I think after playing Group S Challenge, I might have just played every racing
game the Xbox has to offer in the one year I've owned the system. I've played (and even own/owned) Project Gotham
Racing and PGR 2, Burnout 3, OutRun 2, RalliSport Challenge and RSC2, Need For Speed Underground and NFSU2, ToCA Race Driver 2,
APEX, Colin McRae Rally 4, Sega GT 2002, MTX Mototrax, Midtown Madness 3, XGRA, Carve, and even Lotus Challenge. Damn, that's
a lot. Then there are the racing games from other consoles. So, out of everything
I've listed, why would I bother with Group S Challenge, a game that's relatively unknown
on the Xbox? Well, that's good reason enough.
Group S Challenge is an effort that you really wouldn't see from Capcom. After all,
they're hardly known for racing games, let alone racing sims. So on that level, there
could be cause for concern. But the end result really isn't that awful, rather
one of some disappointment. Capcom was seemingly trying to aim for a Gran Turismo-like
game for the Xbox, but everything the developers tried to copy off of Gran Turismo's
(or even Sega GT 2002's) design falls fairly short.
The career mode in this game (which is referred to as Circuit Mode)
is woefully short, even if you compare it to Sega GT 2002, which I though had a fairly short
and limited career mode. Group S Challenge, on the other hand, hardly offers anything, with
really only four championships to it's name (Group C, B, A, and S challenge), and
in order to actually move on from group to group, you need to meet a very strict criteria. Genrally,
for multi-race events, you would earn points for your position at the end of each race, and
the overall total would determine your overall rank. Not here. When the game says that
the overall rank must be 1st place, that means you HAVE to place 1st, or you have to do
everything over again. Of course, you'll have to repeat championships quite a few times
just to find a car fast enough to move you on to the next group.
Aside from the championship, there's the "Line-Line" event, in which you basically collect glowing
dots on the road ala Pac-Man for one lap. Actually, it's pretty addictive and not
a bad way to make extra money, but there's a bit of a fault the developers really didn't
fix. During the explanation of the race, it tells you if you crash, you lose the money
you earn. Well, I crashed, and lost nothing. Sure, it may sound like a good thing,
but basically what I was told before I started the race was an empty threat.
The other event in the Circuit Mode is the Duel race, which is concievaly one
of the most useless events in the game. Here, you can go against another car that is specially
modified aerodynamically in a one lap race. But, you need to do this with three different
specified cars. So basically, you have to buy a car that you really never intended on
buying just to race against one of the duel cars. But what's funny is that you really
don't need any of these cars, and I really see no point in participating in these
races unless you plan on getting all of the 87 cars offered.
On top of the Circuit mode, there's an arcade mode and a replay mode, which is
pretty much what it sounds like, so I really don't think I have to explain what
they are. And that's it to Group S Challenge, at least as what you're given to do.
The menus of GSC are pretty bad and clunky. For some reason, it needs to explain everything
like it's my first time playing. The garage setup is very messy, as it's just a "placemat"
full of cars, rather than a practical list. At least everything is grouped by car
make, or I would never find anything. The car customization is a rather uneventful affiar,
with not nearly as many options as you would find in other GT racers. Basically, it
almost makes you feel like tuning your car is something you have to do. You performance
does get effected, but it all feels forced. And the cost of adding the parts is so
off-balance. In games like Gran Turismo or Sega GT, a car part would run about the same
for every car, maybe with an instance where there is a little difference in cost. Here,
the parts can cost more than the car in some cases (especially with some group S
cars, where it could cost you 12,000,000 DP for the car and 22.56 million DP for
a level-3 engine upgrade).
Now, I make Group S sound like it's an awful game. Like I said earlier, it's not,
it just ends up not reaching it's potential. The handling is actually pretty good,
and rather unexpected from a company not known for racing games. I though this
game would play like crap, but the actual racing is not so bad. The AI is not that
attrocious, either. Sure, they follow a line, but it's not like a one-by-one form.
They do try to take your position, and can put up some fight. Perhaps not as smart
as other games (like Burnout 3's, where the AI is aware of trying to piss you off,
and is aware of the hazards on the road), but I saw nothing terribly wrong. It's when
you break away from the lacking options is when the game starts to get good.
Visually, Group S Challenge looks pretty damn good. I was suprised how sharp this game
looks. The cars are modelled pretty well, the environments are a bit behind PGR 2's,
but still better than Sega GT 2002's, the lighting is excellent and there is a good
sense of speed. I would say it was excellent if it weren't for some framerate problems
that really only occur during a specific instance. If you're behind the full pack of AI
opponents (which is basically every 6-car race you start in), the framerate seems sluggish,
but when you pass by three or so cars, the framerate smooths out just fine. Also, it's
smooth during time-trial, duel, or line-line races. I really wish that the framerate was fluid all
the way through, as this would have been the one area in the game where I could
say there was no problem.
The audio is not bad, either. The music, again, is suprisingly unattrocious (is that a word?).
It's mostly techno, but it really doesn't get in the way, and suits the game rather well.
The engine sounds are pretty much on key, with some variation between other cars (a
Subaru WRX does sound different than a Nissan Skyline, for instance). But I really
didn't see so much an effective use of the surround sound the game offers.
If Group S Challenge would have even had the amount of race events and tuning options
Sega GT 2002 had, this game would have gotten an 8.5 easy. But despite what it does visually,
the sheer shallowness of the main game mode is a bit too much to ignore. Unless
you are willing to collect every single car, this game would pretty much last you a weekend.
Better (much better) than Lotus Challenge, but far from Gotham, and not close enough to
Sega GT 2002. It's worth a look just to see what Capcom did, it's just too bad there's
not enough to keep you there. Almost like the story of Midtown Madness 3, which coincidentally,
scored the same here.