It is a good time to be a Star Wars
fan. Episode II is on its way, and from the look of the trailer it may be able to seduce
even the most irate Phantom Menace-bashers back to the ways of the force. To keep us busy
in the meantime, Lucas Arts is producing great Star Wars titles for every platform. From
Starfighter SE on the Xbox, Jedi Starfighter on the PS2, and Rogue Leader on the Gamecube,
to Galactic Battlegrounds on the PC, they really are at the top of their game. Even Obi
Wan, which is admittedly flawed, does lightsaber battles like never before (I got hooked).
Now they are giving PS2 owners a chance to race the pods from Episode I on a next-gen
console with Star Wars Racer Revenge.
Racer Revenge takes place eight years after the Boonta Eve Classic
of Episode I. Anakin has that whole Hayden Christensen/Padowan Learner look going on, and
Sebulba is back to regain his title from the mouth-breathing Dark Lord of the Sith to be.
Spanning across five worlds, Podracing is more popular now than ever. You know how it
goes: take an edgy underground sport like Podracing, put it in a big budget movie, and
before you know it the veterans are showing up on soda cups at Taco Bell and every wannabe
with opposable thumbs and access to a junkyard wants to join. Ah, commercialism.
really about two things: speed and aggression. I dont care what Jabba the Hut or
that wacky announcer guy says, once you are in that pod your biggest concern is not dying.
This is the feeling we got from the movie, but could never really get from any of the
games, until now. Lucas Arts struck gold when it teamed with Rainbow Studios, because when
this game is at its best, it gives you goose bumps. There are times when the sense of
speed had me feeling like that guy in the Maxell ads being blown back by the power of
great entertainment. Add to that the aggression of seven other racers who would like
nothing more than to see you go up in flames, and the situation becomes really intense.
Make no mistakethis is a vehicle combat game. Each of your engines has a health bar,
and if either one reaches zeroblammo! You take damage by running into objects or
being rammed by other racers. What keeps you in the race is the ability to slowly repair
your engines, although doing so will slow you down. Hold down the repair button and you
will slow to a crawl, tap it and your vehicle speed will decrease momentarily. After a
while this becomes a reflex, especially if you are like me and spend most of the race with
one engine limping and the other in flames. Of course, turn about is fair play. Your
opponents health bars appear above their heads as you approach them. Fewer racers on
the track will definitely improve your odds of finishing third or better. To make it even
more enticing, Watto has offered a bribe to anyone who provides him with spare parts, so
attack without remorse. It is not uncommon for a race that begins with eight racers to end
with only a few on the track, especially when you are playing a 2-player race.
begins with a few playable levels and your choice of eight different racers. As you
progress through the game, the list will increase to a total of thirteen levels and
eighteen racers. Every time you defeat (or destroy) a hidden character when they are the
track favorite, you unlock that character. Each character has a unique pod with slightly
different attributes. As you progress you will also be able to upgrade these attributes in
order to customize your pod. The nice thing about the different racers, pods, and the way
the game favors racers on certain tracks is that rivalries begin to form (Shrivel
Braittrand quickly became my favorite racer, Aldar Beedo my nemesis, and Occo Ninebar my
Revenge contains the usual array of racing options. There is Single Play, which includes
single race competition, practice and time trials; Tournament Mode, where you compete in
three different racing circuits, earn money, upgrade your pod, and unlock new levels; and
a 2-player Versus Mode. Single Play and Versus Modes allow you to adjust the number of
opponents and laps. I was disappointed to find that there was no difficulty setting,
however. This is one of the games bigger flaws, because while it is intense and fun,
it doesnt represent much of a challenge overall. I beat the game in a little over
two hours the first time I played, only having to retry a handful of races.
set up is very intuitive. The HUD is easy to read on the fly, containing damage readouts
for each engine, boost and temperature gauges (temp goes up with each boost, get too hot
and you explode), a radar, a map, lap/time indicators, and a knock out indicator (how many
pods you have destroyed).
control set up is necessarily simple, as not to distract you during your high-speed death
race. The left analog stick or D-pad is used to steer, X to accelerate, Square to brake.
Circle is your rear view, Triangle toggles through camera angles (3rd person
near, 3rd person far, one in the pod, and another just behind the engines). You
use the shoulder buttons to power slide, boost, switch to combat view, and repair. In a
stroke of brilliance, the designers also included an expert set up that allows you to
control the pod like Anakin in Episode Iusing both analog sticks to control each
engine independently. Pressing forward on the left analog stick fires up the left engine,
pulling back engages the left air brakes, and the same on the right. Press both forward
for full thrust, pull both back for full brake. Left forward/right back turns your pod to
the right, right forward/left back turns to the left. This set up is unique and takes some
getting used to, but it grows on you and is invaluable in terms of total immersion. This
is as close as we have come to really being there.
really being there, I have to mention the Boonta Eve Classic. When I first reached the
final race and saw that it was the same race from Episode I, the one in every other
version of the original game, I was a little disappointed. Then I played it. Racer Revenge
contains the best recreation of this course so far, from the caverns and caves, to
Anakins jump, to the Sand People taking shots at you. No other Podracer game on any
other system has made me feel like I was actually taking part in the race that was in the
movie. This one did. It is really amazing.
Not all of
the track designs are so inspired. Out of the thirteen courses, only six or seven of them
are exceptional or anything you would want to play over and over again. The Brightlands,
the Nightlands, and Serres Sarrano are destined to be classics. But many of the courses
take place on the same planets, and some the backdrops get repetitive. The best levels are
unpredictable, have lots of twists and turns, short cuts, different terrain, and a unique
feel. The worst of the bunch seem to go nowhere. The entire first circuit can be included
in the latter group, which may cause impatient players to give up on the game before it
gets good. It is ironic that such a fast and ferocious game would start out so slowly.
are, for the most part, very good. The game moves at a blistering frame rate, with very
little draw-in or other problems. There are lots of little details like moving parts on
the pods, dust wakes, and the character animations are clever. The crashes are impressive,
as the observer or the participant, resulting in a grand flying apart of pod and driver,
and the smoldering ruins remain on the track for each consecutive lap. The landscapes can
be gorgeous. The lighting effects used to create the blinding sun and glaring sands of the
Brightlands, and the phosphorescent vegetation of the Nightlands are brilliant. Some
elements are not so goodI was expecting better water effects (your pod doesnt
even kick up a spray), and the stalactites and stalagmites in the caverns of Tatooine look
pasted on, but these are minor. The frame rate remains constant in 2-player, though the
draw-in increases a great deal.
The sound is
what we have come to expect from our beloved Star Wars franchisefabulous. I
appreciated the fact that you could adjust the volumes of the music, voice/effects, and
announcer separately. The music has a tendency to cut out, however, and at odd times.
There will be long intervals with no music at all, and I could never figure out why. This
seems pretty clumsy.
nice to see Star Wars games being released that do more than just rely on the appeal of
the franchise. Sure, Racer Revenge has that in spadesload up the Boonta Eve Classic,
set your controls to the dual analog scheme, place the camera view inside the pod, and for
a moment you will fell like you are in the movie. But beyond that is a solid high speed
racer and vehicle combat game. The pacing is relentless. The damage and repair system
keeps you on your toes. And there is something about close vehicle combat that lobbing
missiles cant duplicate. The game has problems: it is too short, and only half of
the races hold much replay value. I have a wish list for the next installment. First, I
hope that they make it more customizable. A setting that retained the same vehicle combat
system but upped the stakes for crashes (hit the wall and you are done) would be nice, for
a little dose of realism. And this venue seems like a natural for some creative
mini-games. Even fighting games are doing this now. It would be nice to see the brain
trust behind the Podracer series think outside the track. But when this game is hot,
its worth the price to play. Unlike most racing games, Racer Revenge even has an
ending that is classic. I ask you: how secure would you feel after winning a tournament
against Jabbas favorite champions?