It's really a shame that Konami's racing title, Enthusia Professional Racing
, is coming out just a couple of months after SCEA's Gran Turismo 4
. Had Enthusia
come out last year its own take on the enthusiast driving life would be more accepted. But with the playing field changed by Sony's entry it feels more like an average racer than anything truly exceptional. And with a bizarre career mode that saps some of the fun out of the game, Enthusia
is a game that will be noted more for its uniqueness than its greatness.
With 50 tracks and over 200 cars to drive with, Enthusia holds its own in terms of providing a good amount of variety in races and different types of tracks. The only disappointment is that there are only two real-world tracks in the list: Tsukuba and Nurburgring. The rest of the tracks are fantasy tracks in that include city courses, race tracks, and rally courses. There's even a randomly generated desert course for some extremely dusty racing.
The different tracks in the game have a decent amount of detail in them and they have varying weather conditions which will severely affect the traction in the different cars. There are a few tracks that are pretty mind-numbingly simple to race through, but several tracks sport some decent challenges and, as it should be, the focus is on driving a clean line to get the better times. It doesn't hurt that the tracks should sport some clean graphics and good-looking backdrops. Maybe not completely awe-inspiring, but still impressive.
The only thing missing from the racing through the tracks is the sense of speed. The cars can lose traction and there can be a blur effect that creeps in from the side of the screen, but it still doesn't add up to something that feels solid and dangerous. It's almost as if the gameplay has been sanitized for your protection and is missing out on some of the feeling of danger. In place of this feeling of speed, Enthusia makes up for it with a visual representation of what's going on so that racers can create a mental map of what's happening to the car.
What Enthusia provides for the racing world is a better understanding of the interaction of the tires on the road. This is the much-hyped Visual G System, or VGS, which shows both the inertia on the car as well as the grip the tires have with the pavement. The inertia is represented with a yellow dot inside of a circle. When the dot swings to one side or the other that means that the car is likely to lose control and slide out. Similarly, when the tire icons turn red that means that the tires have lost traction completely and it's time to get ready to hit the wall.
Another trick of the VGS is that of a gray border on the screen that moves up and down with acceleration and deceleration and left to right for lateral inertia. Like the icon system, this is a neat trick for showing off the physics of what the car is experiencing. Unlike the icon system, however, this can be very disconcerting and the game is noticeably better when it's turned off.
In addition to the novel visual system, Enthusia also includes a novel approach to the career mode that is here called Enthusia Life. Each week in the calendar there is a selection of races to choose from. Some of these can be duels, but most of them are against a field of rivals. Either way, the amount of points that can be earned in each race is determined by the odds against the player winning. The weaker the players' car is in the field the more points can be earned. All these points help push up the players' rank in the game and eventually unlock more races.
After winning any race, Enthusia starts a roulette mini-game that randomly selects one of the opposing cars or maybe no car at all. If a car is selected, then it's unlocked for use in the game. There is no money here at all, just a quick way to open up more cars to use. If a player goes up against a nice car and wins, there's a decent chance he'll walk away with it too. This is cool in that it quits out of any economic system and is a fast-track to giving players more to work with.
With the odds system, Enthusia encourages players to avoid overpowering matches. Instead of using the fastest car, it could be more beneficial to use a weaker car if a player has mastered a certain course and blow away the competition. Skill trumps a hot garage here and this provides a cool reason to try out matches that racers would've ignored in other titles.
And really, the main appeal of Enthusia boils down to those two things: getting cars quickly and using the odds system to your advantage. With some racing that looks pretty good, Enthusia is a viable contender for a racer, but there are other problems that start to creep in, especially within the Enthusia Life mode. The racing may look right, but it doesn't feel right.
Out of Control
Enthusia is disappointingly sparse in its controls for the cars. Specifically, the gas and braking controls are inadequate for a serious racing title. The default for the gas is the X button while the brake has the square button. This is decent enough, but finessing the analog control on the X button can be tricky to pull off in the middle of a race. All of the buttons can be remapped and so the right analog stick can be used for the gas and brake, but both the buttons and the right analog cannot be used at the same time. This robs the game of being able to swap from one to the other in the middle of a race, which would've been a handy feature.
But even with the gas and brake controls on the right analog there are still severe problems. The gas only uses one-third of the stick's forward range of motion, leaving the entire top two-thirds to be full throttle. The brake fared a little better with about half of the stick's backward range of motion. Where GT4 used the whole range and it was possible to be just shy of full throttle by pushing a little to one side, Enthusia requires players to be extremely careful in their right hand movements to accelerate the cars. The only truly acceptable control scheme was with Logitech's Driving Force Pro, but gamers shouldn't be required to shell out more cash to make a game function as it should've in the first place.
Don't. Touch. Anything.
To reward driving excellence, Enthusia Life includes Enthu points which are deducted for bad driving. This includes hitting walls, going off course, or hitting other cars. Unlike Project Gotham Racing 2's Kudo system or Burnout 3's boost system that reward players for skillful driving moves, Enthusia's system is purely about demerits. But while the avoiding of the walls and staying on the course makes perfect sense, it's the car voidance which can drive one bonkers.
Demerits for hitting other cars happens regardless of who's at fault in the collision. If the gamer's car hits an opponent's by ramming it from behind or some overly aggressive inside work on a turn, then it makes sense that points would be deducted. It's all the rest of the swapping paint and other cars hitting the player's car from behind that can be infuriating. This means that the enemy cars can be as aggressive as they want to be and plow into a turn behind the player's car and take off Enthu Points from the player.
In tight courses with lots of turns, getting through with points intact means getting ahead early or playing incredibly cautiously. In a smaller dose, this system would be fantastic, but instead it's gone too far and taken the fun out of close races. Making strategic moves on the turns or the straightaways to block the other cars is now a liability. Basically, the dramatic moments that make racing fun are now bad for you.
Get Another Life
The Enthu Points are part of the overall career mode that is called Enthusia Life. Points are recovered between races and if players lose all their points through some rough racing, then they're required to take a week off and rest to recuperate all of them or swap cars and get less of them back. This is all important because the scoring in Enthusia is all about rank.
Each race takes place on one week of the calendar and by tallying up the points from the nine best races in the past 12 weeks the players are given a rank. This can rise with successes and fall with recent failures or even not racing at all due to a loss of Enthu Points. So by entering a race on a new course or going against a tough field, players can ruin their standings and one mistake could mean doing several more races to get back up to speed.
The problem with such a system is that it robs the game of the thrill of just jumping into a race and trying it out and making a few mistakes along the way to getting it just right. The fun of trying a challenge over and over is gone. Instead, it's possible to save the game where the calendar is filled with recent wins and then keep trying the next race over and over. If it's a loss, just load up the last save and try it again. With its artificial rules for the calendar, it's natural to try and break them.
Here's Your Revolution
While the racing in Enthusia Life sports some spotty control and a very curious way of dealing with the points system, at least the racing in general is decent enough. To help this out even further there is a Driving Revolution mini-game that helps players work on their skills at taking turns by showing them the correct path as well as showing them how fast or slow they should be doing it. It's another novel idea, but, like the others, it's not enough to life this title to greatness.
©2005, IGN Entertainment, Inc. All Rights Reserved