Saturday, October 08, 2005

No Brakes: 4x4 Racing Review

No Brakes: 4x4 Racing, developed and published by Exotypos.
The Good: Good arcade physics model, realistic and fallible AI, variety of track environments
The Not So Good: Generic suite of cars, poor performance for the low graphical quality, not polished
What say you? A fun but unrefined arcade racing game with engaging AI: 5/8

POORLY WRITTEN INTRODUCTION
The Internet is a wonderful thing. Without it, we wouldn’t have the constant deluge of information that attempts to cripple our daily lives. In addition, we wouldn’t have access to games developed by small developers without a large budget to warrant pressing CDs and shipping them to stores. No Brakes: 4x4 Racing is a racing game developed by Exotypos that tries to bring back the (good) old days of arcade racing around simple tracks.

GRAPHICS AND SOUND
No Brakes: 4x4 Racing features some very outdated graphics. The game has blocky environments with some detail elements, such as fencing and houses. The cars fare slightly better, but are still box-like Eastern European budget automobiles. They do have some dynamic damage, but this is just some dirt of the cars rather than vertex bending and sheet metal damage. The graphics in No Brakes: 4x4 Racing are very similar to those seen in the original The Need for Speed, which was released in 1995. That means the graphics in No Brakes: 4x4 Racing are about 10 years behind the times, but luckily cutting-edge pretty pictures are not the draw of No Brakes: 4x4 Racing. Complicating this low graphical quality is the fact that the game severly lags when a lot of cars are drawn. This is quite surprising, considering how bad the game looks when compared with, say, Battlefield 2 or NASCAR SimRacing, both of whuch run much faster on the same machine. The sound is slightly better, but only because car racing games are not known for their awesome effects. As long as you have the rumble of automobiles present, not many people will complain, and this is what you can expect from No Brakes: 4x4 Racing. The background music is techo, which seems to be a requirement for a racing game. No Brakes: 4x4 Racing has fairly basic sounds, but there isn’t much variety to see in a racing game anyway.

FEATURES
No Brakes: 4x4 Racing has four game “modes,” if you can call them that. The game suffers somewhat in translation and from the lack of a manual, as there is much guessing as to what the game modes actually are. There are trial races (quick races), evolution (career mode), tournament (a series of specific tracks), and leaving (I have no idea). In evolution mode, you are given an amount of cash, and can trade new and used racing vehicles, which is original. You select the car of your choice, and head out for the track. Tournament mode is a series of tracks, but there is no point system, so it’s actually pointless. There is also multiplayer, but only through direct IP or LAN. It seems like the alternative racing modes were put in with the intention of adding some depth later on, but it is not present in the game’s current form.

CARS AND TRACKS
The cars themselves are a painfully generic collection of vehicles, with pick-up trucks, wagons, SUVs, and sedans. All of the cars are given confusing names and are not assigned performance statistics in the game as they all pretty much drive the same. If anyone can tell me the difference between the Vaz 2120 and the Vaz 21213, let me know. Apparently there is some differentiation because they are priced differently in the evolution mode, but I don’t know what it is. I’m just assuming that higher numbers are better cars, but I don’t know for sure. The tracks are designed with the game in mind: simple, easy to navigate with minor jumps and blind turns. Each track takes place in a different environment, such as forests, tropics, and hills, which adds some variety to the game, because otherwise you wouldn’t know the difference between each track. The tracks are more of an arena for the races to take place in, rather than signature environments.

PHYSICS IS PHUN!
If No Brakes: 4x4 Racing doesn’t have graphics, sound, and features going for it, the rest of the game takes up the slack. First, the game has a pretty good arcade physics model. The tracks are designed to take advantage of this, as they are littered with small bumps and rises to throw your car around. Since the game is called No Brakes, you’d expect never to use the brakes, and this is true. At most, you’ll need to let off the accelerator once during a race for a tight turn. The cars handling is actually pretty good, as you won’t constantly spin out unless you hold down the turn controls. You can make small adjustments easily, and because of the wide-open nature of the tracks, this is what you’ll be doing most of the time. I liken the physics engine to a slightly more realistic version of Trackmania Sunrise, which is a compliment.

ARTIFICIAL INTELLIGENCE (aka A.I.)
The highlight of No Brakes: 4x4 Racing is the AI. This game has some of the most realistic and human-like drivers I have ever seen in any racing game, and this includes recent big-budget games. In most games, the AI follows the pre-programmed line, reacts slightly to other objects and other drivers, but basically drives each track the same every time and never makes any mistakes unless caused by the player. This results in very boring racing where you essentially are racing against the clock instead of other drivers, since the best computer driver will finish the race in about the same amount of time every race. I’m looking directly at you Need for Speed, taking my money and giving me identical racing every time. Jerks. The AI here makes mistakes on their own, running into objects when it takes a turn too close of overcorrects. The AI here races other drivers, sometimes causing a big wreck. For once, the AI behaves like a human opponent, making mistakes and providing an interesting race. They are actually fun to race against, unlike perfect opponents seen in other games. I’m looking directly at you NASCAR SimRacing, taking my money and giving me robotic AI. Jerks. The AI is easily the draw of No Brakes: 4x4 Racing.

IN CLOSING
No Brakes: 4x4 Racing is the opposite of almost every other racing game. Most high-budget games feature spectacular graphics and multiple racing modes with simplistic AI and erroneous physics. No Brakes: 4x4 Racing focuses on the more important parts of a racing game that makes it fun: good AI and physics. It does look and sound rough, but I’m willing to forgive some of this for the above average gameplay. I could only imagine what No Brakes: 4x4 Racing would be like if it had an inflated budget and could afford upgraded graphics. If that were the case it’d probably be bought by EA in a hostile takeover, so I suppose it’s better off like it is. If you’re not turned off by sub-par graphics (and if you are, you are a shallow, brainless console gamer), then check out the AI of No Brakes: 4x4 Racing.