Racer Revenge Takes the Checkered Flag

Star Wars: Racer Revenge
Reviewed On
PlayStation 2
Available For

There’s no other way to say it, when Star Wars: A New Hope came out in 1977 it was a revolution. George Lucas, the Star Wars creator, had hit pay dirt when his excellent storytelling coupled with mind-blowing special effects that made the movie a hit with all ages.

After completing the trilogy with two sequels, George Lucas left the Star Wars license alone for a while. That hiatus ended though in 1999 when George Lucas released Episode 1, a prequel to the legendary trilogy. While Episode 1 met with mixed feelings from fans and critics alike, worse things were happening in the Star Wars universe.

George Lucas’ once closely guarded license was now being used in comic books, novels and videogames. These new interpretations of the Star Wars universe further weakened the license, and many began to suspect that George Lucas was now concerned more with quantity of his products rather than quality. One of the titles that came out during this burst was Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer. While not quite as bad as some of the other blemishes on the license, the game still had its flaws.

Now though, with Episode II on the horizon, LucasArts seems to have gotten its act together by handing development duties of Star Wars: Racer Revenge over to Rainbow Studios, the acclaimed developers behind ATV: Offroad Fury. Will Rainbow studios intervention bring Star Wars old reputation back? No, but it’s still a solid effort worthy of praise.

The game starts off with the famous scrolling text that Star Wars is famous for. This text explains that the game takes place eight years after the events of Star Wars: Episode 1 racer as Sebulba, who has been hiding out for the past eight years, has suddenly come back into existence to take back his title from Anakin Skywalker. When this introduction ends you then meet up with the meat and potatoes of Racer Revenge, the racing.

The racing you’ll get to do is categorized into three separate modes, Single play, Versus mode, and Tournament. The main mode of these three, or the one you’ll have to play in order to unlock things, is Tournament mode. In this Tournament the object is to pick one of eighteen characters available and reach the Boonta Eve Classic with them. In order to do so you’ll have to prove yourself by placing third or better in three circuits of racing beforehand. Including the Boonta Eve Classic and the three circuits Racer Revenge offers thirteen tracks, a little short of Episode 1 Racer’s 21. Once you begin playing these tracks though, you’ll notice one of the game’s major flaws.

That major flaw is how easy Racer Revenge is. All the tracks can be beaten within five tries, and getting first place on your first try isn’t a freak occurrence either. Better yet, because there are only thirteen tracks, the game can be beaten in less then eight hours on your first try.

It’s a shame that this game’s so short too, because Racer Revenge is one of the fastest, most gripping racers the PS2 has to offer. Rainbow truly has hit gold as the unbelievable sense of speed really will convince you that you are going 600 MPH. Another thing that Rainbow has done right is making you believe you’re in the heat of a race. While there are only seven other racers racing with you, you will always be in a pack, knocking back and forth between other racers.

This pack of racers that the game usually has you bounce around with aren’t dumb either. Each racer is controlled by its own AI, and while not up to Gran Turismo 3’s level of realism, they still react realistically to racing situations. This AI not only makes the races more heated, but also adds a layer of immersion that Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer did not possess.

While Rainbow has done a good job of accurately capturing what made the Podracing scene in Episode 1 so cool, it has also decided to add a new feature. That feature is the Knockout or the KO. Each racer now has a displayed health meter when you get near them. If you see someone with their meter in the red and you bump into him a few times, likely you’ll see an explosion and you’ll be rewarded with a KO. As an added bonus Watto, who if you remember correctly was the owner of the repair shop in Episode 1, we’ll give you an added trugat (money) bonus based on how many KO’s you get. The only problem with this new feature is that you’ll need to do a certain number of them each race in order to get full stats at the end of the game. That wouldn’t be that bad except you can’t go back and re-race tracks, a feature that was included with the predecessor, so it’s really hard to meet this quota each track. Other than that, the KO is a fine new feature and adds variety to the game.

KO’s aren’t the only error with the statistic system though, it’s also too straightforward. In the original Episode 1 Racer when you went to Watto’s shop you could choose between new parts, used parts, pit droids, and a host of other things. In Racer Revenge, Rainbow felt the need to simplify this to only improving stats. While this gives Racer Revenge a more arcade feel, it removes a degree of strategy that Episode 1 Racer possessed. Still though, this is a minor blemish in the grand scheme of things.

The other modes you’ll be playing by yourself, other than Tournament, are Single Play and Versus mode. Single play offers Exhibition, practice, and time trials. Time trials is pretty basic, and not better nor worse than any other Time Trial mode before it. Exhibition goes under the same profile, as it has all the customization you could possibly want (anyone up for a 25 lap race?). Practice mode is a welcome addition, as it gives the player time to look through tracks for the fastest roads and such. Still though, the main attraction if you’re playing by yourself is Tournament mode.

Versus only has one mode, which is basically two-player Exhibition. This mode works well but it suffers from the obvious problem of only being two-player, so you’ll have to leave this one on the shelf at a party.

Though the lack of modes is a tad disappointing there is something that isn’t, the level design. While it is true that Racer Revenge has seven less levels than Episode 1 Racer, Racer Revenge makes up this deficit by loading the thirteen levels with detail. The levels are designed well as Racer Revenge works constantly to keep you on the edge of your seat. Did you think the movie scene was intense? Wait till you start racing through anti-gravity tubes, narrow roads, water, and possibly most exciting, hundreds of feet in the air. The only gripe you could possibly find with the level design is how sometimes obstacles will blend in with walls. While this doesn’t occur that often it’s still quite frustrating when you run into a tiny rock twelve feet from the finish line, and get third opposed to first. Then it becomes a big problem.

When you’re whizzing by at 600 MPH playing these modes it’s easy to overlook the graphics, which would be a serious mistake. Rainbow studios has really outdone itself on this one as everything from explosions to Tatooine villages are modeled beautifully against a 3D landscape. All this detail would be wasted though, should the game have a bad frame rate. Fortunately that is not the case with Racer Revenge as slowdown rarely occurs, if ever. In compensation for there never being slowdown however, is the tendency for things in the distance to just pop-up. While in most games this would become quite an annoyance it doesn’t amount to much in Racer Revenge, due to you spending so much of your time being concerned with what’s immediately in front of you, that you’ll rarely notice it. Another minor annoyance is that sometimes the textures are riddled with unclean "jaggies." Still though, like the bad frame rate, it’s a rare occurrence.

While the rest of the game is pretty much above-average, there is something in Racer Revenge that does fall into the mediocre category, the audio. First off there’s the actual sound effects. While engine roars and crashes sound fine, the voice samples are laughable as Anakin shouts dumb comments like "you’ll never be a Jedi" that make him sound like a kindergartner.

The announcing isn’t anything to write home about either as the announcer strikes a strong resemblance with Robin Leech of "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," only being quite duller (if that’s possible.) The reason he’s dull isn’t because of dumb comments or a lack of announcing, but both. There’s nothing like two minutes of exciting racing being broken up by a comment like "for all your repair needs visit Watto’s repair shop." The music falters as well, all though not as badly as the dialogue. While it makes sense that Racer Revenge would include classic Star Wars tunes, it doesn’t make sense that the music would flat out turn off when there are no other racers around you. What a shame that is too, considering the music is quite exhilarating when it is playing.

In the end Star Wars: Racer Revenge is a pretty fun game, it’s just that that you’ll be reaching the ending cut scene in little more than an afternoon. That’s really too bad, because Racer Revenge is quite the enjoyable game while it lasts. The excitement that it generates will remind you of what games used to be, adrenaline stimulators that demanded your attention. If it hadn’t been for the easy difficulty level, this would have been twitch gaming at it’s finest. If you’re a hardcore Star Wars fan then by all means buy this, but for the rest of you a rental seems like a much more intelligent choice.

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