Game Over Online ~ Star Wars: Episode I Racer

GameOver Game Reviews - Star Wars: Episode I Racer (c) LucasArts, Reviewed by - Wongmo / Pseudo Nim /

Game & Publisher Star Wars: Episode I Racer (c) LucasArts
System Requirements Pentium 166, 32MB Ram, 3D accelerator
Overall Rating 52%
Date Published Tuesday, May 25th, 1999 at 04:52 PM

Divider Left By: Wongmo Divider Right

Star Wars Episode I: Racer is beyond a shadow of a doubt (or an empire for that matter) the most faithful reproduction of the sport of Pod Racing ever created. The amazing thing about it is that while its the most realistic simulation ever made, it is also the most cartoony. Cynical gamers will most likely point out that this is largely due to the fact that it is the only pod racer ever made. My response to these naysayers is that it shouldn't be held against LucasArts if they are the only developers with the courage and sheer chutzpah to do what others would say is impossible: release a Star Wars racing game. (At this point the aforementioned cynics will once again pipe in to point out that other companies would only consider this impossible because of licensing issues, but these people bore me.)

For anyone that prefers the soothing comforts of a padded cell to the outside world this game is based on a scene from Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. The basic premise is that Pod Racing (a thinly veiled space age version of chariot racing) is one of the fastest and deadliest sports in the galaxy, and young Anakin Skywalker is the only human with fast enough reflexes to do it. Basically LucasArts had three things to accomplish with this game. Making it feel like players were in the Star Wars universe, making it fun, and giving that overwhelming sense of speed and danger that the movie so eloquently presented. It partially succeeds on all of these counts, but also has a few gaping flaws.

Racer was co-developed for the N64 and PC. Unfortunately this causes it to suffer from many of the same problem as the recent Rogue Squadron. While the graphics aren't embarrassing, the PC version is held back by the lesser power of the N64. Most of the models are simplistic, the textures are often bland and washed out and the horizon is obscured by fog. For the gaming illiterate, this means that it essentially looks like a Nintendo 64 game, take that as you will. One of the biggest flaws with the graphics (and the game as a whole) is that the levels are extremely inconsistent. Some of them are just horrid, and others will blow you away. I should also mention that the crashes are rather unspectacular. The animations of the various pods falling apart aren't bad, but the actual explosion signaling total destruction is just horrid. I’ve been having nightmares about those explosions for the past few nights.

The sound is pretty disappointing. The music is almost all lifted directly from the movie and sounds wonderful, but defaults to only play during menus and between races. While the movie had some of the most brilliant sound effects ever put on film, the game totally fails to capture the beautiful engine sounds and crowd noise. Depending on the pod you choose to race the engine noises range from boring to numbing.

The game is broken into two parts: the racing, and the period between races where you can buy upgrades to your pod from Watto, one of the cooler characters from the movie. That second part is curiously lacking... the upgrades don't really feel like they make a huge difference, and you don't get a sense of accomplishment once you have a fully decked out pod. Even though pod racing is supposed to be one of the most difficult things in the galaxy, for the first 15 races or so there is absolutely zero challenge. None. A blind pig untrained in the ways of the force could win it. Honestly, its harder to lose than to win until you get really deep into the game. The problem is that most people will play for an hour and put it down, because after the thrill of going really fast wears off there’s not much to suck you in. I was truly surprised at the depth of the game once you become experienced though. There are advanced techniques and little tricks to learn that come in handy, but until the last few races there’s no reason to learn them. However, on a select few levels, this game is more fun than a box of soiled diapers (and I mean that in a good way, though I’m not sure how).

Let me map out my emotions as I played this game:

  • 0 minutes - Put it in and started playing. Enjoyed the sense of speed and interesting controls.
  • 15 minutes - Started to get bored because I kept winning.
  • 20 minutes - Became interested again when I discovered the first person view, which is spectacular.
  • 30 minutes - Got bored with first person view, kept on winning.
  • 1 hour - Became angry that I had to keep playing the game so I could review it.
  • 2 hours - Almost lost a race.
  • 2 1/2 hours - Lost a race. Regained interest in the game.
  • 4 hours - Discovered some advanced techniques, decided I actually liked this game after all.
  • 8 hours - Beat the whole game, felt empty inside.
  • 8 1/2 hours - Decided I didn't really like the game as much as I had thought.
  • 9 hours - Played around with all of the different pods, decided I liked the game after all, but not tremendously.
  • 10 hours - Passed out from radiation exposure.

    Star Wars Episode I: Racer only supports multiplayer through lans. Its a damn shame because it could potentially be quite fun to play with other people, but I’m guessing they just didn't have time to properly implement it because they had the rock solid deadline of the movie's release to meet.

    On the whole, this isn't a bad game. The complete lack of a challenge really takes away from it, because while it does eventually get difficult and fun, its still not good enough to justify the 'hard' work of playing through the first group of levels. Lucasarts definitely captured the speed of pod racing, especially in first person mode, but unless you are willing to stick it out until late the game, there isn't much to hold your interest.

    The Good:
    Thrilling speed, nice variety in pods, certain levels are just brilliant

    The Bad:
    Way too easy early on, bad menus, inconsistent level design


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    Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

    Star Wars – The Phantom Menace. I wonder if there was another movie so spoken about, so anticipated, so revered – except, perhaps, the original Star Wars. With all the fuss, of course, it is most understandable that there will be tons of memorabilia – everyone needs their royalties. And, of course, with all the hype the quality of these items is likely to somewhat plummet, just as long as someone buys it. However, I believe there’s a limit to which a consumer can tolerate the sloppiness – and Star Wars Episode 1: Racer dips far, far below that limit.

    This will, perhaps, be one of the most terse reviews I have ever written (and hope to ever write). Do not misunderstand – I’m an avid fan of Star Wars, and am not disgracing this game because it’s a "Star Wars thing" – but honestly, I do not believe I’ve played anything worse than this in a good while, if at all. The only decent effect in the game is the force feedback – the turbo effect is especially nice – but that’s about as much as I can say about the highs. The graphics could have been nice – had the game come out a few years ago. There are clipping problems, the graphics are completely bland, and the only "show-off" effect I saw were street lights on one of the levels, complete with a halo effect. Apart from that there’s absolutely nothing exciting visually. The sounds are ludicrously bad, being topped off by a vehicle upgrade dealer who has a horrible accent, who sounds like he’s trying hard to be part of some sort of an underground mafia. He greets you with corny phrases like "Kom bak for mooor?" and "Kant get enuuuff?" – and they just wear you out.

    The actual racing isn’t much more fun, either. There’s absolutely –no- challenge; while I haven’t changed the difficulty setting, I don’t expect an average user to – and I should at least hope the default difficulty level isn’t one that lets you lap your opponents. As I mentioned, the only fun part of the race are the force feedback effects – frankly, this is the first game in which I more or less enjoyed my joystick. The framerate is very high, as well; on my Voodoo 2 SLI configuration, 1024x768 went without a hitch. Then again, I don’t think that’s surprising, either, due to the lack of anything to do for the Voodoo cards – this isn’t exactly Unreal.

    The music, to use a good-fitting word, sucks. For some reason, even though the game is fully LucasArts-licensed, approved, published, et cetera –and the music score is from the movie, something is just wrong - and I didn't like it at all.

    All in all, there is absolutely nothing good about this game. If you really want some wicked force effects, don’t get this game – especially not at its suggested retail price of $44.99US. Go to the arcades – you can spend half of this money, but get four times the fun – even from old classics like GT Racer. I didn’t expect much from this game when I originally read the preview in PC Gamer – because even they, with all their enthusiasm and open-mindedness couldn’t mask the screenshots, and couldn’t make this game sound any good at all. Even back then it was entirely obvious that this is a cheap cash-in from a well-respected brand, LucasArts. Again, allow me to reiterate – do not, under any circumstances buy this game. It’s junk. Or, as a good friend of mine puts it, ‘This is jonx’. To use a clichι expression, avoid this like the Plague. Even if you have to own everything related to Star Wars. Buy another Darth Vader figurine instead – at least he had a cool voice. And if you crave a feeling of speed – take a roller coaster. At least it’s real.

    Highs: It’s umm, related to Star Wars; force effects are nice; for the miserable quality of the game it actually runs fine – doesn’t crash and all. Decent feeling of speed.

    Lows: Everything here is a low. Graphics, gameplay, music, menus, even the mouse cursor doesn’t work on some menus! This is a horrible, cheap hybrid to suck money out of Playstation and PC owners. A real two-in-one.


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