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Auto Modellista
Review By: J. Michael Neal
Developer:  Capcom
Publisher:  Capcom
# Of Players:  1-2, 1-8 Online
Genre:  Racing
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  Yes
Accessories:  Network Adaptor, Memory Card, Logitech Driving Force & GT Force steering wheels
Date Posted:  7-24-03

Auto Modellista has gotten an unduly harsh reception from critics. Earning reviews anywhere between mediocre and terrible, Capcom’s cel-shaded racer definitely deserves more credit than has been given it. Sure, it may not be the “Gran Turismo killer” the gaming press hyped it as (the same press that would pan the game mere months later, mind you), but it is at least on par with any Ridge Racer out there, and a very, very promising first attempt. Neither gear heads nor racer fans will be as under whelmed by this title as they’ve been led to believe. In fact, I’m sure many will find this a fine addition to their game collection and anxiously anticipate the next evolution in the franchise, god willing that the series be continued.

Auto Modellista has a number of features that set it apart from the other racers on the market; most noticeably the cel-shaded visuals. Cel-shading, pioneered by Sega’s groundbreaking Jet Grind Radio (Jet Set Radio here in the States), seem to be a “love it” or “hate it” kind of thing. There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground on the subject. Gamers either love the look and the fresh visual style it brings to titles, or hate the crap out of it and wish it would just go away. While you’d have to be a total nimrod to turn your nose up to something like The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker, Dark Cloud 2, Jet Set Radio Future, or Zone of the Enders: 2nd Runner simply because you aren’t feeling the cel-shaded thing, I will admit the technique is bordering on overexposure.

With all that said, I’m sure Auto Modellista’s visuals will garner the same sort of “love it” or “hate it” reaction. Those not averse to cel-shading will find the game quite pleasing to the eye: bright, vibrant colors, stylized car models and environments, and comic book style visual cues like speed-lines and movement trails give the game a very cool manga/anime feel and help make Auto Modellista one of the more visually striking titles to be released this year. However, if neither cel-shading nor anime are you thing, I’m sure you’ll find this game’s look to be quite repulsive. Regardless of what one personally feels about the visuals, it can be said that the game not only keeps a consistently high frame rate and has no draw-in to speak of, but also provides a very nice sense of speed; things not even Gran Turismo 3 could boast.

Auto Modellista’s other major claim to fame is the ability to completely personalize your car, from custom headlights to swapped engines. While this certainly isn’t anything new, Auto Mod is the first racing game I have ever seen to place as much emphasis on pre-race strategizing and fine tuning as on actual driving skill. What do I mean? Well, any GT fan knows there are two ways to play the game. The first way involves carefully tweaking your cars to get the maximum performance out of each, then racing like a true pro. These are the kind of people that get all golds on the license tests. The second way is the way most of us play, which involves picking the car with the highest horsepower and most stable cornering, sticking all the best parts in it, then slamming your way through every turn as you barrel towards a first place finish simply because you have the fastest car. These are the kind of people that had to struggle to get bronze medals in their license tests. Auto Modellista cannot be played that second way. Each course requires a different kind of performance, which means constant retooling. Long straight courses ask for high top speed at the cost of handling, winding point-to-point tracks ask for fast acceleration and tight cornering, street courses mean you’ll want to sacrifice speed for a little more stability, downhill means responsive breaks, and so on. If you think you can get through this game by simply relying on the best car with the best parts, you are sadly mistaken. Strategically tuning your car before each race becomes a necessity, just as important as pure driving skill, and that is what truly sets Auto Modellista apart from the rest.

Don’t feel overwhelmed if you aren’t a total gear head, however, as the game makes tuning your cars very easy. Although you can choose each part and tweak each setting by hand if you want, the game also has an “Easy Tune” option that will customize your car according to what a particular track requires, all you need to do is set priorities for acceleration vs. top speed and drift vs. grip. In its full glory the game doesn’t have as many settings to fudge around with as a Gran Turismo, but who well really miss being able to set the camber angle anyway? Besides, this is an arcade racer at heart, so Capcom can’t be faulted for dropping all but the fundamentals.

Where Capcom did take the ball and run with it was in the parts and external customization area. As previously mentioned, nearly everything on your car can be modified. New parts from practically every manufacturer in the biz can be unlocked and added to your car, and while upgrading brakes and turbines isn’t incredibly original, changing doors and modifying hoods certainly is. If you couldn’t tell from the cel-shaded visuals this game is all about style and personality; being able to completely make your car “yours” plays a huge role in achieving that. Its not enough to just customize the guts of your automobile, you’ve got to give it a whole new look. This includes replacing every segment of the car’s exterior (front, hood, sides, rear, rims, wing, and mirrors) with custom parts, placing pre-made or player created decals just about anywhere, and independently changing the colors of everything from the racing strip to the roll cage. This pretty much guarantees no two cars you encounter will ever look alike and is something all racing games should take a cue from here on out. If all this customization still isn’t enough, you can even decorate your garage to your liking with posters, trophies, toolboxes, oilcans, shelves, and dozens of assorted garage-type items that are won throughout the game.

What’s the point of all this customization if you don’t have a good selection of cars to choose from? While Auto Mod has a line-up that will please most racing fans, it could have been better. Like almost all Asian-made racers, Auto Mod has a serious lack of European cars (like, try none) and wastes precious showroom space on lemons like the Vitz RS and the Honda Beat (in all honesty people, who’d want to use these cars when you could be driving a Viper GTS or a Skyline GT-R?). Still, fans of Japanese and American automakers will find many of their old favorites; I know I did (God bless them for remembering the Mitsubishi GTO). Still, the line-up could have been bigger and a little more diverse. Also, they could have really left those little 25 horsepower compact cars out. It’s all right to include those things in a sim, but in an arcade game like this you should only have the cream of the crop, the dream cars. Take a page from the book of Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit 2 next time, will ya Capcom?

While gamers might not have too many complaints about what car or manufacturer is or is not in the game, they will have a few about the way the cars handle. Auto Modellista’s controls are slippery to say the least, and the physics are extremely exaggerated. You do eventually get use to them, but newbies and the impatient will find it a steep and unforgiving learning curve. While I personally had no problem with the way the cars handled (I found them no less manageable than any other non-realistic racer I’ve tackled in my lifetime), I can see how every car, no matter what the drive train or real-life stability, doing a 360o on even the tamest turn can be a real crippler for some. Powersliding around everyone corner does make for some exciting racing, however, and the constant fear of spinning out insures your full attention will be on the race, unlike Gran Turismo where you can easily veg out and bumper-car your way to victory.

Once the controls are mastered (trust me, it’s possible – just counter-steer and pump the gas) it’s off to the races where players can expect nine real-world courses, including mirrored and rain-slicked variations of circuit, point-to-point, and dirt tracks, spread out over the usual array of modes. These modes include Single, Versus, and Time Attack, as well as the Garage Life (where you go to assemble your dream machines and progress through the single player stages) and Network mode (where you get to put that $40 Network Adaptor to use and race over a broadband connection). There is also a cool “VJ” mode, in which players can remix and save replays on-the-fly using tools reminiscent of MTV Music Generator’s Music Jam mode.

If there is a flaw in the game modes it’s that Garage Life is too easy. Not only is it a bit on the short side, but also the AI poses no real threat at any time. With the right car and the right tuning you can win races one-handed. Unlocking all the parts, garage items, decals, cars, and trophies offers some replay value for the mode, but even that doesn’t take too long to accomplish. Hopefully, the longevity online play and the VJ mode provides compensates for this shortcoming.

Too bad there’s no compensation for the audio. Nothing awful about the music - it’s ordinary, bland, flavorless; the sound effects are satisfactory - tire screeches, engine sounds, standard fair; the announcer, however… the announcer should be put out of his misery. Now. Before he can pollute another game with his incessant rambling. Remember the guy I mentioned in my Capcom vs. SNK 2 review? The “headache-inducing announcer”? Well, he’s back and he’s more headache inducing than ever. I don’t know who this guy is, or why Capcom insists on putting him in games, but he is REALLY starting to annoy me. His shrill, over-enthused, bizarrely accented lisping are even MORE out of place on the racetrack, and literally begin mere seconds after booting the game up. Adding insult to injury, many of his phrases have been lifted straight from the CvSNK2 audio track, so if you were already sick of hearing him say “keep rockin’ baby” you’ll have to stomach it another 3,000 times. My suggestion for coping is mute the TV and just put on a CD.

Auto Modellista may have its fair share of problems, but the seeds of greatness have been planted. There is some real potential lying within this franchise. Whether the developers can extract it in later installments remains to be seen however, but concepts like the Garage Life, the VJ mode, total customization, the importance of tuning, and Network play, if expanded and explored further, could create a truly inspired racing game. As it stands, Auto Modellista could be considered a failure, both commercially and critically, but this shouldn’t discourage Capcom from giving it another shot. Plenty of games don’t find their legs until the second or third time around, look at Hitman, look at Dead or Alive, look at Grand Theft Auto and Dark Cloud. Auto Modellista could definitely follow suit, and if so, Auto Modellista 2 will be a game to watch.


  • Cel-shaded visuals (if you like that sort of thing).
  • Excellent usage of tuning.
  • Lots and lots and lots of customization.
  • Respectable car line-up.
  • Online play.
  • VJ mode is an interesting addition.


  • Cel-shaded visuals (if you hate that sort of thing).
  • Lack of European manufacturers.
  • Handling will befuddle many.
  • Garage Life is too easy.
  • UURRGH! Somebody shoot that announcer before he appears in Killer 7 or Resident Evil: Outbreak!


Not the best racing game of all time, but certainly not the worst. It’s unique and borderline revolutionary in its field. If given the proper sequel this could end up being the racer to beat in a few years.

Overall Score: 8.3

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