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R:Racing GameCube

Published by Electronic Arts/Namco
Developed by Namco
Released - Out Now
Price : £39.99

Four-wheeled driving games have been rather thin on the ground for Nintendo's GameCube and aside from titles such as Need For Speed Underground and Mario Kart: Double Dash! there hasn't really been much to get excited about. What's worse though is if you want a realistic looking racer you're really stumped because the choice is even worse. R:Racing from Namco looks to address the balance as it offers a driving game with a difference. Not only does it have a story driven mode but it also has plenty of challenges to test just how good you are. It's time to put on the driving gloves and take R:Racing for a test drive.

R:Racing is made up of the story driven Racing Life mode and Event Challenge which consists of 7 different types of races and each of these modes has many challenges for you to undertake. There is also an Arcade mode for you to have that quick one-off race, a time attack mode and a two-player VS mode. Of course you've probably just read those last few lines and assumed that the Racing Life mode makes up the bulk of the game play. Actually this isn't the case. I finished the Racing Life mode in just over two hours with my save file showing that 20% of the game had been completed. Now I know what you're thinking that it means the game only takes around 10 hours to complete and again you'd be wrong because the various challenges that remain will take much longer to complete.

The Racing Life mode is centred on the rise through the ranks of Rena Hayami. In the beginning Rena is just a high speed ambulance driver and her paramedic, Stephan Garnier notices she has championship winning potential when one day they have a patient who has to be driven back as quickly as possible and Rena zooms through the traffic to get to the hospital in time. Stephan offers Rena a test drive with his team and so it begins. The Racing Life mode consists of 14 chapters that shows the progression of Rena's career, her rivalry with Gina Cavalli and the eventual departure of Stephan and Rena from their team, G.V.I to set up a new team with Eddie O'Brien. Throughout the Racing Life mode you'll drive in GT races, drag races and will also take part in a few rally stages. There are three difficulty levels with only the highest of the three offering anything of a real challenge. Most people will fly through on easy or normal difficulty settings. Your performances during the Racing Life mode will earn you reward points (known as RP) with which you can buy improvements to your cars or simply buy new cars altogether.

The heart of the game is the Event Challenge mode and you'll spend a heck of a lot more time here than you will in the Racing Life mode. There are 7 different types of races and each has their own number of challenges. Single Race has 67 challenges, Time Trial has 40 challenges, One-Make Race has 10 challenges, Tour Race has 10 challenges, VS Rival has 10 challenges, Tournament has 15 challenges and there are 14 Extra challenges. Unlike Racing Life mode most of these challenges will offer a challenge and will require you to upgrade or buy better cars. You have to purchase each challenge with your RP but you get more RP in return for completing your tasks.

It's rather difficult to quantify what R:Racing is supposed to be. It's not realistic enough to be called a simulation and it's not really an arcade racer. Then you have the addition of the pressure meters which supposedly show the psychological pressure you're applying to your opponents. The way it works is that when you approach an opponent from behind you'll see a bar appear above their car. The closer you get to them the more the bar will fill. Eventually when the bar is red they'll become nervy and can even spin off. In theory it's a good idea but in practice it doesn't work too well as it's more beneficial to irritate your opponents until they spin than simply just zooming past them. Jittery opponents aside though the handling is tight and the cars control very well indeed. Seasoned racers will want to turn off the brake assist especially in the more difficult races in order to get quicker lap times. You can modify the cars to a certain extent before a race and changing the brake bias, steering response, front stabilizer and rear stabilizer is possible if you like to dabble with the default settings.

Graphically R:Racing is easily the best looking driving game on the GameCube. In fact the sensation of speed is also rather impressive. There are 36 cars in the game in all ranging from the Mini Cooper to the BMW M3 GTR. The cars have been modeled quite well and it makes a pleasant change to see a GameCube racer that actually looks like it's taking full advantage of the GameCube hardware. The frame rate is rock solid and never dips at all. What is disappointing is the amount of circuits on offer. There are only 11 on offer and 3 reversed circuits. There are some good ones here though and I was pleased to see both Suzuka and Monaco and both looked good.

R:Racing may not be the best racing game we've ever played but it's certainly the most subtitled one we've ever seen. The Racing Life mode cutscenes that are shown at the beginning of each chapter are all subtitled superbly. What's even better though is that during a race you'll have pit communications from Stephan and these are also subtitled and positioned just about right so you can read them without taking your eyes off your driving. You'll even get comments from your opponents (who refer to you as 76) which are subtitled. Not all of the opponents' comments are subtitled though and during the rally stages the co-drivers messages are depicted by directional arrows in pretty much the same way as any other rally game.

Before we wrap up the review there's something else we have to mention because it's the GameCube version of R:Racing. Namco have given GameCube owners a free gift which is a Pac-Man VS game. Basically this is an innovative 2-4 player version of Pac-Man. To play the game you'll need between 1-3 controllers and 1 Game Boy Advance with a GameCube to GBA link lead. The GBA (with link lead) goes into controller port 4 on your GameCube. The way it works is that the player with the GBA controls Pac-Man and the other players (if there are less than 3 players the AI makes up the numbers) look at the TV and have a limited view of the maze so they can't see Pac-Man until he's in their immediate vicinity. If one of the ghosts should catch Pac-Man then they will take the GBA and control Pac-Man whilst the former Pac-Man controller will take charge of a ghost. The winner is the first to attain either 7,000, 10,000 or 15,000 points. The ghost controllers score points by capturing Pac-Man whilst Pac-Man can earn points from the Pac-Dots and ghosts, once he's taken the Power Pellet of course. As a ghost capturing Pac-Man will not only earn you 1,600 points but will also take the same number of points away from Pac-Man. It's great fun and easily one of the best uses of the GameCube-GBA link up facility. However, unless you've got three Wavebird controllers your controller cables will soon look like plastic spaghetti as the various controllers change hands during the game.

R:Racing is one of the best driving games on the GameCube. Of course this might not be saying a lot as there isn't much competition but as long as you are prepared to complete the various challenges it will give you many hours of enjoyment. The story mode is a little disappointing by it's brevity but it does give you a good amount of RP with which to begin the challenges and you do also acquire a nice collection of cars with which to enter the challenges. It's not the GameCube's answer to Gran Turismo and thanks to a virtually nonexistent online service it can't possibly attempt to rival the online splendour of Project Gotham Racing 2 but it's still enjoyable and driving fans who only have access to a GameCube will appreciate what's on offer.

Overall Game Rating: 8.2/10
R:Racing is a solid and enjoyable game that GameCube owning racing fans should appreciate. The bonus Pac-Man VS game is great stuff and is a great use of the GameCube-GBA link-up facility.

Deaf Gamers comment:
The most deaf gamer friendly driving game we've seen.