Written on: 03/03/2006 by TOMLEECEE (121 reviews written)
Top music/sound effects
Lots of tracks and vehicles
Engaging championship mode
Lots of longevity and challenge
Inventive course design
Not many Dreamcast specific improvements
Lots of loading screens
Star Wars Episode 1: Racer is a game based on a 10 minute sequence from the movie. Yes, you read right. But seeing as it was probably the best 10 minutes of the entire film, it was a wise move by Lucas Arts.
In the film, young (precocious) Anakin takes part in a Pod Race on Tatooine and inevitably wins. This is the basis for this spin off. There isn't really much more to say about Racer: It's a futuristic racing game in the vein of WipEout but instead of cool looking hover cars, you get cool looking chariot type contraptions with two huge floating engines tied to a capsule. The engines act like horses, and the pod like a chariot. This is quite innovative and presents new aspects to the racing in that inertia affects the way the pod swings about behind the engines. It's quite a cool effect and quite original.
The game proper consists of the usual single race/practice/time attack variations and there is a sort of career option (as is the norm these days) where you choose a character from the cast - Anakin or one of the other alien racers who featured in the film - and then take on each course in the game with difficulty being increased depending on the championship's level. The courses are all spread across the Galaxy on the various Star Wars planets, and they range from industrial wastelands to deserts, to rain soaked jungles. What's nice is that they all feel as if they were 'designed' as tracks for this particular 'motor sport.' In some games, the tracks feel as if they are just random and are there for the sake of the game. Here, they have purpose built grandstands full of cheering spectators and just seem 'right' for the occasion. For instance, on one of the 'ice planet' tracks, you race across desolate and barren tundra, and the track is marked out only by wind ravaged flags, but when you get back to the start/finish section, it is built up with pit areas, radio masts and grandstands.
The championship hub area is based in a sort of tavern and there are pit droids and other personnel wandering about. From this tavern you can access a junkyard where used upgrades can be purchased for your pod, or you can speak to the dodgy tavern owner about buying a new part for a higher price, naturally.
The actual racing part of Episode 1: Racer is very enjoyable too. The races are generally quite tight, but never unfair, and the course design is nothing short of inspired. Other racers will try to barge you out of the way while shouting at you, and it can become quite intense when you are given a rival to beat. Another well implemented feature is the boost. Each pod has the ability to vent its engines which gives you turbo boost, however the duration of this boost is governed only by your engines' ability to cool themselves. If they get too hot, lay off the boost otherwise they'll blow. Purchasing better cooling equipment in turn allows for longer boost periods, so it's really down to you to make the right choices when it comes to upgrading.
For all intents and purposes, Episode 1: Racer is a cracking little game and would undoubtedly appeal even if it wasn't a Star Wars tie in. There are some gripes though. For instance, the Dreamcast version is basically just a port of the N64 version and is almost identical in every way. The resolution is slightly higher, and there are some new pre-rendered track videos complete with intros from the Greg Proops voiced commentator, but that's it. The character models are quite low on the old polygon count, and this is painfully evident in the cut scenes that utilise the game engine. I don't see why the developers couldn't have applied themselves and created some new models for the Dreamcast version - it's quite annoying to see this kind of thing on a console that is home to games such as Shenmue and Dead or Alive 2, both of which feature graphics that would shame a lot of PS2 or Gamecube releases.
Apart from that though, there isn't all that much wrong with Episode 1: Racer! It's certainly on a par with WipEout in the futuristic racing genre, and maybe only loses out because Star Wars just isn't as 'trendy.'
Finally, a special mention must go to the sound effects and music. You probably won't notice when you first play it, but the incidental that chime in at key points during races are very subtle and perfectly suited to Star Wars; and the little sound effects are put to fantastic use: listen for the marker flags flapping in the wind on the aforementioned ice tracks and the distant roar of heavy machinery on the mining planets. You take it for granted at first, but after a few plays you get the impression that this game has some pretty stellar production values.
A great all round racing title that does exactly what is says on the tin. Episode 1: Racer comes highly recommended, even if the movie doesn't.
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