Review by Andy787

Reviewed: 04/20/03 | Updated: 04/20/03

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Over the years, as the racing genre has become more and more refined, with very few games reaching out to bring anything really new to the table, Codemasters has recognized this, not only as a threat to their primary genre, but as an excellent opportunity. Enter Pro Race Driver, their attempt at taking their signature racing expertise, and adding for the first time in the genre, a fully fledged, story-driven element to the mix. With nothing in the genre to learn or copy from, how does Codemasters' little experiment fare?

Well, strictly speaking of the presentation, it fares quite well. They've managed to capture a very movie-esq direction and narrative, taking out all of the stops, from licensing very well-known songs to specifically tailor to particular scenes, to individually modeling a sizeable cast of very life-like characters who otherwise have no other precedent on the game other than to tell the story during cutscenes. That said, though, direction is all for naught without a script, right? Well, kind of. PRD's story isn't exactly mindbending, nor is it ever all too extremely compelling, but it works in the same sense that a Vin Diesle movie works; it's shallow, somewhat entertaining, but obviously only a host to the sum of it's parts.

It all starts as you're shown a glimpse from the lead character (Ryan ''Octane'' McKane)'s past, in which Ryan witnesses first hand the death of his father, a famed pro race driver, as he is nearing the finish of a race and is side swiped by another driver. Flash forward, Ryan has now grown up (and become quite the cocky fellow, to say the least), and has followed in his father (and older brother)'s footsteps, becoming a pro race driver himself. With the premise set, all of the typical cliches ensue. You've got your sibling rivalries, your know-it-all veterans, the hard-to-get love interest; it just goes down the check list one by one.

Luckily, the meat of the game --the gameplay-- isn't quite as mediocre. The primary mode you'll be spending most of your time in is the career mode, in which all of the story elements take place. From the outset, after performing a simple test run to get some attention, you're given a number of paths to choose from (in the form of E-mail proposals to your computer, from various racing teams), each with different scenarios to play out, from the car you're given to compete with, to the opposing cars, or the place you're expected to achieve in the series of races with that team. As you complete each series, more paths open up to you, and new cutscenes further develop the story.

The actual races play like a combination between sim and arcade style racers --while turning and drifting is handled in a much more arcad-y fashion, car damage is handled extremely realistically. On that note, it's worth mentioning just how realistic that is, as the car damage and crashing in a racer like this has never really been done near to the level it is in Pro Race Driver. PRD doesn't provide you with the easy outs of using outside walls as brakes like most racers --the slightest touch can completely total your car if you're not watching. And what's more, damage takes much more precedent upon your car's performance than in most games, making strategic pit stops and cautious driving very important.

Now back to the arcad-y part, which is really where PRD loses me at times. For some reason, the game doesn't seem to be able to find a sweet spot for itself, so while you may think you've got your timing down pat, pulling off multiple turns easily and smoothly, many times you'll go into another turn expecting the same results, but watching your car fly off the side of the road, even with proper braking and caution applied. Thankfully, the game's very in-depth manual tuning provides you the resources to override this in many cases, but if you're a rookie racing gamer, you're likely going to find yourself at a loss often.

PRD also features all of your standard racing game modes that'll keep your busy once you've conquered the career mode, such as a free race and time trial mode, as well as multiplayer for up to four players (provided you've got a multi-tap handy). All of the extra modes are available right from the get-go, however through career mode is how you go about unlocking the multitude of cars and tracks for use in the rest of the modes.

Though certainly not the most important aspect of a game, graphics are always a big factor with racing games, and in Pro Race Driver's case, it's a bit of a mixed bag. The car models themselves look [i]fantastic[/i]. High poly, high resolution, and with plenty of glossy shine, the car models look good by themselves, and watching them crumble so distinctively in real-time makes them ever more impressive. However, on the other hand, most everything on the outside of the car, looks largely very plain and dull. Extremely flat, almost single-colored asphalt and grass textures and generally boring scenery almost makes the sense of speed slow to a sense of crawl.

Sound-wise, Pro Race Driver is again somewhat of a mixed bag. Genuine car noises and very impressive damage sound effects highlight what is otherwise a very sound-less game, literally. Aside from some well suited licensed clips leading into and out of cut-scenes, the actual races are without background music, which is definitely a bummer for this type of racer. Also noteable, however, is the large amount of voice acting undertaken for each of the cut-scenes. While not Metal Gear-quality here, they've largely done an admirable job with the story that the game was given.

In the end, Pro Race Driver was an impressive attempt at something new, and while it's certainly not without it's problems, it's still an interesting take in a genre that many consider hasn't had many innovative ideas in quite some time. If anything, hopefully PRD will set the blue print for more refined titles in it's vein, but for now, if you're looking for a racer you can watch as well as drive, this is about your only choice, and that's not such a bad thing at all.

Rating:   3.5 - Good

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