Written By Shaun McCracken

What can we say about R: Racing Evolution? What was once thought to be the next installment of the Ridge Racer series turns out to be anything but. Perhaps Namco wanted try something new, perhaps give their take on the Gran Turismo style of racing. But it's not Gran Turismo, given that the handling characteristics are less simulation and a little more arcade-like, and also given the fact that there are not nearly as many cars or customization options as GT. But for some reason, that really didn't matter much with me. I pretty much went into R with the mentality of this being the "appetizer" before the buffet that is GT4, and to me, it succeeded on that level. But R does some other things different from GT, some good and maybe bad for some.

Let's get this straight, and let this be known through the entire review: THIS IS NOT GRAN TURISMO. It doesn't have the fine-tuned mechanics, it doesn't have the myriad of car options or selection of cars to choose from. That being said, what does make this (RRE) different is the way it presents itself. The game plays a lot like Codemaster's Pro Race Driver, in which there is a story involved within the racing. Although the story mode here is a shorter affair than PRD's, it's actually a little more interesting, and dare I say, sexier? The "story mode" in R is actually called "Racing Life", a 14 chapter (stage) mode in which you play as Rena, an ambulance driver-turned-race car driver making her way to the top, only to find out the organization she works for are total a-holes. The "Racing Life", like I've mentioned, is not terribly long. All races are different, and range from road racing to rally racing and even drag racing. I'm sure that Namco could have stretched this out across 20 chapters, but why go the extra mile, huh? But to make up for that, there is the Event Challenge mode, with 100+ racing competitions and challenges.

Another difference between R and the GT series is that Namco made racing a less lonely affair. During the race, you'll get advice, compliments and reprimands from the pit crew, as well as (limited) feedback from other people you're racing against. In the GT series, you never hear anything from anyone. You would think that if you caused someone to spin out, you'd hear how pissed off that opponent was. Well, in R, you can. In fact, they have a few choice words for you sometimes. Even though the dialouge is limited, it's actually more expanded than what was done in Pro Race Driver, and made racing a little more exciting.

There are varied courses to drive on in R, but I sure wish there were more of them. For the road courses, you have Suzuka East and Suzuka Circuit, Yokahama Street Course, Phillip Island, Green Field, Twin Motegi Speedway and Monaco. There are three rally courses, Waterbridge, Windmill Falls and a SS Rally Arena. Then there's the Surfside drag strip. That's only 10 courses, but the rally and drag courses are reversed. Why the road courses couldn't have been reversed is a mystery, as that would have given a little more variety. But even if Namco did, it's still anemic compared to other racing games. I'm sure the developers could have crammed Laguna Seca, as well as some other locales in here. Why they didn't is a mystery, probably due to a lack of development time, I suppose.

The racing in the game is not so bad, especially if you've read what other critics have said about this game. If you've read the reviews for this game on IGN, Gamespot and a few other places, the reviewers have said that RRE "lacks a sensation of speed ... it feels slow". Yeah, the game doesn't fly like Burnout 2, Need For Speed Underground or F-Zero GX. But then again, the racers this game is compared against are arcade in nature. IGN was comparing this game to the GT4 Prologue Disc, claiming how much better that was than this. But not everybody (including myself) has a modded or Japanese PS2 to play the Prologue disc on. In fact, I would say that a major whole of the gaming community has not had a chance to play an early version of GT4 and compare it to everything else. I'm pretty damn sure that GT4 will handle better, move faster and look nicer than RRE. But we'll have to wait months until GT is released. We have RRE now. So, after that whole rant being said, RRE does move a little slower than other racing games, but does keep and admirable pace. In fact, it reminded me of Ridge Racer Type 4. That game never really matched the speed displayed on the speedometer, but no-one complained. RRE's handling is not exact ally representative of simulation racing. The handling is a little more relaxed than the GT series. Also, it seems like Namco is still kind of holding on to the grip/drift system for the car's handling. Some road cars have really good grip, while others (notably, 4WD cars and Rally Cars) will be more prone to sliding.

Technique also plays a part to your success in RRE. Drafting plays a very important role in how well you do on the track. If you do not know what "drafting" is, it's a technique of gaining speed by hanging around behind the opponent in front of you. Something to do with the aerodynamics of the car and wind-resistance. Anyway, not only does drafting give you speed, but it also applies "pressure" on the driver. As you approach the opponent in front of you, you will see a meter with the driver's name on top of it. The closer you get to the driver, the faster the meter fills. When that meter flashes, that driver is more prone to screwing up, such as suddenly sliding out of control, or overshooting a turn and drive into the dirt. It's actually a useful and fun technique, almost like an attack you can use on an opponent, like in a kart racer. But instead of turtle shells, you use psychology.

One final point I want to talk about of RRE is the Racing Points feature. Racing Points in RRE is pretty much used like money in the game. You can buy competitions in the Event Challenge, buy new cars or buy upgrades for the cars you already own. But I like how the RP system is done. It basically rips off the Kudos system from the Project Gotham series, which is about damn time someone has done so. During the race, you can earn points for drifting, good braking and cornering, not going out of bounds, maintaining top speed and even not braking (which you can only really pull off on the Twin Motegi Speedway). On top of that, you can earn RP's for the overall rank you place. It's a nice feature, and is done the right way, as opposed to the point system devised in Need For Speed Hot Pursuit 2.

Well, with all of the game play details out of the way, let's get into graphics. Again, this is something quite a few critics got on. Some have said that RRE looks like a first-generation PS2 game. Granted, there is some aliasing, and some odd shimmering in the textures, but then something like textures look pretty sharp. The course design and layout is done very well. The cars look fantastic, almost Gran Turismo in quality. The lighting effects are done very well. The frame rate is running at a constant 60 FPS. I think for the most part, RRE doesn't look so bad. I bet it would have looked a lot better had the game had some more development time, but this is not a dog in terms of graphics.

The sound is pretty good, except most of the cars all sound the same. Plus the cars really don't sound like cars, but more like dirt bikes and motorcycles. I can get over that, I'm sure you could too. The music is well done, almost on the level of R4, but some tracks hold it back from reaching that level. There are a couple of music tracks that sound broken, as if the disc were skipping. I'm pretty sure that decision was intentional, but the sound that I'm hearing is less coherent than a Beck song (Nicotine and Gravy, anyone?). The voice acting is acceptable, but predictable.

Final Thought

I'm surprised by R: Racing Evolution. I thought I may have gotten myself into an leverage racing experience, but I found myself enjoying this game and playing it a lot. I would say I've put in at least 15-18 hours in this game, and that's not too bad. It does have it's shortcomings, such as the lack of courses, the lack of refined handling and not nearly as many cars as the competition. But seeing how GT4 keeps getting pushed further and further down the calendar, I would say that RRE is a pretty good appetizer until the main course (GT4). I also have to note that this is the ONLY game of this type on the Gamecube, and for GC only owners, this is not such a bad pick if you want to a little more realism to your racing. I'm sure the racing enthusiast (like myself) will get the most out of this game, but then again, that's just me.




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In terms of GT-style racing, this is your only real option on the Gamecube. Luckily, it's pretty good.

Pro Rally

Group S Challenge

Pro Race Driver

Gran Turismo 3 and 4

Forza Motorsport

TOCA Race Driver 2 and 3

2003-2006 SPM

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