With Acclaim being gone for sometime now due to their financial and business problems, I can't help but to look back and think that they weren't such a bad company after all. Sure, they delivered some pretty crappy games in the NES and Super NES era, but they really turned things around in the 3-D era on the N64. They had a strong line of hits in the late 90's, including the Turok franchise, Forsaken, and Extreme G. Some of those franchises even made it on to the now "current generation" consoles. Of the games Acclaim carried over into this era of consoles, the Extreme G franchsie remained fairly solid, and continues the trend in the last game of the franchise possibly ever to be made again. Sure, the fourth installment of the XG series may not be better than the last game, but it's a decent futuristic racer that was definitley overlooked in the 2003 holiday season, and fills in an empty space in the subgenre for the Xbox.
On other game consoles, you have a choice of futuristic racing games, especially on the Gamecube where you have games like F-Zero GX, XG3, and Tube Slider. The Xbox doesn't have as many options, where the only other futuristic racing games to be found are Quantum Redshift or the awful Pulse Racer. XGRA is a suitable entry for the sub-genre on the system, but if you're expecting something like F-Zero GX, you'll be disappointed. XGRA gives enough to be an entertaining racer, but some of the elements within the game makes XGRA fall short of being great.
XGRA feels a little different from the last game in the franchise, XG3. While the bikes you drive have better control, the game feels a little slower than it did before (in terms of speed), at least until you reach the later racing classes of the game, where the sense of speed actually picks up. But the feel of the game isn't the only thing that has changed. The major improvement over the last game comes from the career mode of the game, which actually offers players more than just racing the same series of courses over and over. Here, you actually have different types of racing, including those that may limit your top speed, or put you through a series of different weather conditions. You'll also have contract objectives to meet during races that can allow you to upgrade your bike at the end of the race series. These challenges include kills, destroying signs or meeting a certain speed or time goal. The changes to the races themselves is the exact direction Acclaim needed to take to make the game better, since XG3 was basically all about racing for the highest place possible. But as one thing gets better, something else has slacked off.
Maybe it's just me, but I found XGRA to be much easier compared to XG3. Granted, XG3 was a pretty hard game to begin with, but the challenge seems to have been decreased since the last game. Perhaps it's because the bikes are easier to drive, or how your bikes can recharge it's shields automatically during a race, or maybe it's because you don't have to buy parts and weapons anymore, but the game does seem much easier than it did back in 2001. Things are even easier once you recieve the Deathstrike weapon, in which you can basically pick off almost everyone off the grid and win by default. Maybe those who were turned off by XG3's difficulty may actually appreciate the decreased difficulty, but those who came from Nintendo and AV's F-Zero GX will find this game to be a breeze. Don't get me wrong, the game is still fun, especially when you do kill off opponents with the Deathstrike (when you unlock the weapon), but it's certainly much easier than the last game in the series.
Visually, you can tell this game started off on the PS2. The textures just aren't as clean as I would like them to be (although some look fine at a distance), but at least they're not terrible, just average. The courses have a good deal of detail to them, and the course designs are as good as they were in XG3, with the expected loops, turns and jumps. A nice thing they did this time around was to offer some offroad sections to certain courses, which gives the feeling that you're not drving on something that resembles a Hot Wheels track kit. The framerate has a little trouble with consistency this time around, but it's nowhere as bad as what was seen in XG2 on the N64. On clear conditions, the framerate remains steady, but with a lot of action on the screen (especially with rain or snow), the framerate takes a bit of a dip. The framerate never reaches the point of unplayability, which is good. But compared to F-Zero GX, or the Gamecube version of XG3, the game is a bit of a bumpy ride this time around.
The audio is pretty good as long as you stick with the right soundtrack. The game is divided into two styles of music: rock and dance. By all means, stay away from the rock music, as it's bad and just doesn't fit the game. But the dance music fits right in with the game, and they're actually music I've heard of that is featured in this game. There is no custom soundtrack support, but if you stick with the dance tracks, you really won't feel the need to use it anyway. The sound effects could have used a little more punch. The bikes this time around sound different than they have in the past. In past XG titles, the bikes had more of an electric humming sound, while the ones in XGRA have more of a motorized growl. I'm not sure why they decided to try out new effects, but they don't seem as futuristic as they used to be. The other effects are fine, but lack the impact you would expect. Then you have the voiceovers, which are not bad, but become repetitive really quick.
One of Acclaim's last games to be released isn't too bad, and while it doesn't exactally end the franchise on the highest note possible, it's still pretty fun to play through. It is easier than the last game, but at least the career mode doesn't have the same repetition as the last game had. You probably passed this one by when it originally came out in 2003, but it's pretty cheap to find now, and if you like the futurisitc racing sub-genre, this is worth giving a shot. It could have been longer, and could have benefited from online support, but it's a decent racing game that could have been a lot worse.