Gangsta Race is actually two flavors of the classic 2D top down racer in one title. It's first and foremost a racing title, where you hit the streets with up to five other opponents and cruise around enclosed road tracks that are set in urban areas but are obviously fenced off from pedestrian traffic. The second portion of Gangsta Race works on similar principles but it plays on the first word of the game's title. This mode introduces weapons on each of the vehicles as well as powerups that can be employed to impede your opponent's progress. Either way, Gangsta Race is a fun, accessible and great looking racing game that manages to get everything about a 2D racer right on the Pocket PC. Not bad for developers Garga, whose last game was a first person shooter!
While the racing in Gangsta Race is not professional, in that it's not affiliated with any real racing venue (Indy, Nascar, Cart, etc.) its layout and format is a professional one indeed. Upon seeing the artwork in the menu shell and throughout the game, I was reminded of Sega's Crazy Taxi franchise; another off the wall racing title. You begin the game by selecting a persona, which can be chosen from a serious of wacky comic figureheads. Then, you can choose the game mode (shooter or racing) and difficulty level but these choices are permanent and exclusive. You can't play the game half way on shooter mode and change over. But fear not, Gangsta Race has a ton of save slots for your budding race crew.
Gangsta Race follows traditional arcade racers by pilfering from real life car models and assigning them generic characteristics. The usual rules of physics apply. Some cars can go very fast but have horrible handling. Some work the opposite way. You can choose your vehicle before each race so if one doesn't work out for the current track, you can exchange it for something more suitable.
There's no money or unlocked cars involved but the tracks are all locked save for the initial one set in France and they are unlocked in a linear fashion. After France, you can proceed to England, so on and so forth. The tracks increase in difficulty but you're welcome to attack them however times you want and replay older tracks as well.
There are a few requisite elements that a 2D top down racer must get right on a handheld format or arguably, any platform. The first is visibility. How far ahead are you able to see? How dynamic is the camera movement? Gangsta Race nails the delicate balance between how big your cars are and how far ahead you can see. The track design also helps by not being too long in tooth so to make the races boring but it also manages to avoid being too abrupt, by fitting in too many short narrow turns. Thankfully, the developers of Gangsta Race know what they are doing and that translates into you knowing what you're doing at all times during the race when on the tarmac.
It's important to mention the developers and what they've done before because it has direct bearing on the raw performance of Gangsta Race on the Pocket PC. They previously developed a first person shooter for the monochrome Casio Pocket Viewer, retrofitting a less than $100 organizer with one of the most demanding gaming genres today. I don't know how they did that but when they ported that title to the Pocket PC, it ran blazingly fast. Gangsta Race is no different but I imagine they coded it with the same magic they had for the Casio Pocket Viewer. The graphics move at a clip pace and give a good conveyance of speed without being too jerky or having excessive motion blur. In fact, the only slowdown you'll find is when you roll over someone's caltrops. One word came to my mind when I looked at Gangsta Race in motion: smooth. The game has a fast framerate, even without XScale processors and ATI graphic acceleration and that's something you can't see from the perfectly still screenshots alone.
Some of this is due to techno wizardry. The terrain isn't heavily detailed in Gangsta Race, perhaps to give that smooth feeling when in motion. There are no dithered textures because the colors are solid. The artist's choice of colors is one of vibrance, making the tracks look unmistakably like the old plastic maps I used to race my metal cars on.
The visuals are accompanied by equally strong audio components. An upbeat soundtrack accompanies the racing action. The music, however, tends to overwhelm the sound effects on the default setting. Speaking of effects, the weapons here don't sound too spectacular. When you turn around tight corners, Gangsta Race throws out some good tire screeches but the weapons you unload on to other cars don't get the same treatment.
The weapons themselves aren't out of the ordinary. You get the usual oil slicks and caltrops as defensive measures. There's also a pushable bomb that you can propel towards people ahead of you (fairly useless if you're the leader of the race). The default gun you're armed with is nothing more than a pea shooter but you can drive around until you pick up a rocket launcher to do some real damage. All in all, the weapons don't overwhelm the racing component, which is a good thing. But they do make a difference compared to the orthodox racing mode.
Not too steep in difficulty, Gangsta Race is pretty lenient. You're allowed to retry tracks however many times you want. Moreover, when you're destroyed in the race, you simply respawn where you left off. The only penalty is the need to accelerate again. The AI in the game does a lot of kissing, especially when it's trying to box you behind it. Easier levels reduce their ferocity noticeably. At the easiest difficulty, you shouldn't have too much problem lapping the competition. But they do put up a fight when it comes to the more difficult combat heavy races.
Good AI is all about balance. In some racing titles, you can give the AI racers a few laps head start and still manage to squeeze into the top spot by the final race. Gangsta Race usually throws more than a dozen laps at you due to the short length of the tracks. That means for a good racer, you can probably catch up even if you're a lap behind. But that doesn't mean if you're dead last, the AI racers will be complete pushovers at the top.
Furthermore, the difficulty is augmented by increasingly complex tracks. As you progress, you'll notice the tracks tend to loop back and intersect each older pathways. There is an on screen guide and on the pavement, Gangsta Race provides some painted cues to direct the traffic. However, novices may still be caught going the wrong way because of the cramped nature of the roadways. Thus, you don't get too much warning if you're just depending on the painted directions on the pavement. A flashing arrow would have been a more effective indicator.
Aside from that, there's nothing really to complain about Gangsta Race. It's fun and incredibly accessible with a very low learning curve. Unlike most racers today, it lacks the complexities of Japanese-inspired Gran Turismo features, like car improvements, driver upgrades or specific timed objectives. You can play the racing modes by stylus only but manipulating weapons will require use of the PDA buttons. Incidentally, you can choose to play via PDA buttons only and in different landscape/portrait orientations. Moreover, there appears to be a menu option for custom tracks, which should be a great way to extend the life of this title as it possesses no support for multiplayer. That, the anemic sound effects and the lack of flashing direction indicators are all the faults I could find with Gangsta Race. Upon reviewing Gangsta Race when it reached the finishing line, I can honestly say it crossed that line triumphantly.
[07/10] Program Size
[14/15] Learning Curve
[ N/A ] Multiplayer