While most racing games insist that you work your way up from a Nissan Micra or merely stick to one make of motor car, Atari (formerly Infogrames) has decided on a slightly different approach, and one for a change that is actually quite refreshing.
Although you have two modes to chose from initially, the campaign style side of the game sees you start by inheriting a small garage, from here you launch a new sports car, and then the rest of the game is based around you making sales to fuel prototypes and other such goodies. Sounds like a Sim more than a racing game I hear you cry. And on the outset it sounds like it as well, but you'll soon realise that all you have to do is win races to earn notoriety and gain orders.
You start with a standard racing car and as you progress through the races and difficult levels your car evolves. Furthermore as you progress through the game you can set in motion research and development on other cars and start to build a fleet for all types of race whether it is on the track or around a city.
Throughout the game you keep coming back to your small garage, which eventually grows and grows as you progress. You eventually start to hire receptionists and then line managers and this all makes for a nice friendly formula. Most things can be changed when it comes to in game settings. Limited dynamics of the car can be changed to suit your driving style and this includes gear ratios, downforce and cornering abilities.
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Tracks are varied, if not all based on four or five formulas and while some would complain it can become repetitive there is enough change to only promote the odd bit of familiarisation. Either way there is always the bugger of the last corner where your lead is shattered before your eyes back down to last place and this can be one of the more frustrating elements of the game.
In between competitions and racing events you get the odd mini-challenge and these range from challenging a sheik as to who has the best car to defending your designs. Win and you are well rewarded, lose and you leave empty handed. This is another nice element in the game, however they are sprung on you when you're least expecting it and there is no second chance if you are piped at the last turn.
For those wishing to get straight into the action you can chose arcade mode that allows you to race over 40 licensed cars such as various Lotus Elise and Mercedes SLK models. A spilt screen mode is also available so you can challenge your mates. Playing both the arcade mode and the campaign mode opens up further areas and the more races you win the more rewards you get.
When it comes to racing the cars, this game is rather similar to every other racing game, giving you enough of a chance to qualify, but rarely win. Yes there are plenty of times when you will be ahead, only to be beaten in the final stages. To me, this is a good thing, as this game certainly kept me coming back for more as I tried in vain to get that ever elusive win.
The storyline of building up your car brings a nice touch to the game. Rather than just be about racing cars, it manages to bring a "want to do better" mentality to it all, so your car and your little make-believe company will do better. This might not be the best racing game out there, but it is certainly one of the more gratifying.