The Xbox has a huge number of racing games on the system now with many more in development. Hits such as Project Gotham 2 have shown that the Xbox can produce some fantastic racing games, offline and even online. That's why for a developer to put a racing game on the Xbox these days they have to go the extra mile to gain attention. R:Racing by Namco was a novel idea, and in some ways works but in many other ways, doesn't..
Story based racing games seem to becoming more and more prolific these days. V8 Supercars 2 will have a storyline and R:Racing has one, with a difference. In R:Racing you take the persona of Rena, a paramedic driver who just happens to be in the right place at the right time one day to kick start her racing career. She joins up with a high profile team and from there you see both the highs and lows of the racing world. The storyline is set across fourteen chapters but it has its problems which we will get to later.
The game contains numerous game modes, but until you have completed the storyline most of them are a moot point. The game modes offer you the ability to have single races, tournaments and other types of races away from the politics encountered in the storyline. The other staple mode is time attack which basically pits you against your best time. Because all of the tracks records are set at sixty minutes when you first load the game, you will be breaking the track record for the first time easily, this somewhat takes away the thrill of defeating a time the developers may have set in the game.
The storyline mode is fairly shallow and is over before it really starts. You can easily complete R: Racing's storyline in a few hours. This is one of the major problems with the game. Rena has a rivalry with a fellow competitor named Gina, who thinks Rena is only in it for the money and got where she is on easy street. We only see this rivalry played out a few times before the conclusion of the story. The rivalry isn't fleshed out at all which is quite a disappointment because it could have saved the storyline from being so shallow. The storyline mode known as Racing Life basically boils down to this. You complete some training and then after a few races each time, a cut scene will tell the storyline and what is going on behind the scenes. The cut scenes are well done, except for a few times when basically all that is rendered is an art work picture with text below. Throughout the storyline you will play across different styles of racing such as rally, track and drag racing which mixes up the gameplay somewhat.
The other main problem with the game is the departure of arcade style handling. Namco were obviously trying to create a Gran Turismo competitor with this title, and whilst it succeeds somewhat the cars can seem difficult to handle. They react realistically to the way you brake and slam on the gas but it does take quite a while to get used to. It definitely feels like a simulation but appears to lack the polish that the Gran Turismo series has had for so long on the PS2 console. It will appeal more to simulation fans. The other problem we found was that no matter how hard you hit a wall or competitor car you did not get any punishment. The car did not damage, not even aesthetically and the handling was not affected at all. So really you can drive as fast as you want, hitting walls and not affect your race to much and probably end up in first place.
There are two features of the game which, with a little more polish, could have added so much more. The first is a pressure meter. As you sit behind the AI cars you will notice a bar above them. As you get closer and put more pressure on and this increases, once it flashes the AI is almost certain to make a mistake such as braking late or taking a wider line than usual. This system seems to work well but the bar somewhat ruins the experience because you know when the AI is most likely to make the mistake. The other system is the RP (racing points). These are gained by driving well, much like kudos in the Project Gotham Series. These RP are used to buy cars and tracks for the other game modes available.
One plus for the game is the feature of licensed cars. Namco have licensed a variety of cars for the game such as the Mitsubishi Evo Rally Car, Peugeot 206, Subaru Impreza and other racing cars such as the GT1 series. All the cars featured in the game are sedan style and no open wheelers are present. As mentioned before the cars don't take damage. During the storyline sometimes it will be dictated to you which car to use but other times you will have the choice. Choose carefully because the car you select is the car you unlock when you complete the current story chapter. The AI themselves seem to drive on rails a little except for when you apply pressure and they make a mistake. They will challenge each other and generally offer a decent race but don't expect to be overly impressed by them on the lower levels. At the higher difficulty they will capitalise on your mistakes quite easily so you have to be on your guard throughout the entire race.
The other great aspect of the game is licensed tracks. R:Racing features some of the most famous tracks around the globe such as the Monaco track from the Formula 1 World Championship, Philip Island from Australia and Suzuka from Japan. As well as some street tracks and other fictional places to race. The tracks are highly detailed but there is a few things that could have again improved the aesthetics. As you drive around you will notice objects such as the ferris wheel, but they aren't moving. Obviously Namco is going for a more realistic tone with R: Racing but even games like Racing Evoluzione (which this game reminds us of quite a bit, except replace 'build up a car company' with 'have a female character rise above all stereotypes to become a champion').
Another disappointment with the game is the graphics. The game is being released on all three consoles and it shows because when you compare R:Racing to another Xbox title such as Project Gotham Racing 2, there is a stark difference in the graphic quality. The cars themselves in the third person view seem to hover above the ground and not take corners well at all but this is somewhat alleviated by the bumper view which can also be used. The games soundtrack is decent with a variety of tunes, some instrumental and some with vocals. The actual voice acting of the cast is done well, as is the co-driver and pit voices. All the different categories of cars feature different engine noises as well.
R:Racing had a lot of potential which the game did not live up to. Once you complete the game you will feel as if it had been slapped together with quickset glue and the storyline, whilst adding to the game, is the biggest disappointment of all, primarily because of the way it ends (it definitely leaves itself open to a sequel). If you want a story based driving game to play through then R: Racing may be a game for you, but rent it first because it's far from its full potential.