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by LucasArts and Rainbow Studios

6-01.jpg (4246 bytes)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.

11-01.jpg (5782 bytes)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.

12-01.jpg (5922 bytes)Podracing is really about two things: speed and aggression. I don’t 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 mistake—this is a vehicle combat game. Each of your engines has a health bar, and if either one reaches zero—blammo! 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.

18-01.jpg (6921 bytes)The game 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 bitch).

16-01.jpg (7423 bytes)Racer 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 game’s bigger flaws, because while it is intense and fun, it doesn’t 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.

17-01.jpg (7522 bytes)The screen 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).

8-01.jpg (7667 bytes)The default 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 I—using 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.

19-01.jpg (7744 bytes)Speaking of 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 Anakin’s 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.

23-01.jpg (8369 bytes)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.

3-01.jpg (9426 bytes)The graphics 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 good—I was expecting better water effects (your pod doesn’t 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.

7-01.jpg (9962 bytes)The sound is what we have come to expect from our beloved Star Wars franchise—fabulous. 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.

13-01.jpg (6320 bytes)It’s 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 spades—load 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 can’t 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, it’s 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 Jabba’s favorite champions? 

Jeremy Kauffman   (04/16/2002)


Ups: Excellent sense of speed; nice visuals; great HUD.

Downs: Some boring tracks; graphics are wanting in some spots.

Platform: PlayStation 2