Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Classic Car Racing Review

Classic Car Racing, developed by Xbow Software and published by 1C Company on Gamer’s Gate.
The Good: Pleasing relaxed simulation driving, aggressive but fallible opponents are fun to compete against, a number of cars and tracks, graphics aren't terrible
The Not So Good: No multiplayer, doesn't take long to unlock everything, a bit overpriced
What say you? Solid driving physics and human-like AI highlight this racing game: 6/8

Go grease lightning, you’re burning up the quarter mile. Grease lightning, go grease lightning. Go grease lightning, you’re coasting through the heat lap trial. Go grease lightning, go grease lightning. As I am getting sued by Paramount Pictures for copyright infringement, please enjoy this review of Classic Car Racing, a game inspired by those more innocent times when men were men and women wore poodle skirts, possible made from poodles.

The graphics of Classic Car Racing are actually not bad, which was a shock to me. While the environments are repetitive (the races take place in what is apparently coastal California), they are populated with enough track side objects (houses, people, fencing, et cetera) to make it seem at least somewhat varied. The sundry (an odd synonym) track layouts help matters are well. The car models are also well-done, with a nice attention to detail. While damage effects are minimal (shattered windows, mostly), your driver is animated and you can see shifting in the cockpit. That said, there is severe pop-in with distant trees even with all of the graphical options turned up, which obviously takes away from the immersion. The game also resets all of my graphics settings each time I start: an annoying bug. Still, though, Classic Car Racing looks better than most low-priced racing games. The game is complete with period-specific music that is marginally enjoyable, and your typical effects for racing games. The tire screeching sound is the least plausible of any of the sound bytes, but the remainder of the package delivers. Classic Car Racing does hold its own in terms of both graphics and sound.

Considering the uneven pedigree of Russian import games (awesome followed by terrible followed by OK), my expectations were lowered from the outset. I was initially a little worried when I had to sit through the opening videos: this is usually never a good sign. The main crux of Classic Car Racing is the career mode, where you race on the game’s twelve tracks, earning cash to upgrade your sweet ride. You can do a single race on any track that has been previously unlocked; this has absolutely no point, since you can race them again in the career mode and earn money that way. Single races would have been necessary if Classic Car Racing had multiplayer, but it does not: an important missing feature in any racing game. Every race features only four cars, and you must finish third or better in each race to unlock the next set of four tracks. There is no cost for entering races and you always earn cash, even if you finish in last. You can also re-enter races as many times as you want, so the career mode is just a matter of grinding through the races long enough to upgrade your car and make it superior to the AI drivers. The races take place on point-to-point tracks (meaning no laps on a circuit), which I feel fits the theme of the game well. What 50's muscle car races had people turning laps? It was the first person to the beach/aqueduct/natural history museum. Because there are only twelve races and each race takes around three minutes to complete, you can finish the entire game in under an hour; the lack of multiplayer offerings eliminates any reason to go back and play Classic Car Racing again.

We get eighteen generic cars that are visual knockoffs of classic American muscle vehicles from the period. Once you choose your winning car, it depreciates in value dramatically (just like in real life). The cash you earn from races can be spent on shiny new parts in several areas: engine, suspension, brakes, transmission, body, tires, and paint. In fact, the upgrade options are identical to Xpand Rally, and then I figured out why: Classic Car Racing uses the same game engine, so I guess the developers decided to plagiarize the upgrades as well. The identical options extend to the car setup, where you can tweak the suspension, brakes, steering, and gearing. Now, this is where using the same options is silly: why would I want an off-road setup with a soft suspension when all the tracks are paved?

Now for the racing: it’s actually pretty enjoyable. This is thanks in large part to the AI, which strikes a good balance between being good and not acting like a robot. Your computer opponents will stick to the track, but will also run into you (and each other) for position and occasionally lose control when taking a turn too fast: just like a novice driver would. Once you upgrade your car, things get a lot easier (almost trivially so), but I still can’t consistently finish in first, so there is still some challenge involved. They are not immune to stupidity, however, occasionally flipping their cars by running into each other. The driving physics is also well executed, assuming you select “simulation” settings like a real PC gamer would. You actually have to brake in order to navigate turns successfully, in stark contrast to a lot of arcade racing games that require no skill in this area. The cars are very loose with no downforce, at least before you upgrade them. Physics could be improved when you run into other objects, especially guard rails, which stop your vehicle cold instead of allowing you to glance and slide along side. There is a severe penalty for crashing into objects, and damage affects car performance slightly. You can occasionally find magic wrenches to instantly repair your car, though (there are typically one or two per track). Coins can also be collected that will add some additional cash for upgrades. You will also respawn if you hit a pedestrian: no GTA-style carnage here. As short-lived as it is, Classic Car Racing offers some fun racing against competent AI that’s above your typical racing title.

I was pleasantly surprised with Classic Car Racing: the graphics are good, the AI drivers are capable opponents that exhibit human-like behaviors, and the physics (for the most part) deliver solid driving. The game is short, though: only twelve races fly by, and the lack of multiplayer options means once you are done, you are done. There is a good number of cars and you can spend money on upgrades, although the upgrades were stolen from another racing game and some of the setup options are pointless as all of the races take place on pavement. The AI drivers will keep you busy, as one bad wreck where you are turned around will relegate you to fighting for last place. There is the occasional AI quirk, to be sure, but for the most part they hold their own. The physics also strikes a good balance between arcade and simulation: cars are a bit loose and crashing into objects has inconsistent results, but the racing overall is quite pleasant. $30 is a little overpriced for the content ($20 would have been much more reasonable), but Classic Car Racing clearly falls in to the “not bad” racing game classification: a solid podium finish.