Sunday, October 14, 2007

Ducati World Championship Review

Ducati World Championship, developed by Artematica and published by Strategy First.
The Good: Multiple game modes, quality points are interesting
The Not So Good: Unrealistic physics and handling, no difference between arcade and simulation modes, boring circuits, laggy menus with no mouse control, must use gamepad to navigate menus to use it during the race, can’t assign an axis to the throttle or brake, sporadic AI, no online or LAN multiplayer, outdated graphics with a jerky camera, poor sound with an outrageously annoying and repetitive crew chief, most content must be unlocked
What say you? There’s no reason to play this archaic motorcycle racing game: 3/8

There are plenty of niche motorsports taking to tracks around the world. One of these is motorcycle racing, featuring riders going entirely too fast on small two-wheeled vehicles inches from the ground protected by a helmet. I didn’t say it was very smart. There have been several notable motorcycle racing games published on the PC, from the MotoGP series to…well…the MotoGP series (oh, and I liked Superbike 2000). A new (maybe) entrant into the fray is Ducati World Championship, a racing title that features Ducati motorcycles (surprise!). Will this simulation give us reason to race with only two wheels?

Both the sound and the graphics of Ducati World Championship are terribly outdated. This game looks to be a port from a console game (evidenced by the lack of mouse input) and I’m not sure how old the console game is: Ducati World Championship features some really ancient graphics. The effects are underwhelming at best: there is no grass or dirt flying or collecting on the wheels (something I vividly remember from Superbike 2000), just sparks flying every once in a while. The textures are bad and lack detail, from the riders to the bikes to the tracks. The track design is bland with not much detail paid to the track surface or the surroundings. The racers experience a canned seizure-like crashing animation that makes no sense and certainly doesn’t involve rag doll physics (a fun (albeit disturbing) possibility in a motorcycle game) and shake their fist at passing motorists. Ducati World Championship also has a jerky camera that has a difficult time focusing on the action, constantly shifting small increments behind your bike; I don’t know if this is intentional or not, but it is certainly annoying. Plus, Ducati World Championship can’t display at 1280x1024, a pretty common resolution these days with LCD monitors. Ducati World Championship is not even close to the bar set by RACE 07 in terms of graphics; I have no idea why this game takes up nearly 3 GB of hard drive space. The sound design in the game is as bad as the graphics. The Ducati motorcycles sound whiny instead of manly, the crew chief screams annoying phrases at you (such as “DRIVE FASTAAAAAAAAA”), and I don’t know what the sound effect that’s played when you exit a menu is supposed to be, but it sounds like a cat being castrated. Plus, Ducati World Championship features a horrible soundtrack full of poor alternative metal. Ducati World Championship is like a dumb ugly girl: painful to look at and listen to.

The only thing saving Ducati World Championship from complete mediocrity is the multiple racing modes. The game comes complete with quick races, a career mode where you advance through three classes, and a points championship using the racing bikes. The career mode features 60 events scattered over three classes; you can change the setup of your bike (although the results are minimal and the options include “low,” “medium,” and “high”). New bikes are unlocked and magically put in your garage with good finishes. It’s a good way to get you introduced to the game. The championship mode features 14 events using the top class of bikes where the top 15 drivers earn points towards the cup. Also, there is the “capirex challenge” where you must complete specific objectives like perform wheelies and other special moves, or racing in endurance races against other riders. Again, this is a nice feature. Multiplayer is disappointingly only possible on the same computer, as Ducati World Championship lacks online or LAN play. You do get to play multiplayer matches as a deathmatch, best of series, or for total points, and you can include AI drivers or just race one on one. This is a pretty good set of features for a racing game; sadly, the rest of Ducati World Championship is so horrible.

Ducati World Championship features about 30 circuits (although some are alternate layouts of other tracks) and all are the same comfortable width and not very challenging. There are four kinds of bikes in the game (classic, sport, superbike, and racing), but the only difference is that they go progressively faster. There are some control issues with the game: in addition to the lack of mouse control and laggy menus, you can’t assign a joystick axis or pedal to the throttle or brake (button only) and you must use the gamepad to navigate through the menus or the game will default to the keyboard (it took me about 15 minutes to figure that out, after re-setting my controls a number of times). Once you actually get to pilot one of these things, you will find completely unrealistic handling. This goes for the arcade and simulation modes: your bike goes entirely too fast around corners. This would be fine for the arcade mode, but I would expect the simulation mode to behave like a simulation (is that too much to ask?). The first couple of bikes don’t even require the brake, as you simple need to lift the accelerator for the tightest corners. The powerful (meaning faster) bikes to require some use of the brake, but it’s still not as liberal as it should be. The control scheme is pretty standard, but the game requires you to hold “up” to reach maximum speed (to lean forward and reduce drag). This supposedly reduces handling, but I didn’t see it and just kept pressing up the whole time with no ill effects. The only interesting aspect of the racing is the inclusion of quality points; they are earned by maintaining a good line or overtaking other drivers. Quality points are used for small boosts of acceleration. This is a neat way of rewarding good driving, but it makes it very easy to cheat. This is a lot like the tactical aid in World in Conflict, and that will be the last parallel between that great game and this plague. The AI in the game is very linear and not hard to beat, hardly providing a challenge as they behave like robots following in a line all the way around the track. Ducati World Championship seemingly forgets every advance made in racing simulation during the past 15 years, and it should be avoided at all costs.

Ducati World Championship is one of the worst racing games I have ever played. While there are some bright spots, such as the varied modes of play and the quality points, they are completely overshadowed by the sheer crappiness of the title as a whole. The graphics are old, the audio is painful, online multiplayer is missing, the tracks are boring, the AI is robotic, and the handling is completely wrong. Ducati should feel ashamed for having their proud name tied to this poor excuse of a game. Do yourself a favor and pick up RACE 07, a vastly superior game. Even at $20, Ducati World Championship is about fifteen years too late and the rest of the racing world has passed it by.