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Cart Flag to Flag (DC) Review

Background Info

Screens (4)
Beautiful graphics, engrossing environs, wonderful intros. Flag to Flag (F2F) has all of these and more. When sitting down to this game for the first time, your adrenaline starts pumping as you eagerly launch the game, place yourself into Alex Zanardi's bright red Target racer and head out on the course.

"An oval," you think to yourself, "that should be a good beginning." The car immediately goes into autopilot for the Rolling Start (which can't be skipped and seems to be taking quite a while). Then, finally, the view changes to in-cockpit and a 3-count countdown begins. 3-2-1 and you're off…and passing about 14 cars on the first straightaway!

That's right—and it's easily replicable, race after race. F2F is a fine looking first-generation DC title that shows off much of the platform's graphical prowess, but doesn't do much with all of that power at its disposal.

Presentation/Graphics : 92
As mentioned above, this is one incredible looking title. Anyone who saw this game on my rig immediately commented on how wonderful the picture looked. The cars are shiny and realistic, the courses and stadiums are very lifelike, and the groovy intros featuring quick cuts around the track as the race begins always grabbed people's attention.

Once in the race, the graphics are still fantastic. There are several views available from within the game, both in-cockpit and out. The gauges are clear and readable and the hands steering the wheel are a nice touch. I found myself constantly returning to the default, "driver's" view for two reasons: 1) I felt it had the best balance of visibility and informational display (including gauges, current position, laps remaining, and lap times) and 2) (and most importantly) the game kept dumping me back into that view at the start of each race. You can't change your view during the seemingly interminable Rolling Start, so you're only left with 3 seconds to get yourself situated and to cycle through views looking for the one you want. I found it to be too frantic trying to switch views before the race began, so I learned to love the default view.

Presentation/Audio : 83
Not a whole lot to mention here. The racing sounds of the cars are well done and really can involve you in the game. I have my DC running through my home theater setup and the sounds are very nice indeed. There's no commentary in the game, however.

The game gets knocked down a few points for a couple of reasons. First, it has background music. As most racing purists will be quick to tell you, there has yet to be a decent, realistic racing simulation released which also included background music. There is no place for music in a racing simulation. That being said, at least you can turn it down. Of course, being a console game, you'll have to do this every single time you want to play if you don't have a memory card with available blocks (the game only takes 12 blocks, but I've also been playing NFL 2K which takes up almost all of a card—I recently bought a new 128k card, so for now all memory problems have been solved).

Secondly, there is a major and highly irritating bug which occurs following any contact with an AI car (who are morons—more below!). After you even bump wheels for a second with an AI car, the game immediately starts making a sound of tires screeching…and the sound doesn't stop. I've had that awful sound ringing in my ears for half a lap at times. The only way to stop it is to cause the sound to occur again through your own braking, which does terminate the sound properly. However, in a close race, I didn't have time to be braking for no reason—so I had to live with the sound. This is inexcusable and should have definitely been caught in product testing.

Interface/Options : 87
The interface is fairly well designed, considering it's a console game. There's a lot of direction pad movement and button clicking to set options, but that's due to the limitations of setting options with a gamepad. However, one really strange decision, in my mind, was to limit players' names to only 3 letters. Isn't it about time to shed this vestigial paradigm from early 80's arcade games? Let's all go nuts and double the limit to 6 letters, or even higher! I mean, 3 is way too short. Plus (and here's a free hint for the folks at Sega): if you're going to have a limit of three characters, don't ask for the player's name--ask for his/her initials! Nothing's more frustrating than fighting with a button-based interface to begin typing in a whole name, only to be stopped short at the third position and forced to start over again.

There are lots of options that you can set in terms of damage, race length, car setups, weather, etc. The weather one cracked me up when reading this line (an actual quote from the manual): "Rain does not appear on oval courses." Won't the boys in CART be relieved to hear that?!? No more worrying about rain tires for upcoming races…

The car setup is fairly limited. You can adjust the tire compound (soft, hard, rain). You can set the angle of the front and rear wings, the amount of fuel you carry, the car's suspension, and the gear ratio. Finally, you can choose manual or automatic. That's it. I played around with this a little, but quickly abandoned it after seeing that the lack of difficulty of the game made the modifications moot. Jump pack support is suprisingly missing—and it's greatly missed!

Gameplay : 63
Let's lay it on the line here: this game is too easy. It took me a couple of races on arcade mode to get used to steering with my thumb (I've been very spoiled by my Microsoft Force Feedback wheel on my PC, I admit!). After maybe five or six races, I placed first on the first course (an oval in Miami). Feeling quite proud of my accomplishment, I moved on to the second track (another oval, this one in Montegi, Japan). And I won it on my second race. The third race was on a street course in Long Beach and it kept me stymied for all of three races. This was not looking good. However, thanks to NFL 2K (as mentioned above), I didn't have any blocks available for saving F2F games so I was hesitant to start a championship series.

Then, my new memory card arrived and I decided to start a championship series. Knowing how easy the game was on arcade mode, I decided to skip Easy mode altogether and instead began on Normal. Then, to increase the challenge, I chose a manual transmission as my default transmission throughout the series.

I needn't have worried about waiting for the memory card. My first time around the track for practice, I set the new track record. My first lap of qualifying (a 2-lap endeavor), I won the pole position. My first race, I took first place. All this with a new difficulty level, a manual transmission, and with no tweaking of the default car setup. I moved on to race number 2 and quickly took third place in qualifying, third place in the race. Race number 3 I snatched the pole again (shattering all course records) and won first place in that contest, as well. At this point, I had a huge points lead over the rest of the field, and I still hadn't done anything more than taking default cars through two laps of qualifying and then racing. I quickly lost interest in this title…and I never even needed the memory card as I did all of the above in one sitting.

The game is fun for a casual racer where you might invite a non-console-owning friend over for an afternoon of speed-based fun (although the split-screen multiplayer mode seemed to make all of my friends motion-sick on my 53" screen!), but you would have to be easily entertained indeed to race this game more than a few times on your own.

This review wouldn't be complete, however, without discussing the competition—the AI cars. Even in vs. mode, there are AI cars—no going head-to-head against a friend on a wide open track. The AI cars drive as if they are on rails. They follow the exact same path around the track every time—regardless of current conditions. I quickly learned their line through the turns…and their dedication to that line. They will dive in at the beginning of the curve and drift high to the outside at the exit and they don't care where you or any other car might be. The game also cheats in that whenever there is contact between an AI car and the player's car, the AI car always comes out ahead. You can be lightly bumped from behind and you will immediately slow down (!) and the tire screeching sound will begin as you watch helplessly as your attacker will slide on by you. I quickly learned that the turns were the best place to pass, as I could very easily intersect with the AI's cars' turning line and scoot inside of them as they drifted outside. Once that minor skill is mastered, you will be unbeatable in this game.

Replay Value : 47
Where's the challenge? When you can kick everybody's butt right out of the chute; when you can jump onto an unfamiliar course, take a couple of practice laps, then qualify and take the pole; when you can accept whatever the default car setup is and still destroy the rest of the field, why play the game more than a few times? My first race in the championship series, I lapped all but six cars. My third race I was so far ahead of the rest of the field for most of the race, it looked like I was a pace car or something.

The one thing that allows racing games to have such great replay value in general (tweaking setups) is completely unnecessary here. Default car setups are good enough (against the moronic AI) that none of the garage time that is so intrinsic to other games is required at all here.

Overall : 70
This game was a big disappointment to me. It looked so good and seemed initially to be so much fun, but turned out to be a big letdown. Pretty graphics and groovy intros only go so far. When it comes right down to it, this game is about as deep as a Miss America candidate's genuine concern for the homeless in our country. If you have a friend coming over and you want a quick, easy-to-get-into racing game to throw in your DC, give F2F a rental. If you're considering a purchase, I strongly urge you to pass.

By: Rick Worrell 10/27/99

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