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Star Wars Racer Revenge
Review By:  Christopher Coey
Developer:  Rainbow Studios
Publisher:  LucasArts
# of Players:  1
Genre:  Racing
ESRB:  Everyone
Online:  No
Accessories:  Memory Card
Date Posted:  4-2-02

A lot of readers will have played other versions of Star Wars: Podracer already. Originally released on the N64, the game was ported over to the Dreamcast, PC, and Mac. There was also an arcade unit released shortly after (not a port however, a different engine completely.) The first Podracer game came out shortly after the release of The Phantom Menace. Rainbow Studios has had quite some time to work on this game (it's been four years since Episode I was released), and yet at first look the N64 version had a LOT more to offer.


Now, I'm not going to put the two games up against each other head-to-head. One game was made four years ago, on the N64. The other was made for a 'next generation' system, and is advertised as cutting-edge technology. It wouldn't be a fair comparison, for the new game. It's not that this game is a direct sequel, because it's not. It's a completely new game that just happens to be based on the same thing as a game that came out years ago (Racer Revenge is supposed to happen 8 years after the original Episode I podrace, which would put it about a year before the events of Episode II). But, if anyone should to want to make a game based around Star Wars Podracing they would be smart to include all of the components from the N64 version. It seems like the developers of Revenge didn't bother to even play the first game, but they might have played Super Bombad Racing (and I'm surprised, but relieved, they didn't include Jar Jar). Plus, a 'next generation' system should also include additional components. I just felt there was a lot missing from this game.

Take the sound effects for instance. If you happened to be winning a race, way out in front of the pack with no real obstacles in front, there's almost no sound. You hear your engine and a few ambient sounds only. You simply
drive along by yourself, staring at the screen. No tension, no sense of 'Star Wars', nothing. I'm not really sure what I'm looking for the developer to add here, but something. Wind sound, screeching when you turn a corner,
dust, rocks, dirt, or whatever. But I found myself in the lead a lot, with a lot of time to think about other things, and mostly my thoughts were 'this is kinda boring.' Plus, the crowd sounds reminded me a lot of the crowd
effects from EA NHL '96, i.e. FUZZ.

Then there's one of the fan-favorite characters: Watto. From watching the movie alone, there is a lot of background on Watto's garage, and podracer parts and equipment, not to mention the work that pit-droids do. Are they in the game? Barely, some pit droids can be seen in the background of the 'upgrades' screen. But that's all there is, an upgrade SCREEN. There's an animated Watto, but no parts or equipment, save from a written list of various pod enhancements. The PS2 is a powerful system, and the developers had a LOT of time to work on this game, where are the animations?

Speaking of animations, what about some kind of racer-specific race intro? There's the usual 'panning shot' of the current track, but no characters. No taunts or pre-race trash talk. For a game that distinguishes itself by way
of it's aggressive and bitter rivalries, there should have been more shown on-screen, not just in the manual and advertisements.

I waited a long time for this game (almost as long as they had to work on it), and I was excited about it. I LOVED the N64 version. The screen shots they released looked incredible. So what about the graphics? Well, that's complicated. See, the screen shots that have been shown are legit. Any still screens look great. Incredible detail and lighting. Good particle and blurring effects. All of which makes for a perfect picture. However, once that picture starts to move; as in, once you are actually playing the game, things don't look as great. All of the right 'parts' seem to be there, but the 'whole' seems to be lacking. It's as if the environment is TOO detailed (and the particle effects don't behave always realistically.) Not enough thought was taken in as to what those environments would look like as the racers zoom by at 600mph. At some points, the graphics are too polished, and
not gritty enough for a podracing game. At other times, particularly the out door environments, the 'over exposed', washed-out color look tends to make things hard to distinguish, almost like fogging. Not to mention that there is relatively poor sight distance, and the occasional bad pop-up (even during the animated track intros!). These problems are inexcusable given some of the other games that we've seen so far on this system.

The tracks themselves are also somewhat uninspired. There are few short-cuts, or choices to make. And the short-cuts that can be found are extremely difficult to maneuver into, unless you slow WAY down, which sort of kills the point of having a short-cut. Any alternate paths usually only last a few seconds before they rejoin the main path.

Alright, I've gone on a lot about the issues I have with this game, and I have a lot more. But I don't want to sound TOO negative, so I'll quickly mention one more: No re-race option. Once you loose a race you get kicked back to Watto's garage, then have to sit through the re-load again (unless you specifically quit a race before it ends.) I hate that.

SO the big difference between this game and that 'other' version, is the inclusion of pod combat. During the race, you can actually take out the opponents by smashing into them, or forcing them into walls and obstacles. But as far as the general 'racing' aspect of the game goes, there's no point in trying to take anyone out. It just slows you down, then forces you to play catch-up later in the game. The only real reason to get KOs is to beat the track PAR. Now, does this seem weird to anyone else? Using the term PAR in a race, referring to how many other racers you need to eliminate. PAR is
a golf term, what's it doing in a Star Wars game?

On the other hand, if you don't bother trying to take anyone out, most of the tracks are pretty easy. I achieved gold in each of the first 12 races (out of 13) the first time I put in the game. The only track that gave me any difficulty was the final track, the Boonta Eve Classic, which was mostly an obstacle course and not much fun. A poor climax to a sub-PAR game. Unfortunately, winning isn't the only easy thing in the game. It's easy to get confused, and turned around (again, I'm reminded of Super Bombad Racing). There are a lot of blind turns ending in walls, and a whole lot of random obstacles in the middle of tracks.

If the only difficulty the game developers could come up with was to make the courses hard to negotiate, so that winning comes down to avoiding pointless obstacles and mapping out blind turns, rather than actually racing, I call that poor game design. This is a problem I'm seeing more and more lately, specifically in 'branded' titles like Star Wars, or Army Men
etc. Developers need to come to realize that there are vastly more 'experienced' Star Wars fans who are gamers, than there are younger NEW fans. Spend some time developing for adult gamers, or at least gear some parts of game towards them. Games are certainly NOT for just kids anymore. If anyone needs evidence of this, check out the sales figures for Grand Theft Auto III or State of Emergency.


So what DID they do right? Well, the first thing that comes to mind is the rain course. One of the tracks takes place in the evening, on a rainy night. The rain, splash, and screen effects were very well done (but nothing we haven't seen before.) Also, some of the ingame commentary is amusing: "Angrier than a shaved Wookie", "Uglier than a naked Jawa", "Sweet Sarlac Soup!" etc. And I always love it when games include unlockable extras like Art Galeries. In Racer Revenge, you can unlock three separate galleries for each of: characters, pods, and courses. Also, if you win the final circuit you are treated to a different finale animation for each character. The animation is showwhat interesting, although it's a little disturbing seeing Jabba the Hutt actually being nice!

Back again, from the original pod-racer game and from the movie are the voices of Andrew Secombe (Watto), Lewis MacLeod (Sebulba), and Jake Lloyd (Episode I - Anakin). The most unfortunate omission, however, is that of Dax
Gazaway (voiced by Tom Shank) from the movie's original pod-racer scene. The game's announcer is supposed to be Dax Gazaway, but he's voiced by some new guy and just doesn't have the same 'zippy podrace feel' that the movie had. It's clear that the voice actor isn't a Star Wars fan, and doesn't really know what he was saying. I know that I'm being the geeky over-zealous fan here, but I liked the announcer dude, and the new guy is a poor replacement;
he sounds like he's trying to sell an 'Ab-Roller.'

HIGHS:

  • Great sense of speed, fairly good controls
  • Detailed graphics
  • Probably the last Episode I game (before a slew of Episode II titles)

LOWS:

  • Poor use of sound effects
  • Too easy, unlockable things too difficult to obtain
  • Awful upgrade system
  • Few new additions

FINAL VERDICT:

Looking at other gaming sites and magazines, I seem to be in the minority when I say that this game just wasn't all that great. Maybe I was too big a fan of the original version to appreciate the unique things that this game
has to offer. Admittedly, my first impressions of the game were very bad. But after a while the game did grow on me. It's not terrible, and it does have a lot of redeeming qualities. The graphics are great, but in a limited way. Some tracks has the over-exposed look that worked so well in ICO, but in a racing game it just makes things harder to see. And the game is VERY easy. If you boost into the lead, unless you make a number of stupid mistakes, there's almost no way the other racer's can catch you (the AI is not very 'intelligent'.) There's supposed to be a focus on in-game aggression, but unless YOU try to knock-out an opponent, you'll never see it. The other racers almost never take each other out (maybe one per race
every ten races, if you've already damaged that pod yourself.) Overall, if you never had a chance to play the original, and love Star Wars, Podracing is always fun. But, if you're looking for a quality race game, look somewhere else.

Overall Score: 7.9

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