Monday, October 24, 2005

Cross Racing Championship 2005 Review

Cross Racing Championship 2005, developed by Invictus and published by Graphsim Entertainment.
The Good: Happy medium between arcade and simulation, great graphics, different kinds of racing, variable difficulty, well implemented career mode, aggressive AI, hit and swap racing
The Not So Good: System hog, must unlock additional tracks and cars using career mode, no multiplayer matchmaking, sensitive controls
What say you? A fun to drive racing game: 7/8

One of my favorite neglected racing games of the past was 1nsane, which I reviewed in the distant past. It was a simple off-road racing game with multiple game modes and good racing action. I liked it. The developer of that game, Invictus, is back with a new offering for racers everywhere: Cross Racing Championship 2005. This is a more traditional racing game that takes place on various on-road and off-road tracks in exotic (meaning Hungary) locations throughout the world.

The graphics in Cross Racing Championship 2005 are first-rate, if you have the system to run them. The car models are well done, although wrecks could have resulted in more (any?) sheet metal damage and frame contortions, rather than a gradual addition of dirt on the shiny paint job. The environments are varied, and a lot of the levels have a distinct difference between lighted and shadowed areas, something that a lot of games miss. It is quite difficult to see in the shade, and you may lose track of where the road actually is located. The environments are well detailed in terms of textures, although there could have been slightly more done with roadside extras. You do need to heed the system requirements for this game, especially with several cars on the screen at once. It looks nice, but comes at a price. The sound for Cross Racing Championship 2005 is quite typical for a racing game: throaty engines backed by dance/techno music. Overall, a rather average affair in the sound department.

Cross Racing Championship 2005’s main feature is the career mode, where you start out as a young racer with only a dream and a semi-decent car. The career mode sells itself as being “non-linear,” but this is a bit misleading. By finishing well in each race (usually third or higher), you unlock the next race or upgrades to your vehicle. A good thing about the career mode is that you do not need to win every race in order to advance to the next one, something that can prove to be quite frustrating in other racing games. However, you really need to get all the upgrades you can for the final race of each series, where the AI is the toughest. If you gain upgrades in later races, you can go back and reattempt earlier events in order to maximize your car’s abilities, which is an interesting dynamic. You can also try and unlock each race at any difficulty level, although more difficult races will result in more prestige for your driver. The “non-linear” method of the career mode really means that after the first series of races, you have a choice between several series that you can compete in. All told, there are 65 races in the career mode, all of which take place on pavement, dirt, or off-road. Once you unlock the races and cars in career mode (I hate unlocking stuff), you can play quick races at a single track, time trials against the clock, free rides to practice any particular circuit, and against other opponents over direct IP (no matchmaking…grrr). There are some (well, one) very interesting race types in quick race mode. You can do the classic circuit race, or play knockout (where the last place car is eliminated each lap until one remains) or my new favorite hit and swap. In hit and swap, if you collide into another car, you take control of their car and vice versa. This means to pass someone, you only need to run into the back of him. You can imagine the strategies you can employ, intentionally spinning out your car as you run into theirs to get a big lead. This makes for some intense racing, and is something I don’t think I’ve seen in other racing games. Also, you can play hot seat mode among several players at the same computer controlling the same car for a specified number of laps each during a race, which is another unique addition to the genre. There are eight different cars to choose from (but only 1 unlocked initially), including rally-style cars, trucks, buggies, and roadsters. They could have made a greater variety of similar vehicles, but it’s not really needed and would probably be a waste of hard drive space. There are tools available to make new cars that can be driven in the game, so hopefully we’ll see some mods that will expand the features of the game further.

Cross Racing Championship 2005 has a driving model that is somewhere in between arcade and simulation. The cars have realistic speeds and acceleration, but typically have higher grip than their real world counterparts would. Personally, I like the physics in the game, as they are easy to learn without being too exaggerated. In order to fully enjoy the game, you do need to drive with some kind of analog input (dual analog gamepad, joystick, wheel). The cars tend to spin out if you make hard turns at speed, so subtle adjustments are needed, which can only be done through non-digital means. And honestly, if you’re playing a PC racing game with the keyboard, you are an idiot. Spend $15 and get a joystick, cheapskate! The cars are normally fun to drive, although some of the models require manual upshifting even with automatic transmission engines; cars tend to stay at high RPMs without upshifting while traversing uneven terrain, so you need to give them a nudge. The AI in Cross Racing Championship 2005 plays very dirty, intentionally running into your car even at their detriment. It’s actually quite fun to drive against them, as winning a race may not reflect who has the fastest car, but which driver successfully wrecked out the others. The joy in eliminating half the field with a well-placed pick maneuver is something that is not matched by most racing games that discourage contact between cars (NASCAR sims for one). The AI will also make mistakes, usually in the places that you would expect human opponents to do so (in tight corners, for instance). This type of realism simulating how novice human drivers would behave is quite refreshing to see in an AI. It does seem that the AI does catch-up with a couple of laps to go, however, which makes me think it cheats some of the time to make for a more exciting race.

Cross Racing Championship 2005 is an interesting arcade-simulation racing game. Although it has a short list of available cars, it has enough different kinds of races to satisfy most racing junkies. Since finding an opponent will prove to be difficult, it’s good that the game features some aggressive but error-prone AI that is fun to race against. The game also has some above average graphics (if your system can handle them) and variable difficulty levels, which you can use to complete the not-so-non-linear career mode. Hopefully, arcade racers won’t be discouraged by slightly difficult driving and simulation racers won’t be discouraged by slightly unrealistic physics, because Cross Racing Championship 2005 is a much better than average racing experience.