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by Clay Halliwell
Checkered Flag... Club Drive... names that strike a chill in the hearts of Jag owners everywhere. What is it with polygonal racers and the Jag? We all know that the Jag could blow away Virtua Racing, if only someone out there would do the job right. Now we have World Tour Racing, courtesy of Telegames. Is this the game to lay the Jag's poly-racer stigma to rest? Read on...
World Tour Racing comes in the same packaging as Iron Solder 2... a standard-sized Jag cart box, with the CD (yes, a regular, non-CD-R CD) in a jewel case inside. WTR's CD label is black, with the title above the center hole, and the "Jaguar CD" logo below. Oddly, there is no mention that it's a CD game on the outer box.
WTR starts off with a very well-done FMV intro... easily a match for Iron Soldier 2 in terms of video and audio quality. Unfortunately, this graphical extravaganza leads directly into a demo of the game, which pales significantly by comparison.
WTR offers a wealth of play and customization options. There are three main play modes:
The car workshop gives you an amazing degree of control over your car's configuration. You can individually select whether each of the four tires are hard, medium, or soft. You can precisely set the angle of the front and rear wings. You can even adjust the brake balance and gear box ratios!
From the main options screen you can also select whether to use a standard or automatic transmission, enter your racer's name, reconfigure button assignments, and set the overall difficulty level.
Incredibly, this game does *not* make use of the Memory Track. Everything you change is lost when you power down or reset the Jag. Championship games are saved and resumed by way of a 32-digit numeric code. Yoiks!
//// The Sights
As stated above, the FMV is excellent, and frequently humorous (just watch your car get obliterated by the falling "GAME OVER" in Arcade mode). The in-game graphics, however, are not so hot.
First, about 90% of what's onscreen is in half horizontal resolution (aka "Doom rez"). This includes the huge, oversized status overlays, the background graphic, all sprites and texture maps, and any cars which are relatively far away. The clouds that float by overhead as you race are even worse, looking like they escaped from 2600 Combat.
Okay, so the resolution is low. Doom ran in the same low rez, but it looked great anyway because it traded that loss of detail for a silky frame rate. Sadly, WTR seems to have received no such benefit from its sacrifice. The frame rate is low-- almost identical to... (shudder)... Checkered Flag. And this is using sprites instead of polygons for a lot of the trackside detail.
Okay, so the resolution AND the frame rate are low. How about the scenery? Having a whole CD to play with, the locales should blow away Checkered Flag, right?
There is very little variation in scenery. Every track has literally dozens of the same few billboards (for Jaguar, Atari, Doom, Iron Soldier, etc...) scattered liberally around. There's a tunnel every now and then (always the same one). The same two or three tree sprites (no, not dryads) are used over and over. You might occasionally drive over a bridge or past a beach, but the screen updating is so herky-jerky that it's hard to tell what you're supposed to be looking at. Overall, the effect is of a sprite-based game with some polygons thrown in, instead of the other way around.
The road rises and dips, but minimally, and the road never banks. An undocumented feature is that you can turn on texture mapping for the road by hitting "8" on the keypad. This doesn't appear to impact the frame rate in any way, but it's ugly (just turns on a gray blocky pattern that warps severely near the bottom of the screen), so I leave it off.
Camera views are nicely implemented. There are three basic ones to choose from (inside, near outside, and far outside), plus some fun-but-useless ones that that are only active for as long as you hold the button down (front view of your car, trackside cameras, and above left and right).
Cars, when close to the camera, look good. The wheels are gouraud-shaded (no hex-nut wheels here!), as is the rest of the car body, with logos and other detail sparingly texture-mapped on top.
The status overlays, as mentioned above, are overbearingly large, but admittedly get the job done. There are indicators for current standing, lap, gear, speed, time, best time, and a moving map. The moving map shows you as a red dot, cars ahead of you as green dots, and cars you've passed as blue dots. You can set the map so it shows only a close-up of the current section of track, the entire track at once, or turn it off entirely.
//// The Sounds
The music in WTR was composed by the same fellow who did the music for Val d'Isere, and he hasn't lost his touch this time around. The music is very peppy and goes a long way toward enhancing the racing mood. Unfortunately, there only seem to be two in-game songs, so each track doesn't get its own theme music. Also, the music is NOT redbook audio. That is, the music isn't being played straight off the CD-- it's being generated by the Jag. Being able to play better music with less resource drain is a major advantage of the CD format, and it's surprising to see WTR throw it away.
As for the in-game sound effects, they're limited entirely to the tinny whine of your engine (sound more like a motorcycle than an F-1 racer), the thud of smacking into things, a barely-audible squealing of tires, and the "Last lap" announcement (which seems to get dropped out most of the time).
When paused, you can independently adjust the music, sound effect, and engine volume levels.
Okay, the big question: How does it CONTROL? The answer to that is, it controls great (with one major caveat, below). Your car in WTR handles like a real car. You can even power slide a bit! Steering is greatly affected by how you've configured your tires and front and rear wings.
The other nine competing cars play fair, jockeying for position with you and each other. They are, however, crash-proof... you can hit one head-on at 200MPH, and while you're getting tossed all over the track, it just zooms along like nothing happened. Usually you recover from wrecks with a decent percentage of your original velocity, so wiping out doesn't break up the flow of racing too badly. Wreck too many times though, and you'll knock off your front and/or rear wings. This WILL affect your car's handling, as will tire wear as you zip around the very long tracks. When this happens, it's time to pull into the pits.
Every track has a pit stop lane, located in the general vicinity of the starting line. Just pull in and come to a complete stop. You'll be treated to a nice FMV sequence which changes according to what's wrong with your car. Front wing missing? The clip will show your front wing being replaced, plus your tires being changed and your tank being topped off.
In what has to be one of the great design flubs of videogaming, WTR's programmer decided to have the game "help" the player steer. It's a subtle effect. You probably won't even notice it at first. But after the first time you're in cockpit view and see the steering wheel turn by itself, or you're driving down the track and see your car start into a turn without you even touching your controller... you'll always be aware of it. This is insanely annoying. You CAN'T TURN IT OFF! It feels like you're steering by committee. Mastery of driving games is firmly based on learning to exercise absolute control over your car-- learning just the right microsecond to hit the brakes, spin the wheel, edge into the grass, and punch the accelerator to get around that corner in record time. But this "helpful" steering makes that almost impossible. The computer also seems to try to keep you from making pit stops. Basically, if you're not already on the correct edge of the track when the pit stop lane appears, you're not getting in.
It is possible to drive around the track backwards, but every time you run into something the game turns you around to face the proper direction.
Like most everyone else, I had myself convinced that WTR would be a technical tour de force of the same caliber as Iron Soldier 2 or BattleMorph, but sadly this is not the case. There's no doubt that WTR is an ambitious game, with its many tracks, play modes, and customization options, but the coding expertise required to vault this game from merely average to outstanding is simply not present here.
Don't be surprised if, after a few hours behind the wheel of WTR, you find yourself popping in the old Checkered Flag cart and gaining a new appreciation for all the things it did right.
The Jag can do better than this.
//// Final Ratings
A Summary of Ratings: "*" is a whole "+" is a half 5 stars maximum
|Graphics -||***||Great FMV. Lousy frame rate, resolution, and variety|
|Audio -||****||Good music, but inexplicably not redbook. Tinny engine noise. Few other sound effects.|
|Control -||***+||Would be 4 stars, but the computer's unwelcome "help" is incredibly annoying.|
|Gameplay-||***||Actually not bad, but not great either. 2-player mode is a plus.|
|Overall -||***||Better than Checkered Flag, but only barely. No Memory Track support?!?|
Key to Earl's ratings (a racing movie state of mind)
***** - Cannonball Run
**** - Gumball Rally
*** - Cannonball Run II
** - Death Race 2000
* - Cannonball Run III
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