RC Cars hits the right frequency

My next door neighbors gave their three boys RC cars for Christmas. I know this because they were all outside on Christmas day driving RC trucks and cars all along the lawn. They seemed to be having a great time, but after a while they said they were too cold to keep playing. Even though the cars were ready to tackle the winter weather, the kids could only take so much.

The RC Cars game smartly takes advantage of the humongous popularity of these devices. The RC by the way stands for radio-controlled, just in case you didn’t know. But unlike the fickleness of the real world, it’s always perfect weather for a race within the game.

The game follows the typical race game format in that you start out with the bargain basement RC car and access to just one track, though you can actually race on four tracks to start out — only your score is valid on just the first one to begin. As you win races you earn money that can be used to purchase new RC cars and buy your way into higher priced tournaments, which basically is the same as unlocking a new track.

Looking at the various tracks reveals another advantage the game has over real life: unlimited cars and awesome settings. The first track you will race on is set at the beach, which is pretty normal. You can bump into a few surf bums if you are feeling mean, but that is about it while you learn the game. From there however, things get pretty interesting.

You will face dogs that love to chase and bite your car, which I suppose could happen in real life. But you will also have to race down highways where real, full-size cars dwell. One wrong move and your little RC car will be crushed like an old can. In real life this would warrant a serious trip to the mechanic or more likely, the need for a new RC car. But in this game, it just means trying again from the last checkpoint, which is a huge relief.

Some of the maps go around a military base too, which is something you probably don’t want to do, especially in these days of heightened security. Angry soldiers like to shoot at passing RC cars, which is a really nice challenge you won’t find in real life – at least I hope.

Graphically, the game is excellent. Waves roll in, birds fly overhead, the other racers kick sand up as they pass and everything in the game can be touched in some way by your car. You can run into people who will turn and glare at you, chase sand crabs back into the water, drive in circles around an angry dog and push trash and other debris out of your way. If you want to play dirty – come on, you know you do — that is fine too, just be careful you don’t wreck yourself when trying to run your opponents off a cliff or into a hazard. A favorite trick of mine was to run other cars into soldier’s feet, so there would be plenty of time for rival cars to get shot while reversing and trying to get back into the race. It is also a lot of fun finding shortcuts, which are pretty well hidden within the various levels, and can be used to blow past your opponents at the right moments.

I am giving the soundtrack a high rating, but it kind of depends on what music you like. There are both rock and techno songs to listen too. By default, the game will randomly pick songs from its tracks to play for you. If you like one type of music but not the other, you can turn one off, or disable the music all together. Personally, I thought the music was appropriate for the setting even though it tended to cover up the nice background sounds. After all you are in a race and fast music seems to heighten the mood.

The gameplay was surprisingly easy. You basically install the game and can start racing right away. There are only eight keys you have to know and that includes the four standard directional buttons on the keyboard. Others include things like boost of speed which is a regenerating resource in the game and jump, which forces your car to leap over small obstacles and works great in conjunction with the speed boost or if you get stuck on an object.

That said, I was unable to win very many races with the keyboard. The game instructions encourage the use of a joystick and I have to agree. Sometimes they keyboard would choke if I was holding down one key like speed boost and trying to make sharp turns on another key. But with the joystick, things were very easy. Considering a joystick is very much like the actual control mechanism of an RC car, this is not surprising. It would probably make sense for RC Cars to become a console title as well, but for now I am glad that we finally have a fun racer game for the PC. Just be prepared to purchase a PC joystick or gamepad if you can’t seem to beat the other racers. Not only does it make the game more fun, but easier as well.

RC cars have always been a great excuse for adults to play with their kids toys. This game will give you another reason. Once you get good by yourself, you can challenge other racers over a LAN (which made for a really fun challenge at a recent LAN party) or over the Internet. This thoughtful addition gives the game a lot of replay ability, as you put your best gear and skills against other humans on the various maps within the game.

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