IGN Review of Race Driver: Create & Race
It can usually be attributed to smaller budgets for handheld productions: unless it's a game produced by the Mighty Nintendo, Nintendo DS games generally don't get nearly the same development attention as console products tend to. Take, for example, racing games. The system's got plenty of them, including the outstanding Mario Kart DS, but on a third-party level most are pale shadows to their console partners; most companies aren't really willing to take the risk on an original IP anyway, instead "porting" to the current generation of whatever racing game they're shipping on console.
But what happens when a development studio actually cares about its Nintendo DS racing game, and is willing to put effort into a production that might even rival a console project? You might get something like Race Driver: Create and Race. Codemasters and Firebrand Games have created something special on the dual-screen handheld, producing a racer that occasionally makes you question, "This is the DS?" The visuals are tight and the features list is abundant, but most of all Race Driver: Create and Race has tons of "icing on the cake" touches throughout for no other reason than to give Nintendo DS gamers a console level project. Little issues keep it from breaching the "excellent" status, but if you can deal with those issues you've got one of the top racers on the system.
Race Driver: Create and Race borrows its namesake from Codemasters series but the Nintendo DS version is its own take on the racing genre. It more sides on the "arcade" side of the fence than on the "sim" side with its loose handling and more exaggerated pace, but that definitely works to the game's (and system's) advantage since arcade racers generally have fewer expectations when it comes to realism. Plus, in my opinion, arcade racers are far more fun anyway. And this one's a really fun one.
The game is chock full of features: licensed vehicles from Audi, BMW, Fiat, General Motors, and tons of other manufacturers with different class types, from muscle cars to supertrucks
each having their own different, distinct speed and handling. There are several tracks to race on in the many different circuits, and even a "simulation" mode that's a bit mislabeled: it's more a bunch of challenges that puts your driving and racing skills to the test. The visuals are fantastic, running at a smooth framerate from start to finish even when the screen clutters up with vehicles. The game has plenty of rewards for blowing past the competition and completing all the challenges...the only thing missing is the ability to paint your own decals for your vehicle. But we can forgive that for what we'll talk about next.
The "create" part of the game comes from the incredible and in-depth track builder. From the start you're limited in what you can use to build your custom courses, but as you progress in the single player options you unlock all sorts of different tilesets to use, from hairpin turns to scenery props, and once you blow through all the challenges you have the ability to create courses that are just as deep and detailed as what Firebrand created as the stock tracks in Race Driver.
There's a big reason why this game just misses the "fantastic" boat, and that's due to one simple element: camera position. It's hard to say if its to work within the limitations of the graphics engine in order to keep everything moving smoothly or if it was simply a design decision, but the player camera - whether it's in-car or out - is just too low to the track. At this position, it's incredibly difficult to see more than fifty feet in front of your car unless you're driving up an incline, so trying to anticipate turns requires more than a little guesswork. The designers do everything to make sure you know when to brake and turn, whether it's via the map on the bottom screen or the sign indicators on the side of the track. But those signs zip by so quickly, and it's admittedly not easy to constantly glance down and up in a game that moves so fast. Once you learn the tracks this becomes less an issue, but you'll find yourself off into the dirt or grass in your first couple of hours of zooming around the circuits.
But please make sure you practice before you hop onto one of the game's biggest feature: multiplayer. Nothing makes you feel more like a chump than someone who can't handle their car, and you definitely don't want to show the world your skills (or lack thereof) when you hop online without the single player training. Yep, this game supports Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection for internet play, and in a big way: you can customize your matches, choose Friend or Rival matches, pull up the latest leaderboards, even show off your track designs by setting a race on one of them. The game has the "critical mass" problem of not having too many people online searching for random matches, so for this review we had to snag a second copy of the game to test the online. It's really seamless, even though another design issue hinders the enjoyment: player names are emblazoned above opponent's cars in HUGE TEXT that doesn't turn transparent until they're a good distance away. So if you're fighting for position you might find yourself blinded by some guy's l33t moniker, and the longer it is the worse it gets.
The multiplayer isn't just relegated to online and multi-cart support, though that's where most of the features appear. Firebrand also supports single cartridge Download Play so that it's incredibly easy to get a four player race going. And while a few elements get stripped for this mode, it's not a throwaway since you still have access to multiple tracks and cars. The only downside is the lengthy loadtimes between races, and more systems connected means longer loadtimes. But that's more an issue of the slow bandwidth of the Nintendo DS hardware
and the programmers do everything to speed up the process, including a feature that starts the download to the system as soon as it connects instead of waiting for all the systems to link up first. Wish all DS games did this
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