Crispy Gamer

Games for Lunch: Race Pro

Race Pro

Developer: SimBin

Publisher: Atari

Release Date: Feb. 17, 2009

System: Xbox 360

ESRB Rating: E

Official Web site

0:00 When a game has a name as incredibly generic as "Race Pro" you know it's going be a train wreck or transcendent. Either way, should be a fun hour.

0:01 A bunch of animated logos precede a plain, gray metal title screen, complete with ultra-shiny "RACE PRO" logo. The menu has some grainy stock racing footage running along a bar up top and some generic synth-pop thumping in the background. It's the NASCAR version of a rave!

0:02 The speedometer defaults to metric units. You're in America now, bub! Speak American!

0:03 The control settings include the most detailed analog sensitivity settings I've ever seen. Steering sensitivity is divided into three sectors, plus I can set up "dead zones" for the throttle and brakes. A bit much for most players, I'd imagine, but someone might appreciate it.

0:05 "In Career Mode, become a professional racing driver and earn a living by racing for different teams." OK, I will! First there's the tryout, then races, where I can earn the credits I need to buy new contracts, cars, etc. Let's start at the start with "Group A." It's a Mini Cooper race! Awesome! Like "The Italian Job"!

0:06 To qualify, I have to beat the set lap time. Before we start, I try to turn on helpful options like traction control and ABS, but the game won't let me. For some reason, everything is locked at the highest difficulty. At least it lets me have an automatic transmission...

0:07 During the loading screen, I can peruse a map of the track, complete with tips on how to take each turn -- when to brake, when to gun it, where to watch for spin outs, etc. A nice touch.

0:11 If there's one thing this Mini Cooper doesn't seem to want to do, it's turning. If there are two things it doesn't want to do, it's turning and braking. I think I went into the sand/grass on every single turn. Despite this, I only missed the required lap time by five seconds or so. Let's try that again, with some slower, more cautious turn-taking this time.

0:13 Sure enough, staying on the track for the second lap gets me a qualifying time. Each turn requires a ridiculously severe braking to manage, which I suppose is realistic, but in this case just feels a bit annoying.

0:14 Somehow it costs me 100 credits to sign up for my first contract. Race 1 is on the same course I just completed solo.

0:16 Wow, it took me way too long to figure out that the color-coded numbers that appear overhead just before each turn indicate which gear I should shift to. This info helps more than you might imagine.

0:18 I leap into first on the early straightaway, then fall back into third after taking a turn too fast and going in the grass. There's no real penalty for bumping against other cars ... neither car takes any noticeable damage. This fact lets me use the "bumper car" method of cutting off the opponents inside to retake the lead.

0:20 I'm doing great, until completely messing up the brake timing on the final turn. I end up in sixth place out of six. So far the game seems a bit too technical for my tastes -- any deviation from perfection results in defeat. Maybe I'm just not good enough...

0:21 The amusingly named "Anderstorp" track is up next. Lots of sharp 90-degree turns here. The game tips suggest places that are good for "launching an attack," but I'm not really sure what this means. It's not like I have a red shell handy.

0:25 I drift off the track ever so slightly on one turn, sending me careening down a field of red mud. Surprisingly, I don't spin out, or even threaten to lose my traction. This doesn't seem too realistic to me, but I'm not complaining.

0:27 As I pass the finish line in first, a garbled radio voice cries out with "You've won a race." This is kind of off-putting when this voice has been silent for the entirety of the game so far. I'm also a little perturbed by the total lack of background music. Sure, I could turn off the annoying engine whine, but then there would just be eerie silence.

0:29 "Brand Hatch Circuit" is an interesting collection of hairpin turns, most of which have to be taken at second gear or less. I guess this means the annoying pattern of gun-it-on-the-straightaways-and-brake-real-hard-before-the-turns will continue, then.

0:30 One of the opposing cars spins me out in the first corner, just as I'm passing a "Courtyard by Marriott" sign. Wait, what did that sign say?

0:32 The early spin out puts me on the defensive early, forcing me to overcompensate with overly fast turns later. I spin into the sand near the Canon sign and end up careening off the track under the AMD ad. Jeez, enough with the product placement, guys!

0:34 About halfway through the second lap I give this race up for lost. There seems to be no penalty for restarting, which makes me wonder why the whole "career" structure is here at all.

0:38 I take things extremely cautiously this time, slowing down more than necessary to avoid off-roading it. This strategy lets first a dark blue and then a light blue Mini Cooper get past me. I overtake the light blue guy with the bumper car method on the final turn. This is almost thrilling, but made less so by the total lack of impact as our cars scrape by each other.

0:39 "You have completed your contract, giving you 150 Credits in contract earnings." Wow, this plain text message really makes me feel deeply involved in the career of my racer, let me tell you.

0:41 Group B is next, surprisingly enough. The RSM Motorsport contract actually lets me race a low-to-the-ground, Formula 1-style race car in light blue. Let's see what this puppy can do!

0:44 Holy crap ... it's like an entirely different game with this car. First off, the thing accelerates much more quickly, to about twice the top speed. Second off, the car spins out with the slightest provocation. Touch a wheel to the grass ... spin out. Turn slightly too hard ... spin out. Look at the car the wrong way ... spin out. Third off, the engine whine is ear-splittingly awful. I miss my Mini Cooper already.

0:47 The secret to not spinning out in this car, it seems, is not turning, because every time I turn even a little bit I seem to spin out. What am I missing here?

0:49 OK, so the real secret to turning in this beast seems to be braking to EXTREMELY low speeds before every turn (luckily the car has excellent brakes). Even with these ridiculous, jerky stops, the slightest bit of oversteer will send me into the grass. You need a veeeery deft touch with the analog stick to get it exactly right. I can't remember the last time I was so annoyed by a steering system.

0:53 The other option for keeping control of the car seems to be pushing the throttle down only part way, limiting the car to Mini Cooper levels of speed. If this seems to defeat the purpose of having so much power under the hood, well, it does. I'm sorry, though, this track just doesn't seem designed for a high-performance vehicle like this. Or maybe it's this controller. Or this physics model. Anyway, something is off.

0:58 I play it ultra-safe this time, never pushing the engine past third gear and never turning the wheel completely to either side. I finish the lap without spinning out once! Of course I'm 24 seconds too slow for the qualifying time. I'm reaching my wits' end here.

1:01 Throwing caution to the wind, I go full throttle with super-extreme braking before each extremely gentle, slow turn. I still spin out once on an incredibly annoying turn, but this time I finish within 15 seconds of the qualifying time. Maybe if I played around with those control sensitivity options I'd have a better time, but really, I just don't have the motivation...

Would I play this game for more than an hour? No.

Why? Too bare-bones to be interesting; too overly-technical to be fun. Throw it in the pile with all the others...

This column is based on a retail copy of the game rented from GameFly.

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