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ups: Excellent racing simulation; realistic weather; lots of modes and options; great control.
downs: Some spotty graphic elements; mediocre sound.

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Le Mans 24 Hours Review (PC)
game: Le Mans 24 Hours
four star
posted by: Eric Qualls
publisher: Infogrames
date posted: 09:10 AM Wed Jul 3rd, 2002
last revision: 05:17 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

Three different types of race cars all going around the same track all at the same time. Sounds like a recipe for disaster, but in reality, Le Mans racing is one of the fastest and most exciting styles of racing in the world. Putting GT class cars such as Dodge Vipers and Porsche 911s out on the same track as the purpose-built open and closed cockpit prototype cars makes for several great battles to watch on the track--as the drivers fight for the win in not only their class, but the overall victory as well. Le Mans 24 Hours captures the thrill, the strategy, and the satisfaction of the sport almost perfectly, and is one of the most enjoyable racing games available for the PC right now.

Le Mans 24 Hours features seventy licensed cars from the official Le Mans circuit and 12 real world tracks. The game also features five different game modes in which to put the pedal to the metal. Quick Race mode allows you to race any car on any circuit you have unlocked. Championship mode puts you through eight different championships where you have to win in order to open up the next championship and earn new cars. Le Mans mode recreates the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race and has you pick a car and race for a full twenty-four hours in a race that goes from day to night to day and features random weather patterns. You can also choose the Petit Le Mans at the Road Atlanta course, which is much shorter. Either race can be shortened, but the day/night cycles and weather patterns will be accelerated. There is a multiplayer mode and a Time Trial mode as well.

The real meat of the game play is the Championship mode. You start out only racing against a single class, such as GT or Open or Closed Prototype, but once you win each series the next championship opens up. Eventually, you get to run a real Le Mans style race where all three classes are running on the same track. The difference in speed between the prototype cars and the GT cars is quite extraordinary, so you have to pay extra attention in order to avoid speed draining collisions with slower cars or getting rear ended by faster cars. After you win each series, you earn new cars that you can use in the next championship.

Actually playing the game is a sheer joy. Each car handles differently, making each of the seventy different cars a new challenge. The physics are realistic and require you to enter and exit the corner at just the right spot and brake and accelerate at just the right time in order to maintain speed. Making a turn just right or making a last second pass at the right moment is an extremely satisfying feeling. The computer-controlled cars are smart and do anything they can to get in front of you. They even spin you out or bump you off the road just to get by.

This may sound hypocritical after my Lethal Skies review where fuel usage was such a downfall, but Le Mans 24 Hours allows you to make pit stops to change tires and add fuel and it actually makes the game better. Stopping off for gas is as easy as pulling into the pits and telling your pit crew how much you need. It is also a calculated risk because unless you have a big lead, the computer cars can and will pass you, so you\'ll have to play catch up. At least until they have to make a pit stop, that is. In driving games, realistic fuel usage adds a lot of strategy to a genre that is pretty cut and dry, unlike a flight combat game where you have enough to think about without worrying about falling out of the sky. Realistic fuel usage is just better suited to some genres rather than others.

The graphics in Le Mans 24 Hours take some getting used to. The tracks are all realistically detailed, complete with elevation changes, sand bars, a cheering crowd and everything else that goes along with a racetrack. The cars, on the other hand, look a little bit odd when you first start playing. They are too smooth and too clean and only sort of look like the real world cars they are representing. The headlights and front grille in particular are too smooth and flat looking. Once you earn more cars though, it seems like they start to look better. The drivers have limited animation inside the cars, but you can see their head moving and their arms making the turns. There is even a fully animated pit crew that changes tires and adds fuel. This detail in particular is a welcome one because most racing games don\'t bother with pit stops, let alone fully animated pit crews.

There are also some nifty special effects in Le Mans 24 Hours. There are realistic weather effects in the game, but because the tracks are so big, it can be raining on one end and sunny on the other. As it starts raining, the track slowly builds up water and begins to get greasey and slippery. The change in road conditions is smooth, gradual and realistic. There are also nighttime races that look gorgeous as well. The headlights on the cars look good from a distance but seem a bit fake when seen up close. The cars themselves look better at night than during the day, so that is a good thing. One of the nicest effects in the game is the huge cloud of dust that billows out from behind your car if you run off into the sand. It blows around for a relatively long time and looks great. Another effect is that the game keeps track of where you go off the track so there will be tire tracks through the grass that will stick around for a couple laps. Little details like these are hard to notice at first, but make the game a lot more realistic and satisfying to play.

The sound is nothing to write home about. The cars all sound different, but none of them sound right. And the sound of your own car is severely drowned out whenever there are other cars around you. The music isn\'t anything special either. The sound gets the job done, but this is yet another example of a game that could have benefited from having realistic car engine noises. The crowd cheers and reacts to what happens on the track, so that is a plus.

Overall, there is a lot to like about Le Mans 24 Hours. I am a racing game junkie and will play just about anything. It has to be noted that if you are a Gran Turismo fan on the PlayStation and PS2, you will probably like this game. There isn\'t as much tweaking and upgrading and tuning, but Le Mans 24 Hours captures the same feel and gives you the same satisfaction as Gran Turismo 3, so it is definitely worth checking out. If you aren\'t a big racing game fan, you probably won\'t dig Le Mans 24 Hours too much. If you are a racing fan, Le Mans 24 Hours is the PC game of choice.