Long ago (1999), on a console far, far away (N64), in another galaxy (dresser drawer), LucasArts developed Star Wars: Episode One Racer, based loosely on the most recently released Star Wars movie, The Phantom Menace. If I were to sit down and play the game now, I would probably find it worth half an hour of my time at best. But I can remember back three years ago, playing Episode One Racer non-stop, until every single track and extra was unlocked. It is hard to objectively approach a similar game on a different console and think of it as existing only in a small “bubble”, which is affected by none of its surroundings. Even with this in mind, who could possibly look back at classic hits and give as much praise to basic duplicates years later? Can someone honestly compare Mario, Excite Bike, Quake, Golden Eye, Wolfenstein, or Command and Conquer to games made later? Gamers, including myself, are funny in the way we think of games sometimes. Albeit, we are willing to name classics and herald them as champions of all there has been and will be in the gaming world, but how often do we go back and play them, only to realize some of the more recent games actually do hold a candle to previous classics. After playing Star Wars Racer: Revenge, I have realized that biases aside, some games viewed in a little bubble are outstanding titles.
Videogame sequels rarely change the heart of the original; whether that original was good or bad. I wouldn’t necessarily consider Star Wars Racer a series but with the release of Revenge, it is a sequel nonetheless. As with the first game, Episode One Racer, Racer: Revenge keeps the game play and mechanics true to its roots. Racer: Revenge excels at recreating the invigorating experience of driving through canyons, spaceports and lush jungles at hundreds of miles per hour. To begin with, the game starts out offering what appears to be a limited amount of game modes. You have the option of starting a single player game, in which you compete in individual races, or diving into the tournament mode, which allows you to compete, win multiple races and upgrade your pod racer. As with the first game, you are able to purchase new parts and unlock more pods if you continue to advance and place. The game offers more as you unlock further secrets. A new menu item appears when you race and win an entire cup, which displays pictures of the sketches and designs that formulated the characters and vehicles. This is a nice addition that is sure to appeal to those Star Wars junkies who just love extra “behind the scenes” stuff.
The gameplay has been altered a bit from the Nintendo 64 game. In the previous version, simply avoiding obstacles and taking shortcuts would normally get you a win. However, in Racer: Revenge, a huge segment of the game is dedicated to just smashing into an opponent and destroying them. In fact, the more opponents you destroy during the race, the more money you receive at the end; though I do have a few gripes about this. Sure, it’s fun when you’re racing in a giant pod, but you’d expect that maybe it’d be slower than the other vehicles. This is not true. The only attributes that matter in the game are the ones determined right at the beginning, which in a way really don’t even matter. You end up winning the first race or two with ease because the maps simply are not that challenging. This allows the player to immediately upgrade the weaknesses of the chosen character. Also, even if you win first place and receive more money than your competitors, somehow they always end up being able to catch up with you and bully you around. It is extremely annoying when you’re trying to race smoothly and take turns, to suddenly be knocked way off to the side and run straight into a wall. This will occur for most players nine out of ten times, at approximately the exact moment you don’t want to have it happen. Thankfully, the game is forgiving about how far you get left behind if something does occur. The entire competition throughout the game is fairly difficult and must be dealt with at all times. Using the boost will get you away from the pack for a few seconds, but they’ll soon catch up. Little things like this make the game somewhat irritating but when all is said and done, you’ll enjoy the fast-paced arcade smash-em-up experience... as long as you’re winning. The game offers four tracks in the first segment, four in the second segment and five in the third segment, totaling thirteen tracks. If you are pretty good at the game, and have half-decent reflexes, it’ll only take you about three to four hours to complete. This is not entirely acceptable but none the less remains satisfying. More replay value is offered than most people would think. There is a versus mode included, so you can go head-to-head with your friend, or you can try your luck with the other vehicles after beating it the first time. I’m glad the gameplay resembles Episode One: Racer, and adds some style of its own. It creates some of the most addicting gameplay out there for a racer.
The control scheme is also much like the Nintendo 64 game. The buttons include brake, gas, boost, power slide, camera angle changes, action camera, and a repair button. Sorry folks, but there is no button which will flip the pod on its side to squeeze between crevasses, though we can all overlook that feature. It was used what, once, twice in Episode One Racer? The analog stick makes for a really nice feel when steering your pod racer around the course. When I first started playing the game, I was outraged that a company making a Star Wars racer on a console with two analog sticks would neglect to include a control scheme where the pod could be driven like a tank. Thankfully, however, you can enable this scheme under the “advanced” option. Let me warn you as well, it honestly means advanced. I cannot imagine playing the game with that controller configuration past the first few levels. The way Star Wars Racer: Revenge utilizes what I believe to be one of the finest controllers made to date, makes this game easy to coordinate complicated power slide turns and burn your adversaries. My hats off to Sony and Rainbow Studios for coming together and creating a great controller “get-up”.
Now let’s move on to the bells and whistles. I absolutely love the sound in this game. I wish the music in the game would have been more noticeable but I can’t have the best of both worlds I suppose. Just hearing the little subtleties in the game created an experience I won’t soon forget. After racing the first lap of the game, I asked myself, “wouldn’t it be sweet if Rainbow Studios would have included the “whoosh” noise that one would hear as they rocket past an arching rock formation?” To my surprise, when I listened more carefully, Rainbow Studios did include that noise! Other than the individual pod noises of accelerating, braking, and boosting, flying past close objects creates that famous resonating blast of wind and echo off their surface. At the time this was unbelievable, but I am coming to terms with this amazing detail. In addition, noises of the materials you’re flying over are unique as well. If you’re flying over dust, you’ll hear a rumble, or if it’s water, a misty splashing noise. If you’re flying through the air, the once noisy environment recedes to nothing but the air you’re flying through, and the engines at full speed. Also, little environmental effects can be detected. In a later level, you’ll fly through little pink stars (appear to be bugs), which hum and add to the entire theme of that specific level.
This game, while at first glance looks like Episode One Racer with better textures and resolution, is absolutely stunning. I can’t possibly explain everything in this game that makes it pure eye candy, but I’ll try and name a few. For one, when you race over different types of dirt, corresponding amounts of dust get kicked up behind the engines. Also, in the third segment of the game, the course includes a lot of water you must race over. The first time I raced over the water, I couldn’t believe the visual quality. The game’s water effects, while limited to a few levels, are eye popping. The waves sway and have nice highlights at the crests. Trails of water are thrown off the tops as other pods cut in front of you. In the jungle levels, the trees and bushes really develop the ambience and uniqueness of the level. The trees don’t look like simple planes, which intersect, but resemble actual living plants! In one of the later jungle levels, it rains. Like Flight Unlimited 3 and Flight Simulator 2002, tiny droplets of water hit the “windshield” of the pod as well as fall through the sky in front of you. You can’t help but appreciate such fine detail in a game that has so much going on at one time. In addition, terrific haze, lighting and transparency effects are shown off in almost all of the levels. I almost thought my PlayStation 2 upgraded itself overnight with a more powerful GPU, like that found in the Xbox. If you want to see some serious PS2 graphics processing power, this game is certainly one to show it off. Lastly, the overall presentation of the game is crisp and clean. All of the menus are done with tidy fonts and easy to see colors. It really gives a sense of professionalism in the presentation of the game. Organization is definitely a good thing in any game and this is so true in Star Wars Racer: Revenge.
I only have a few complaints about Racer: Revenge. The constant smashing with other pod racers and the lack of importance in upgrading your pod are small irritations. I have not always agreed with some reviews of PS2 games in the past. I’m not one to hand out high ratings if I don’t feel a game truly deserves it, but Racer: Revenge is unbelievable. It is remarkable considering titles previous to it, but even more remarkable viewing it in its own space and time. This game doesn’t break new ground but it does pave some damn fine roads. I hope every PS2 owner gives Racer: Revenge thirty minutes of their time. I might suggest renting it first, just to humor you, but after that, go out and buy it!