Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Race Pro (360) - Atari

Only a few years ago there were just two players on the race-sim battleground conveniently opposing one another: Xbox’s Forza Motorsport and PlayStation’s Gran Turismo. These two titles provided stunning visuals and an immense range of licensed cars. But now it seems that the big players in the gaming industry are clueing on to the fact that these games are not only infuriatingly difficult to master but are also a lot of fun. Cue Atari, offering 360 owners another exclusive in the form of the imaginatively titled Race Pro.

Gameplay-wise Race Pro feels dated and arcade – something a current-gen simulation should not be. There are two major faults that haunt this game’s claim to simulation: the first is that in a straight line your car will be the quickest on the track no matter what; the second is that unlike what Granny Turismo’s licence tests and Forza teaches you the racing line can be ignored in favour of driving aggressively. A lot is borrowed from the gospel of Forza featuring a default race-line with turn-notices a la every-rally-game-ever-made, adjustable difficulty in the form of driving assists and almost the exact same rotatable camera controls. In fact the only aspects of Race Pro that make it stand out from the race-sim giants is that every car in the game is an actual race car that belongs on the track (no whipping your Corona around Road America here) and hidden away in the options menu are adjustable steering, throttle, brake sensitivities as well as other mindless technical jargon. The latter feature could be the only significant selling point of this game, as only perfectionist mechanics and wannabe motorsport fanatics would actually care about this.

To further your career as a Race Pro you race in championships for teams who initially require you to beat a set time on a particular circuit in their car before you can purchase their contract at a discounted rate. Upon completion of championships not only are you rewarded credits per-race but also trophy-car versions of you team’s motor, after a few completed contracts per class (normally two) the next class is unlocked granting access to more contracts with faster cars and some more tracks. Back in the days of the original TOCA games this may have been acceptable, warranting no complaints, but in this day and age this method of progression proves linear and is a repetitive grind. Other offline modes include Single Race, Championship (which is essentially a few Single Races thrown together), Hot Seat (offline multiplayer), Time Attack and Open Practice all of which involve simply selecting a track, a car and gunning it – something that, again, brings nothing new to the racing table. Online, however the game box boasts “extensive” Xbox Live races against 12 other budding Race Pros. While this is a pretty major promise, and the most intriguing out of the features boasted, when logging on Xbox Live to test this out I found at most six opponents to take on – far from extensive.

One of the great things about race-sims is that the graphics are very pretty: trees and buildings reflect with stunning detail off the cars and the lighting effects of the sun and street lights serve as great distractions when hurtling down a straight at 200km/h. This is probably where Race Pro most notably drops the ball though. While some effort has gone into the car models and the realistic depiction of the race tracks it all comes off sub-par compared with the graphics of, well, damn near every game offered on the current generation consoles bar the Wii. So bland are the visuals that the game appears as if it belongs on the original Xbox or even on the aging PS2...in fact even the original Forza and Gran Turismo 4 were far more pretty.

Lastly, there is practically no soundtrack in this game aside from a Scottish voice out of no-where congratulating you on finishing and telling you off for doing something wrong. While Atari may have intentionally done this in order to gain the full race-day immersion, again, all that results is a feeling that the game is unfinished.

While there are not that many race-sims available to gamers the very high standard of quality in those available makes it very difficult for any newcomer to stand a chance at keeping toe to toe with the big boys. Unfortunately due to mundane graphics, grinding career progression and very little in the way of a unique experience Race Pro falls behind the behemoths of the racing genre. If you own a 360 and you are looking for a racing sim buy Forza 2 or GRID and avoid this like the plague.

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