There's something to be said about a game that has you both smiling and cursing at it in equal amounts, and Rage's new Playstation 2 game, Wild Wild Racing does just that- and very well, thank you. Until you get the hang of the control, this is one of those games that will literally frustrate impatient players at every turn. Imagine Rally Cross, with a bit of Buggy Heat for the Dreamcast, and you get an idea of what you're in for.
That's not to say that WWR is a bad game- it's just one of those titles that demands your undivided attention should you want to actually finish it.
You have three different cars from the outset, as well as three tracks to race on. These aren't short, easy to navigate ovals either- each location is full of dips, hills curves and assorted obstacles, and expect to take up to 5 minutes to do a single lap (if you don't hit anything). The tracks are divided into flat, uphill, and downhill sections, and you'll win or lose depending on your mastering these courses. Each of the cars in the game handles differently, and for the most part, the physics are pretty tight and realistic. There's also a few other cars and courses to unlock, and here the game steps into an arcade-like feeling, with a selection of minigames based around collecting the letters in a cars' name, completing a tricky stunt course or knocking a huge ball into a goal on a short course.
The controls are the usual acceleration, brake and handbrake deal found in most racing games these days, but thanks to the analog buttons on the PS2 controller, mashing the accelerator or brake will more likely than not send you spinning into a wall or another car. I actually appreciated the learning curve, but until you get the hang of the things, it feels as if you're steering the game camera around the tracks. You sort of get used to it in the racing portions of the game, but all of the minigames end up being pure frustration. I'd recommend buying an extra controller, if you're an impatient controller-throwing sort of person. Again, practice does make perfect- but hit another car or any roadside object, more often than not, you'll come to a dead stop (while the clock is ticking away). The AI of the other cars is pretty cheap, but at least they'll spin out or hit stuff on occasion. I won more than one race this way when the lead cars got tangled up on a sharp turn or hit a wall.
As far as the graphics go, the game looks really good and runs at a smooth 30fps, but it has an accelerated PC look, sort of like Speed Devils on the Dreamcast. The car models are represented quite well, but stuff like trees and fences look a bit rough around the edges during the actual game. There's also a bit of track fade in, although the game tries to cheat by keeping the backgrounds solid. After playing Rockstar's great Smuggler's Run, the limited view distance and invisible walls in WWR are a big step backward. The drivers don't animate much, but you'll probably be too caught up in playing to make much of an issue about it. While the track designs are also well done, it's sometimes a bit hard to tell the differences in terrain. Ice and mud patches are just differently shaded portions of the road, and on the Iceland track my first time out, I went two laps before I realized that I was driving on a huge patch of ice. Of course, the fact that my car got bogged down in the mud or slid around like a drunken seal on the ice should have clued me in. The music is OK, nothing too spectacular, but not awful, and the sounds are quite well done.
As far as my list of complaints goes, the loading time is really, really terrible- you can practically do a couple of loads of laundry while you're waiting for a race to begin. Another problem is the collision detection on the track and roadside objects- it's pretty bad at times. You'll be in the lead making good time, and suddenly take a turn at the wrong angle, running into either a checkpoint marker or the invisible walls around the track. Watch in sheer frustration as your car comes to a dead stop, and gets stuck against whatever you just hit. Even worse is that sometimes, another car will smash into you when you're stuck, spinning you around completely. Arrrrgh. Other than that, the learning curve is a bit steep, especially if you're expecting the game to play like an arcade racer right off the bat.
Probably the worst thing I can say about the game is that it really doesn't feel "special", in the way that Midnight Club, Smuggler's Run, or Ferrari F355 Challenge does. After one or two races, you'll either put the game right down or struggle with learning the controls and tracks. Like most of Rage's games, there's really not much depth despite the flashy graphics. All they have to is make a fighting game and a cute, character based platformer with the same generic feel, and they'll have all the bases covered. Since the game is also supposed to be a Playstation 2 launch title, I'm looking forward to seeing just what improvements can be made for the U.S. version. As it is, Wild Wild Racing falls under the category of "good, but should have been better".
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