Sunday, September 21, 2008

FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3 Review

FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3, developed by Techland and published on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Unique style of racing, graphics are mostly good
The Not So Good: Difficult to drive and there's no tutorial or manual to help, easy AI is still challenging for beginners, single races are pointless
What say you? It’s unique to be sure, but it's tough to learn and different doesn’t necessarily mean better: 5/8

If I know one thing, it is European stadium dirt bike racing. Just kidding. Actually, I saw this on Gamer’s Gate and said, “huh, that looks different.” So here we are, a review of FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3. I am a fan of quality racing simulations and it's always good to try something new (like Brussels sprouts). Plus, the developer is responsible for Xpand Rally, which was a good game. Off to the races!

FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3 uses the Chrome engine that was implemented in previous racing games, and the result is generally high quality. The drivers are highly detailed and probably look like their real-life counterparts (because we all know what Rune Holta looks like). There are some shadowing issues (especially when the riders are on the podium), but they do look realistic. The bikes and stadiums also take their cues from real life, putting you in the middle of a believable environment. The only sore spot of the graphics is, surprisingly, the dirt: it looks more like a solid cloud than a collection of particles. Since you'll be seeing dust pretty much all of the time, it is a noticeable shortcoming. The audio fares much worse: while the bikes sounds are fine, the commentary is atrocious. The game combines loud and soft sound bytes that are welded together to make for some really outdated commentary that belongs in the early 1990's. The music is also not that good, although the disjointed commentary overshadows it completely. It's too bad the Chrome engine does not provide good audio content, because FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3 looks fine.

FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3 pits four riders against each other in a four-lap shootout, tearing around short dirt and gravel tracks. This in of itself is a unique take on racing, more akin to monster truck rallies than your typical motorcycle or auto racing event. The game comes with pointless single races (the four-lap format doesn't lend itself to a minute-long race), a single tournament, or the entire grand prix season. The game comes with all 15 drivers and 11 tracks features in the 2008 season, so that's pretty cool (it's amazing what an official license will do!). While only four riders race at the same time, you will participate in four races during a single tournament, with the drivers earning the most points moving on to the eight rider semi-finals. A complete tournament only takes about ten minutes from start to finish, assuming you simulate all of the races your rider skips. The grand prix gives out points for each event throughout the year and includes a garage to make small tweaks to your motorcycle. There is also support for online multiplayer, but I never saw anyone else in the in-game browser, so I can't say how this part of the game fared.

So FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3 features everything the real series does, how does the racing stack up? Well, I have played my fair share of racing games, both simulation and arcade, and I had a heck of a time getting used to the mechanics here. The game doesn't come with a tutorial or manual to tell you how you should drive; translating what the background movies are showing (or what the AI drivers are doing) into controller actions is difficult. Making things more frustrating is that the “easy” AI drivers are still very capable competitors: not a good thing for a beginning rider. There is also a very fine line between clean racing and being disqualified. “Exclusions” are very common when you are starting out, as running into another competitor or going too far to the inside of the track result in a last place finish. Because of the lack of tutorials and the inherent difficulty of the semi-realistic physics, I can only recommend FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3 to followers of the series that know how to drive these vehicles in an expedient manner.

FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3 delivers exactly what it should: all of the tracks, drivers, and racing action that the real series has. The graphics are pleasing (although the sound is definitely not), multiplayer support is there (although apparently not used), and the AI drivers are capable opponents. However, the lack of a manual and tutorial and the style of racing bring a large learning curve that most people probably won't be able to overcome. The racing can get good once you learn how to drive the game, but the niche status of the sport and its truly unique driving limits the overall appeal. If you don't know what speedway grand prix racing is, then there not much reason to play FIM Speedway Grand Prix 3 unless you can adapt to the unique style of racing.