Fans of futuristic racing games have seen the genre go through its figurative ups and downs over the years. Acclaimís Extreme-G series has managed to evolve and survive since its beginnings on the N64 way back when, and the latest game in the series, XGRA- Extreme G Racing Association is yet another winner.
The game is a bit of a change in tone from XG III, as some of the features found in that game have been dropped. But whatís here is really fast and furious fun for anyone interested in the genre. Lets get one thing out of the way first. XGRA runs at 30 fps where XG III ran at twice that, but the game is still ridiculously fast. No, make that blindingly, crazily, utter ridiculously fast. Although you start off with a relatively slow and sturdy bike, hit a few speed strips on any track, and youíll find the results something that have to be seen to be believed. Itís impossible to navigate some of the more twisty tracks when youíre going at almost twice the speed of sound, but it sure looks damn good.
When you fire up the game initially, youíll only see three choices, Season 2080, Arcade, and Time Trial. Thereís only a single bike to use and 3 tracks to use it on. Youíll have to unlock all the other classes, bikes and tracks as you progress in Season 2080 mode. As fast as the initial bike is, in a few hours, youíll be riding some real rockets on tracks thatíll have your eyes tearing up because youíll be too focused to blink. The game shouldíve come with a coupon for a free tube of Visene, is all Iíll say.
There are five classes to explore in XGRA: Invitation, Subsonic, Sonic, Supersonic, and Ultrasonic, and the game ramps up in difficulty accordingly. You can make a good dent and rise in classes fairly quickly, but only the mega-tough will survive Ultrasonic class. If anything, XGRA is a lot longer that XG III, and just as fun to play, even with the control changes. Control-wise, gone are the shoulder-button controlled airbrakes, and the bikes are even more responsive than before. You now have a handbrake for power slides, and the choice of grip or drift bikes, which sort of makes XGRA play like a motorbike version of Ridge Racer with weapons.
To tell you the truth, that handbrake will get as much use as a whistle on a plow, and aiming some of the weapons at speed is next to impossible, but the game is still a great amount of fun. Thereís a thin bit of plot here, but the gameís TV network style presentation leaves no room for actual character development. In the Season mode, you pick a bike and a character and open up more bikes and tracks as you complete races. There are occasional goals tossed at you besides coming in first, but some of them can be incredibly frustrating, like destroying the opposing teamís signage or knocking a particular player out of the race. You earn points depending on how well you accomplish tasks in addition to where you place at the end of the race, and itís possible to finish in 1st place but not have enough points to go onto the next stage because you missed too many secondary objectives.
XGRAís visual style is heavily influenced by the Wipeout series, always has been, always will. But that means the game looks great in every aspect. The tracks are amazingly complex and loaded with killer twists and turns. The speed blur effect is fabulous, and there are some cool effects going on as you unleash your weapons on opponents (and vice versa). Some of the track locations are a bit on the bizarre side, but thatís par for the course in the genre. The bikes all look great, and in a welcome touch, you can tweak your selected ride pre-race. What isnít welcome are the unfunny stereotype rider personalities you face off against. Thereís the cold as ice hot Russian chick, the usual Asian babe, the annoying Euro Guy, and the heroic American. Itís not offensive at all, just boring, and considering that you donít hear much from the others except canned, repetitive comments, it gets tired quickly. The sound effects for the bikes are fantastic, and the music is great for the most part. You have the choice of great licensed techno tracks or loud alt-rock to race to (or a mixture of the two). Itís a matter of personal taste for each player, but try racing with the music off- itís a lot less distracting.
Speaking of distracting, in two-player mode, thereís a bit of frame rate loss- itís not too terrible, but makes me wish for some sort of i-Link or online mode in future installments. But overall, XGRA is an excellent follow up in the series, and one thatís worthy of further exploration. If Acclaim Cheltenham is up to the job, theyíve got my money already.
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