I have never really played any of the Tokyo Extreme Racing games but I have always heard about their huge cult status. After a few days with Tokyo Extreme Racer Zero I found out why. The concept of illegal street racing on the actual streets of Tokyo is something that can become highly addictive. Add to that some of the finest automobiles to grace the streets, some gorgeous realistic environments, and a ton of enemies and you have got the formula for one hot racer.
Everybody is waiting for the big racer Gran Turismo 3 to drop and so many may overlook this little gem but I would warn against judging too quickly. The two games are entirely different. For starters TERZ has no finish line or set tracks. Cars roll around the streets of Tokyo until they find someone that they want to race. Then they flash their brights signifying a challenge, and the race begins. Each racer has a life bar that begins to diminish as the opponent gets farther and farther ahead. The life bar will also go down if the racer crashes into barriers or other cars. The driver whose life bar empties first loses. Then both drivers cruise around some more looking for the next race.
Another seemingly important difference between this and GT3 is the licensing of cars. Car companies will not lend their names to illegal street racing games for obvious reasons. At first this may seem like a big deal, but after a while you will begin to see that all of your favorite cars are there. They just do not have names attached to them. Plus, with all of the customization that you can do the cars will cease to look like any of the originals anyway. With over 150 cars you will definitely find something that suits your tastes even if it does not have a label on it. Do you think real street racers care about the brand of car that they drive anyway?
As you begin the races you will think that this game is cake. After all the first couple of gangs that you will encounter are push-overs, but rest assured, as you get further into the 400 different featured rivals the competition will get really stiff pretty quickly. All of the sudden the cheap car that you got to save some money will be totally worthless on the open road. Thankfully the upgrades make a huge difference. Get a new engine or a new muffler to boost up the horsepower and then tweak the suspension, transmission or tires to get the most out of your new power. You can also add some aerodynamic touches to just about every piece of the exterior. All of this must be done with a careful eye on the weight. You don't want to get too heavy or you will run into fat ass car syndrome.
Though some cars do outperform others (you get what you pay for) all of the cars are pretty good at competing, especially if you make some upgrades. The flow of the game is really good in the sense that you can only make so much money before you will realize that the car you have is badly in need of an overhaul. Then as your car is upgraded you will progress further until the moment that you cannot win any more races with the car in your possession. But by that time you should have amassed enough cash to buy a new car. It is this kind of attention to the progression of the game that makes it so hard to put down. Just when you think you are spent, you pull out another win, upgrade the engine, and start kicking butt again.
Add to this great gameplay some great track design and gorgeous scenery. Unlike the racing games that put you in fantasy courses with fake eye candy, TERZ, bases all of its tracks on actual Tokyo highways giving it a certain kind of credibility and realism not found in many other racing games including GT3. Though there are some extensions added on throughout the game, the track pretty much remains the same through out the game. This may be off-putting to people who crave new and different tracks, but putting all kinds of stuff in this game would make as little sense as having races during the day. This is the time of day that these guys come out to play and these are the places that they do it. Anything else would be some sorry made-up video game thing.
Tokyo Extreme Racing may not totally satisfy your need for completely authentic racing games but it will definitely whet your appetite. There have been other games that have attempted to duplicate the concept of the Tokyo Extreme Racing series but none have come close. This is the true product. After one play you will realize why this has achieved the cult status that warrants a release of five different games over three systems. And if you have any doubt of the authenticity of the game and its concept, just watch the documentary on the real Tokyo street racers. It's much more authentic than the Fast and the Furious trailer also included on the DVD.
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