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GTC Africa Review
game: GTC Africa
three star
posted by: Jeremy Kauffman
publisher: Majesco
date posted: 09:10 AM Thu Jul 25th, 2002
last revision: 06:00 AM Fri Sep 23rd, 2005

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You know you are in for a different kind of racing game when the first thing you see in the opening movie is the close-up profile of a giraffe. With these games I expect to be assaulted by squealing tires, roaring engines, some blaring rock and roll-something garish and flashy that screams racer right from the start. Instead I was watching one of Africa\'s cuter, quieter, and stranger animals. But then, GTC Africa is a strange animal in and of itself. A bit too temperamental for the casual gamer, and a bit too simplistic for the hardcore racer, it is a decent game that could have been great.

GTC Africa combines rally style driving with competitive circuit races. In other words, it is a rally racer that puts other cars on the track to compete against you. This is fine by me. I get a kick out of the loose and crazy handling of a rally car tearing across the dirt, but I am not a ticking clock kind of guy. I need an opponent to jostle with.

This game doesn\'t just play with the rules of rally racing, however. In fact, GTC Africa is vast array of different side steps of convention. Rather than taking the \"bigger is better\" route, throwing a hundred or more cars and infinite possibilities for customization at you, this game has taken a much simpler approach. There are nine cars to choose from: the Mitsubishi Evolution, Subaru Impreza, Pontiac Vibe, Grand-Am, and Firebird, and Ford Mustang, Cougar, Focus, and Escort Cosworth. There is no customization (unless you count choosing between manual or automatic transmission). And forget racing for trophies or cash; you are vying for the approval of your team.

Gameplay consists of Championship, Challenge, Single Race, Practice, and 2-Player Modes. In Championship Mode, you begin by choosing a team. Each team has its own selection of cars, decorated with the team colors, to choose from before each race. There are three rounds of competition: East Coast Championship, North South Challenge, and African Tour-with nineteen different circuits in all. In each race, you compete for points (first place is ten points, second is six, and so on) that earn you a place in the league table. The racer with the most points at the end of the round is the winner. You must win to move on to the next round. (Sounds a little like kart racing, doesn\'t it?) If you perform well, and do not damage your team\'s car during the race, you will increase your standing within the team and are allowed more time to complete the next race. If you perform poorly or damage the car, your popularity will decrease, along with your time limit. Your status is represented by a percentage: 50% indicates indifference from your team, anything higher is positive, lower is negative. (Sounds a little like high school, doesn\'t it?) Challenge Mode is a bizarre collection of mini games that include racing around an oval track while trying to catch up to or stay ahead of your opponent, uphill and downhill mountain runs, and more. The other modes are exactly what you would expect.

The real draw of GTC Africa, however, is the locales. The continent of Africa contains some of the most beautiful and varied landscapes in the world, and the game takes every advantage, creating some of the most unique racing circuits I have ever seen in a video game. You will race across sweeping plateaus, up and down steep hills, and encounter every kind of terrain imaginable-gripping tarmac, loose sand, grass, dirt, mud, ice-often all on the same track. Take the Kenya course, which begins on a winding dirt trail up a hill, your journey punctuated by a grand waterfall, then takes you into the thick of the jungle, the slippery track taking several tight, ninety degree plus turns, only to then open up onto the baked dirt roads of a desert. Or the Tanzania race, which takes you up a ferociously steep and icy incline, then back down to the barren, sandy desert, and up again. Many of the courses are a completely different experience, not only from the other tracks in the game, but from any other game on the market. Be sure to read the information given to you on the loading screen slates. Not only do they pass the time and give you a geography lesson (I now know that Libya boarders the Mediterranean Sea between Egypt and Tunisia, is home to Red Castle and the Assai al-Hamra, has a population of 5 million, and its capitol is Tripoli). They also provide valuable information about the conditions of the upcoming track. For instance, in Zimbabwe the conditions read: short tarmac section with dirt track descending into a twisting, muddy gorge, then winding sharply through the country side. Once you know that, you can at least prepare for the wild ride to come.

Graphically, the game performs all over the place. The landscapes can be gorgeous, overwhelmingly so at times. The waterfalls are rendered with rainbows and spray. There are boggy depots, open plains, and mountain vistas. Many of the levels are populated with native wildlife. The effects are there, too. The game does a good job with dust, flying mud, and blinding sunlight. Yet, the drab textures and constant shimmer over every detail make it all pretty unconvincing. There are aliasing problems everywhere. And the different graphical elements do not blend very well. The cars, which are nowhere near as pretty as GT3\'s, are too shiny and rendered without a lot of weight on the screen. They do not match the shimmering landscape at all, which in turn is incongruous to the near photo-realistic sky. It looks like three obvious elements were placed on top of one another without any care taken for continuity.

The sound is abysmal. The engines sound like toys and when another car passes you their engine blares obnoxiously and then disappears. The soundtrack is a muted, repetitive blend of techno and poorly replicated African song. Those who have gotten used to games that take advantage of the PS2\'s bag of audio tricks will be sorely disappointed.

There are many gameplay issues that drag down the fun-factor as well. For starters, the funky kart style point system can be frustrating. As there are no rewards for individual levels (except that you unlock the courses in single race and multiplayer modes), and second place in the round equals failure, it is possible to play through a great deal of the game and come up empty handed. The AI is very uneven, going from vicious to oblivious, perfect to incompetent in the blink of an eye. Given that this is a rally racer, your car is surprisingly encumbered by off-road terrain. You are fine within a few feet of the track, but stray any further and you will go from 150mph to 30mph almost instantaneously, and your car will handle like crap-much more so than you would expect. Plus, your car gets hung up on the most idiotic background elements. Hitting small shrubs and tall patches of grass will stop you dead in your tracks. And it is curious that, although vehicle damage is calculated at the end of each race and factored into your team standing, it does not affect your car\'s performance, nor is it ever seen. Roll your car onto its side and it will right itself--almost instantly.

In the end, GTC Africa may have played a bit too much with the conventions of the genre. The point and popularity system incorporated into the Championship Mode is unique, but may be a bit much for racing fans to swallow. And although nineteen different courses are a lot when compared to most games, nine cars divided among the teams are not. The set up is simple, but the execution can be frustrating. The courses themselves, however, are some of the best to ever grace a video game. Strange, diverse, and intense, these are tracks that every racing fan must experience. And by that virtue, GTC Africa is a highly recommended rental, though I would refrain from purchasing the game until trying it out.