IGN Review of Import Tuner Challenge
Import Tuner Challenge may sound like just another generic racing game. In actuality, it's a generic Tokyo Xtreme Racer game. Gussied up with a new name for the American audience, probably in an attempt to hide the fact that almost nothing has changed or been added to previous Tokyo Xtreme Racer games, Import Tuner Challenge provides very little in the way of a reason to choose it over the many other good racing games on Xbox 360.
If you've played one of the Tokyo Xtreme Racer games before, then you know exactly what to expect. The main draw of the series is the unique battle system of competition. Rather than simply racing from a start to a designated finish line, although races of that nature are sprinkled through the quest mode, each opponent has a health bar of sorts. If you fall severely behind your opponent or bump into another vehicle or wall, your bar drains. The same goes for your opponent. The race ends when one competitor loses their entire bar. This makes the series have certain flair, especially when you realize you can still lose the race even though you're winning simply by crashing the car into a wall.
Most races are found by driving around in a loop and flashing your headlights at rivals when you come across them. These rivals often are part of a team and when you beat the entire team, you'll be rewarded with new stickers for your cars, upgrade options, and occasionally new stretches of road to ride on. Some boss races only appear once you've met certain conditions, such as defeating every player on a team or clearing out all rivals during a certain time of night, while other races must be sought out in parking areas. This makes it important to constantly check your rival list, accessible only by returning to the garage, to find where and when you'll be able to find the rival you're looking for to progress in the game.
The series is also well known for the myriad customization options. With literally millions of ways to put a car together, from paint color to the clutch, there are tons of options for making the car your own. There are plenty of licensed vehicles to choose from and each one does have its own unique handling. The heavier cars actually do feel like they weigh more, particularly around turns. On the down side, most of the upgrading is still stuck in the "pay this much for a level 3 engine" way things have been done for years.
These features at their heart aren't bad, but once you start the actual racing the disappointments shine through. The biggest of which is the AI. Opponent racers can still often be beaten by riding alongside them until you can direct them into a wall or car. Likewise, they can be blown away on every turn with only minimal drifting and turning skills. Once you do get ahead of the AI, which isn't that hard as long as a turn is ahead and your vehicle is close to on par with theirs, staying ahead of them until they run into a car isn't very difficult at all. Basically, the entire challenge comes down to a simple check: Is my car fast enough to stay with theirs until we reach a turn? If the answer is yes, then you'll win. If not, then you probably won't stand any sort of chance and you'll just wind up watching the AI car blast off into the distance.
The first few hours of the game are extremely slow and poor presentation almost kills the experience. All told, there are only a handful of roads to race on in Import Tuner Challenge. At the start of the game you're provided with just one loop. Sure, you can drive around it at night, midnight or daybreak (all of which are just variations on dark) and can choose to drive the course in either direction, but that hardly makes up for the fact that you'll be driving on the same small loop for hours. You'll probably lose most of the beginning races, too, since the cars you can afford at the beginning stink and there isn't a really good way to know whether you can beat a rival until you try and find out that you can't. Combine this with very little initial direction to inform you how to easily get to the races you want and the result isn't fun.
Getting over the initial hump does open the game up somewhat, providing plenty of options for buying new cars and tuning them so that you can actually win races. Unfortunately, by the time you get to this point, you'll find that you're more than ready for some new courses. There quite simply isn't enough road to drive around on to keep you from getting bored by the scenery and knowing each little turn far too well. That's not even to mention the "personalities" of your rivals that you get to meet in between races. If the silhouette of a person beside an uninteresting paragraph of generic trash talking motivates anyone and makes them feel like they're moving up in the street racing ranks, then they have much more vivid imaginations than we do.
Aside from the quest mode, Import Tuner Challenge also has time attack, free run, Xbox Live, and versus modes. Free run allows you to just cruise around the streets, though you'll probably already have gotten your fill of this during the quest mode. Time attack puts you on set stretches of the course and asks you to see how fast you can complete the course. In a puzzling move, there aren't any target times laid out for you, even though meeting certain times will unlock achievements.
To its credit, Import Tuner Challenge's Xbox Live mode is done well. It is streamlined and very easy to quickly hop into a ranked match against anyone in the world. Beginners should be wary of getting online too quickly, though, as most of those playing online have already unlocked the best cars and will crush any new players to a fine pulp. Like most of the game, you'll have to invest a huge amount of time in the quest mode before playing online doesn't seem like a waste of time.
The graphics in Import Tuner Challenge are mostly disappointing. The game does manage to run smoothly without any noticeable dips in frame rate or screen tearing. This isn't that big of a deal, though, when you look at what is going on. Although the entire game takes place at night, there aren't any of the special lighting tricks we've come to expect out of next-generation games. Aside from running in high definition, there isn't much to let you know that you aren't playing the game on an older system. Racing games are always a great way to showcase the power of a new system, but you won't be able to do that with Import Tuner Challenge.
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