen. In all, Star Wars Episode I: Racer has the makings of a great game, even if it didn't have the world-famous license.
Go, Pod-Racer, Go!
Only fens of the genre will be able to decide if Racer has what it takes to dethrone the slew of N64 racing games like Wipeout. Rush 2, or Extreme-G 2. But if you're a fen of racing and Star Wors-style action, keep your eyes peeled and your pedal to the pod-floor in anticipation of this summer tide.
Are you to the universe Star Harsl Heed a little help in telling the difference between a Bantha and Boba Fen? There are some great resources available for newbies and hardcore Jedi-wannabes alike.
Star Wars: Behind the Magk Is the ultimate CD-ROM compendium (or everythin? Star Mars, from character bios to planetary configurations. It's exhaustive and sometimes confusing (especially if you've never seen any of the movies-but then you'd be a freak, so that Houldn t apply), but it s the definitive digital reference work. It even has data on The Phantom, including stills, interviews, and artwork.
A Cuide to the Star Wars Universe by BiH Slavic, now in its revised and expanded second edition, covers everything from Star Hats. The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. along with descriptions of people, places, and creatures from the novels, the TV specials, and the Dark Empire comic books. Its encyclopedic scope makes for serious readmg.
Drama! Action! Excitement! Sure, you'd expect the new Star Wars movie to pack all that stuff on the screen, but LucasArts is bringing it to your N64, too, with a re-creation of one of the new films' most exhilarating sequences. Star Wars Episode I: Racer is a space racing game that looks ready to run the competition off the road.
"He Was the Best Starpilot in the Galaxy"
Players cake up the controls as Anakin Skywalker, young and gifted podracing pilot--not to mention, the only human on the circuit. Podracing vehicles are like flying, rocket-powered chariots. Humans, it seems, aren't considered prime podracing material: They're too small, too slow, and don't hav the right number of limbs to operate the fast, floating tracers. Still, Anakin s got skills (not to mention the Force) and can hang with the hottest pilots in the galaxy--even if he does race in the smallest ship.
The podracers are formidable hunks of technology. Two huge jet engines sit up front, held together by only a thin lightning bolt of purple electricity. They tow a small, single-person pod in which sits the daredevil pilot and T the ship's controls.
The result is a mean racing-machine with its own unique steering dynamics: half-car, halfboat, but instantly comfortable and logical in the games universe. In the preview version we played, the podracers felt instantly comfortable--even more impressive considering the vehicles are completely fictional; only the turbo boosting felt awkward. Also, as play progresses, pilots can use their winnings to upgrade their pod's engines, brakes, cooling systems, stabilizers, power cells--they can even spring for hew pit droids.
Brave New Worlds
Anakin squares off against 21 of the galaxy's finest, including creatures with colorful Star Wars names like Ebe Endocott, Gasgano, Ody Mandrell, Slide Parmita, and the circuits top racer, Sebulba who's not afraid to cheat to keep his tide. As you win, other racers become unlocked, so you can try out different pods and personalities. Eighteen of the 21 podracers on display are actually from the film. Twenty-one tracks from the Star Wars universe, including Mon Gazza, Aquilaris, Ando Prime, and (of course) Tatooine, are yours to explore, ranging from deserts and jungles to Arctic wastelands and an asteroid penal colony.
The tracks offer quite a bit of freedom; you're not on a rail, and shortcuts can be found by those brave and crazy enough to seek them out. The courses are also impressively varied even within their own circuits; many are pleasantly long, and you won't feel like you've seen the same texture over and over again, or that die second half of the track is just a mirror image of the first
Racer contains no combat per se, but pods can and will collide during die race, causing damage. A little bumping won't take you out of the running, but too much will give you need for repairs, wfifch can,beperformed mid-race at the price of a loss of speed. You'll also have to use speed boosts .with care: Too much thrusting, and your engines will catch on fire!
Feel The G-Force
Racers most impressive aspect is its sensation of speed. LucasArts' programmers claim that the craft are moving at scale speeds of 600 mph--and you won't doubt it Gamers will grit their teeth as they swoop and slide around obstacles, sometimes twisting the pod up on its side to make it through narrow crevices or zooming off ramps for huge jumps.
Of course, racing fans will find more conventional options as well: tournament mode, upgrades purchased with winnings, and two-player split-screen showdowns. If you haven't already picked up the RAM expansion pak for your N64, you'll want to before playing Racer; the graphics lacked punch in the un-enhanced version.
The Race Is On
In the preview version, Star Wars Episode I: Racer showed great potential with impressive tracks, sharp controls, and killer speed. Will it wipe away Wipeout? Wait and see.
One of the most thrilling scenes from Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace comes to spectacular life on the N64 with Star Wars Episode I: Racer. There are a few problems here and there, but overall, it's a furiously fast racing game fit for a Jedi.
Gentlemen, Start Your.. Jet Engines?!
Star Wars Episode I: Racer explores the wild world of podracing--dangerous speed contests between jet-propelled chariot-like hot rods in that galaxy far, far away. The circuit's filled with daredevils from around the galaxy with names like Wan Sandage, Bozzie Baranta, Fud Sang, and Ody Mandrell. You can play as various creepy creatures or as Anakin Skywalker, the league's sole human pilot The circuit spans multiple planets with tracks that include underwater tunnels, industrial highways, desert caverns, and icy tundra. There's enough visual variety within each track to keep gamers alert, too.
The bonus in Racer is that you can switch ships at any time during the various tournaments--you're not locked into one vehicle for the length of a tournament. No matter who you champion, the more races you win, the more new ships and pilots are unlocked. With 23 racers total, that's a lot of options. Each craft can be upgraded with new parts from Watto, the Tatooine junk dealer. You can buy new components or scour his junkyard for bargains among the "previously enjoyed" specials.
The most important element of any racing game--interstellar or otherwise--is the sensation of speed. Racer's extremely high frame rate makes your surroundings whiz by and the various obstacles around you approach with nerve-rattling velocity. The tracks have been laced with plenty of extra challenges such as rotating doors, slim passageways that need to be navigated by rolling your ship up on its side, and zero-gravity stretches where asteroid collisions loom around every turn.
If you bother to slow down, you'll notice plenty of detail on the tracks and ships, such as bright engine flames and colored lighting. Everything looks smooth with the Expansion Pak installed; without it, things take on a low-res, jagged quality. Still, even the additional memory isn't enough to eradicate pop-up problems, which are annoying in single-player games and downright distracting in two-player games.
You Must Learn Control
Despite their complete fantasy basis, the speedsters in Racer feel immediately comfortable. The joystick's response is crisp, and the sway of the ships on turns reflects believable physics. Each racer handles differently, but all of them can be upgraded and adjusted to your personal taste--a huge plus when you're searching for your ultimate ride. As in any racing game, different vehicles may yield different results on the same course.
However, each ship's pleasant response is balanced by a questionable control layout. In a remarkably dim omission, you can't reconfigure the buttons, which leaves you stuck with the default setup. That wouldn't necessarily be a problem if the boost control weren't on the same stick used for steering. While you veer left and right around obstacles, you're also expected to press up on the stick to charge your boosters. It's just as awkward as it sounds--the Z trigger, which is unused, would have been more comfortable. With buttons to spare on the N64 controller, why not use them?
All alien drivers mumble in their own languages throughout each race. The ships' engines sound cool, too, whining and roaring during turbo blasts. Unfortunately, the track announcers sound a little goofy, and gamers are only treated to John Williams' majestic score on the third and final lap. Maybe that's to heighten the dramatic tension of a big finish, or maybe it's limited due to cartridge space. Either way, when you hear it, it's properly heroic; you'll wish it was there for the whole race.
Star Wars Episode I: Racer packs enough high-octane thrills that most gamers will be able to look beyond the nitpicks about control configuration and pop-up. For sheer N64 racing excitement, it's the game to beat.
- Make your own path on the Tatooine fiatfands-use your boost to get up on the shoulder and cut out the comers altogether.
- To boost off the starting line, hold the A button between "1" and "Go" on the countdown.
- Repairing your ride during the race kills your speed-don't even think about it on you're final lap, even if you're in the lead.
- You'll need to slam on the brakes before diving down Into the second zero-g tunnel on Oovo Ts Executioner (Galactic circuit). If you enter it too fast, you'll crash.
- During zero-gravity sections, constantly weave back and forth. Flying down the middle will almost certainly cause you to crash.
- There aren't weapons on the pods, but one racer can turbo boost through another to wreck them.
Despite some pop-up problems, Racer looks fantastic; the Expansion Pak enables smooth textures, great lighting effects, and a high frame rate. Without the extra RAM? Scruffy-lookin'.
Racer would earn a higher sound score if there were more of it The engine whines and vehicle collisions don't disappoint but John Williams' score only kicks in on the final lap and the characters' alien chatter gets repetitive.
The boost system is needlessly complex, and the buttons cannot be reconfigured--a major slide into the Dark Side. However, the ships respond with remarkable smoothness, which helps salvage the score.
The Force is strong with this one--fans of futuristic racers like Wipeout suddenly have a killer alternative. Racer has the speedy frame rate, the creative courses, and the sense of tension that racing fans crave.
Extreme-G 2 was fast, Wipeout 64 was faster, but Episode I Racer leaves 'em both choking on its dusty contrail. This is the fastest racing game I've ever played. Only F-Zero X comes close, although Racer's graphics are far more detailed. With the RAM Pak in place, the hi-res visuals are astounding, despite some minor frame-rate stutters. Racer packs a rich variety of textures. The pods themselves bristle with detailed animated parts. You get 25 tracks in four circuits, and even though later courses build off earlier ones, they still offer a wide variety of scenery, everything from space worms to sandy beaches to the Tatooine track ripped from the flick. Courses are enormous, too. Some take up to three minutes to lap--and that's with you cruising at mach one! Most tracks are rich in shortcuts and alternate routes, kinda like a supersonic Beetle Adventure Racing. The game requires plenty of control Finesse; you must master powersliding for later courses, which can get a little too fast and stomach-churning for easily frustrated gamers. The need to buy pit droids and new and junked parts adds some welcome strategy, too. Don't expect to beat Championship Mode with Anakin alone (a bit of a bummer if you want him to be the hero). You need to experiment with all 23 podracers to find tie best one for each track.
In SW: E 1--Racer, texture-heavy backgrounds fly by at Millennium Falcon-jumping-to-light-speed rates. It's as impressive as it is dizzying. But. herein lies the problem--It's almost too fast. At times it feels out of control, especially in two-player mode. There's a frustration factor, but for the most part it handles well enough to get away with it. Creative tracks and upgradable pods serve the game well. Star Wars as well as racing fans should buy this game.
Having seen the Ep. I trailer, I have to admit didn't really think the N64 could handle this game. Let's just say Racer put the smack down on me. The game moves immensely fast; so fast, at times I couldn't believe I was actually controlling my pod through all the twists and turns. The tracks are beautifully textured, but a lot of it will fly by too quickly for you to appreciate. My only issue with Racer is that the frame-rate suffers a bit in hi-res mode.
Even though Racer is based on what is easily the most-anticipated movie of all time, you don't have to be a Star Wars fan to enjoy it Racer is one of the fastest-paced games I've ever seen on any system, immersing you completely in the Star Wars universe. You'll actually be afraid to close your eyes while playing. The only thing missing from this game is a Story Mode, but the graphics and gameplay more than make up for it.
The force has been strong with PC gamers. While console owners were running, jumping and shooting their way through fun but Wars side-scrollers, PC gamers were becoming immersed in George Lucas' universe, flying X'-Wings and ‘TIE fighters and lining up'Storrn-troopers in their sights.
But soon console owners will be able to pay more personal visits to that galaxy far, far away-now that LucasArts is working on several Star Wars games for the Nintendo 64 and PlayStation systems.
Nintendo 64's graphics are so sharp that you can see for miles outside your speeder's canopy. Other levels are more Doom-like, with you wandering around Imperial bases and other Star Wars-inspired locales. The game's graphics are expected to look like they're straight out of a Star Wars film, with all the grandiose scenery and technical details they need to look true to the trilogy. This movie feel will only be enhanced by the many Star Wars veterans who make guest appearances in Shadows of the Empire. Jabba the Hutt, Boba Fett. Darth Vader and even the Emperor himself appear in the game.
Despite its big-time cast and complex story, Shadows of the Empire is only one part of a multimedia explosion that Lucasfilm has set off to promote the recently released Shadows of the Empire novel, which sits at the center of a nuiltimillion-dollar marketing blitz. Other related merchandise includes comic books, action figures and even a soundtrack.
Slated for a summer release, Rebel Assault 2 is a Star Wars full-motion-video tour-de-force that plunks the player behind the controls of several familiar spaceships, including the B-Wing,
X-Wing, Y-Wing, TIE Fighter, Millennium Falcon and the Empire's secret new Phantom TIE Fighter.
This last ship lies at the center of Rebel Assaults 2's story, which revolves around an escalating arms race between the Empire and the Rebel Alliance. Between flying sequences, players also engage in first- and third-person blaster battles.
As in the first Rebel Assault, all of the sequel's sequences rely on full-motion video to draw the player into the Star Wars universe. Since Lucasfilm used original props and costumes from the trilogy, the scenes look especially authentic.
The PlayStation port of Dark Forces promises to be an even more immersive Star Wars experience than Rebel Assault 2. This PC conversion, being done by Big Bang Software and overseen by LucasArts, is more than 70 percent complete and slated for a November release.
Often described as "Doom on the Death Star," Dark Forces is a mixture of action and mystery that's set right before and after the events depicted in Star Wars.
You control Kyle Katarn, a, Han Solo-esque mercenary whom the Rebel Alliance has hired to do it’s not-so-dirty work. The game opens with Katarn starting his newest rebel mission: to seek out and steal the plans for the Empire's planet-busting Death Star. (Yes, these are the same plans that Argo carried around in his rusty innards in Star Wars.) After you sneak through an Imperial base, kill a bunch of Stormtroopers and retrieve the plans, Dark Forces' stoiy jumps to the period just after Luke nukes the Death Star.
Now there's a new threat to the still-shaky Alliance, a menace that has wiped out an entire Rebel outpost and left few clues. Rebel spies have heard the name of the Empire's secret new weapons--the Dark Troopers--but the Alliance wants more information.
It once again turns to Katarn.
And you, as Katarn, spend the game's remaining 13 levels unraveling this mystery, eventually facing the Dark Troopers and their creator in combat.
Just as in the other Star Wars games, players will see many familiar faces--and helmets--during their Dark Forces adventure. Darth Vader and Rebel Alliance leader Mon Mothma star in the game's mostly rendered cinemas, which play before each level and add to Dark Forces' story. You'll also confront the trilogy's most famous bounty hunter, Boba Fett, stroll through Jabba the Hntt's palace, play seek and destroy in a Star Destroyer and visit other far-flung facilities.
Katarn can also collect numerous weapons-froin blasters to thermal detonators-that you'll recognize from the trilogy, and each depress of his weapon's trigger is rewarded with a straight-from-the-movie sound effect.
And there's nothing like the familiar PA-ZAP of a blaster to bring the Force home.
Ah, those words that, when heard, bring out the child in all of us...
"Come and listen to a story 'bout a man named Jed..." Uh, nope, that’s not quite it.
"Here he comes, here comes Speed Racer..." Er, uh huh.
"I’m going down to South Park, gonna have myself a time..." Getting... closer...
"A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far, away...."
Yes, finally... these are the words that many of us hold dear to our heart.
It echoes a simpler time when we could get ourselves lost in our own imaginations. Admit it, you used to picture yourself in the cockpit of a X-Wing Fighter going after the Death Star or maybe just laying some ground fire around Yoda’s little hut. Back then, the best way to find yourself as a character within George Lucas’ galaxy was to daydream of snow-speeders on Hoth as you held tightly on to your little 6-inch action figures.
With the recent release of Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, kids today are lucky enough to have enough technology to get lost in the world of Star Wars... without having to wear Darth Vader Underoos. Who’s lucky enough to bring this to us? George Lucas and his talented team at LucasArts.
LucasArts’ latest foray into their enviable Star Wars license is Racer -- based on one of Phantom Menace’s most memorable scenes, the Boonta Eve Classic Podrace on Tatooine. And believe-you-me, after watching the movie I HAD to have this game.
Gameplay, Controls, Interface
The premise is quite simple -- even simpler if you have already seen the movie. You have a podracer, you have a track, and you have to go around in a circle and hope to end up ahead of the pack.
What’s a podracer? Well, for the 17 of you that are going to wait to rent the movie on video, it’s a futuristic version of the dogsled. Imagine two huge 747-like engines tethered to your sled (pod), held together by a plasma-energy beam. Surprisingly, the design of these podracers "almost" makes sense. LucasArts also does a great job representing the physics that would be involved while playing the game.
What’s a podrace? <Sigh.> Well, it’s a race with... pods. You have these podracers and you race them against other podracers, um... just go see the movie, will ya?
You have over 21 podracers to choose from. All of these are distinct in their styling, handling and drivers. You get to race on multiple tracks strung across eight distinct planets, each with its own theme and style of racing. As you successfully finish each race, you will gain Trugats (money) that enable you to upgrade your podracer and prepare for the next race. Finish first and a new podracer is unveiled that you can use for future races.
This is where the "storyline" in Racer starts to get iffy. You never really get a sense of belonging to your pilot or podracer. Since you can choose from multiple pods and multiple pilots, it kind of lacks continuity. I would have liked to see the same pilot used and you be allowed to upgrade from there. If you decided to try a different "character" from the movie, you could have chosen that pilot at the start of the career.
How does it play? Simply put, if nothing else, Racer simulates speed better than any other game I have ever played. Any other racing games/simulations pale in comparison as far as the sense of acceleration. It’s a hard thing to describe in words... but this game is fast.
As you may have read in my other reviews, I am a big fan of force-feedback. If implemented correctly, this can entrance me into a state where my joystick becomes an extension of my persona... my yin to its yang. Racer does this oh-so-well and has now become my "reference" title to which I compare all others. I cannot believe how good Racer translates the physics and handling of the podracers through a simple joystick. From G-forces and failing engines to running smack-dab into a canyon wall, it’s all there in its lap-slapping, wrist-wreaking glory.
Sounds pretty good so far, eh? Wait until you finish a race, though...
What were they thinking?
The interface for preparing for a race, upgrading your podracer, and just about anything other than actually racing is confusing as all get out. At first, before reading the manual, I would just get mad and go on to the next race. After reading the manual, it started to make sense... that’s when I couldn’t figure out how to get where I was trying to go.
You see, in some menus you need to use the mouse; in others, the keyboard; in others only the game controller seems to work. I ended up juggling so many peripherals around to upgrade my pod that I wound up ctrl-alt-elbowing my way into a frenzy.
Coincidently, LucasArts posted a little blurb on their support site about this shortcoming. What’s their answer? Allow me to quote: "For navigating through the interface we recommend using the keyboard and mouse; joysticks, gamepads and wheels are not fully supported for the Front End interface. You can interact with some items using the mouse and others with the keyboard. We recommend exploring the various menus thoroughly to find a method of getting around that suits you best."
What? I need to explore and see which controls work and which do not? Funny how when I get stuck, it’s the joystick that gets me out of the jam -- something that isn’t "fully supported."
I’ll admit though, once you "explore" and "memorize" how to get through various screens, there is a lot to be done. The interface provides a lot of flexibility, but isn’t fully realized compared to the quality of the race sequences.
So the game goes like this: Race, win, race, win, upgrade, race, lose, upgrade, re-race, win, and so on. The difficulty goes from absurdly easy to pretty challenging with little in between. You actually "desire" to get to the next track to see what LucasArts is going to throw at you.
Then it’s over.
Although I am still struggling in the final stages of the Galactic Circuit, I have many friends who have since finished the game. What is there to do at this point? You either shelve it or play on the net, right?
You see, Racer supports Local Area Networks, but no Internet play to speak of. If you are lucky enough to have a LAN available, the game can be quite fun to play against friends or foes. Multiplayer mode supports up to eight podracers which would be quite a blast, I bet... (Reviewer's Note: The "force" was not with me during the reviewing of Racer. I could not for the life of me get my home network up and running. I am suspecting Bantha fodder, but I have used too many geeky Star Wars terms in this review already.)
Graphically, this game has very few equals. If you slow the podracer down, you may notice some minor graphical glitches... but who cares? Since this wasn’t made to be perused at anything less than 600 mph, trust me when I say you won’t notice. If you do notice, well, you must be one of those 3D rendering vs. FPS (Frames Per Second) geeks that really get on my nerves.
Each planet, each track, is exquisitely rendered with tons of eye-candy and if you spend too much time gawking -- well, trust me when I say that at 600 mph you need to be looking at the road ahead instead of the pretty countryside.
You can drive your podracer from one of four different views. This is where complete and utter Star Wars-Geek-Immersion comes in. Turn out your lights, crank up the rear speakers, and choose the "driver’s seat" view. Wow. It left me speechless.
The only oddity for me was the garish low-resolution map overlay that appears on your Heads Up Display. Everything else in Racer’s podracing sequences is so beautiful that this fluorescent green eyesore really stands out. Thankfully, LucasArts allows you to change this to a more suitable progress-bar view that is more helpful in the long run.
Oh, and get this: The game has the ever-so-popular "lens flare." All you FPS geeks can cheer and slap each other’s palms with this "win." Me? I am just happy that Racer allows you to turn it off.
One thing that Racer does right is to immerse you in an audible world so convincing that you'd swear you are either in the theater all over again or actually racing down a canyon. It’s hard to describe how sweet this game sounds when you have properly set up surround sound on your PC. From Doppler effects to the thump-thump-thump of Sebulba’s engines... it’s all there. My wife will sit and watch me play just because "it’s like watching the movie."
It’s not only a perfect example of how to use surround sound (a decidedly new technology for PC gaming) to enhance the gaming experience, but LucasArts does the right thing and makes it highly configurable.
Oh yeah, and John Williams. ‘Nuff said about that.
Minimum: Pentium 166mhz, 32 MB RAM, and a 4MB PCI or AGP Direct 3D video card
I recommend: Pentium II, 64 MB RAM, a next generation 3D video card, and an audio card that supports at least four channel surround. And if you can still fit into those Underoos... go for it!
The documentation is quite good. In reality, the documentation becomes a lifesaver since a lot of the between-race interface can be quite infuriating without some additional guidance. There is even a good attempt to suck you into the storyline (like that would be hard). Each of the eight planets is given a back story along with a small blurb about each of the podracers you are allowed to drive.
I would have liked the manual to include a little more information on the various upgrades that you have available for your podracer. The interface limits most of the information to performance bar graphs without really understanding the impact of what you are adding.
I really, really wanted to score Racer much higher. In some parts of the game I would lose my sense of reality and become that young kid again who dreamed that one day Stormtroopers would invade a little town in Idaho and I would be the hero of the... er, never mind. Other aspects (like the between-race interface and clunky mouse/keyboard/joystick gymnastics one must go through) left me scratching my head that LucasArts released something that seemed so unpolished.
At first, the lack of Internet play really bugged me. How can a company release a title that screams "net play" without even considering the Internet? Then it made sense to me. We often spend a lot of time cursing at companies for doing Internet play badly (such as Unreal), so it’s almost refreshing to see a company say, "We can’t do it... so we won't." Regardless of the technical reasons, though, a successful implementation of Internet play would have gone a long way in increasing the "it’s still on my hard drive" life of this title.
What it boils down to is this... if you are a Star Wars fan (who isn’t?) and you felt that youthful urging during the podrace scene in Phantom Menace, go get this. Be prepared, though, to be confused in almost every aspect of the game except for the actual racing. Since racing is where Racer shines, enjoy yourself and scream like a Wookiee as Sebulba knocks you onto the service-ramp... yet again.
But remember... in space, no one can hear you scream like a Wookiee.