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Jeff Gordon XS Racing (PC) Review

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Screens (5)

It seems that when a racing game is named after a famous driver the game itself is usually somewhat sub-par. It makes no difference how good the driver is - witness EA's poorly executed Andretti Racing. Does the Jeff Gordon XS Racing buck this unfortunate trend? Read on and find out what this game adds to the "futuristic racer" genre.

Presentation/Graphics : 53
The graphics engine in XS Racing can only be described as primitive when compared to modern arcade racers like Need for Speed: High Stakes or Powerslide.

The first problem is that the game is limited to a resolution of 640x480. According to recent polls the most popular gaming resolution is 1024x768, followed closely by 800x600. 640x480 looks a bit blocky by comparison.

Secondly, the quality of the images is poor. Even allowing for the low resolution, games from two years ago like Need for Speed 2 and Moto Racer looked better than this. The tracks are also quite bland. The designers tried to hide this with excessive use of moving light sources which are only distracting and annoying (fortunately they can be turned off).

I also have to say I found the game's excessive use of product advertising to be a bit grating. No one minds a tastefully done, in-context product placement. But the in-your-face corporate logos of XS racing make me feel like I'm paying for the privilege of being marketed to, kind of like when I'm forced to endure a commercial in a movie theatre. It would be more forgivable if they'd used the product placements to lower the cost of the game but that's not the case, at least in stores around here. It's priced in the same range as games like Need for Speed High Stakes.

About the only good thing I can say about the graphics engine is that it provides a good frame rate and sensation of speed. But then at this resolution and level of quality it would be hard to do less.

Presentation/Audio : 70
The audio effects are competent, but nothing more. There is little if any "environmental" sound that the Need for Speed series uses so effectively to add a feeling of being in a real place.

Interface/Options : 50
The user interface is another weak area in this game. Like the graphics, it feels like a throwback to the kind of interface you'd see three or four years ago. And not a very well done throwback either.

It features simple menus that must be scrolled with the arrow keys. There is no mouse or joystick support. That alone wouldn't be a serious flaw, if the interface were well done. But it has a number of problems.

There are various standards that this type of keyboard interface has always used, but they are blissfully ignored here. One small example: you can't press the up-arrow key on the top menu choice to scroll around to the bottom choice. Worse, the game doesn't remember your menu choices - number of opponent cars, length of race, even the current track - all have to be selected each and every time you race.

The menu background is also poorly chosen. It features a constantly animating replay of the last race. A cute idea, but very distracting in practice.

These might seem like small details, but add them up and they equal an interface that is annoying to use.

The in-game driving controls are fine, and support the expected options for an arcade racer. The force feedback effects aren't too bad, although this kind of game really calls for a joystick, so a FF wheel is not all that useful.

Gameplay : 60
The game itself attempts to imitate the successful feel of games like Screamer and Powerslide. Forget realism, this game is all about sliding around corners and maximizing the thrill of speed. In some small ways it achieves this goal, but mostly it misses the mark.

There are a couple of tracks where the driving feels very good. Namely the winter track and the dirt-covered one. The car slides around very well and brings back fond memories of Screamer, an early but quite successful PC arcade racer. But on the asphalt - six of the eight tracks - I think the traction is set too high. You can certainly powerslide around corners. But everyone who tried the game also spent a lot of time bouncing off walls and other cars. Compared to the dirt and ice surfaces the car sticks to the asphalt too easily at certain speeds.

There are a few gimmicks such as "accelerator lanes" and 360 degree loops on some tracks. This allowed the track designers to be somewhat innovative. But the gimmicks themselves lose a lot of points for being mostly "fake." For example, in the loops you lose all control of the car; you aren't actually driving. The game takes the wheel and powers you through the loop. This really detracts the fun from what could have been a good part of the game.

The cars also have mini-wings that deploy when you go over jumps, giving the car more air. And while you can steer a bit in the air, this also didn't have quite the right feel - it seemed more like sliding the car back and forth on a rail than controlling a flying object.

Difficulty & AI : 68
The game has several difficulty levels, and the drivers seem to have a wide range of skills. If you actually like the game you can probably find sufficient challenge to keep you interested for a while. The biggest disappointment is the "canned loops" I discussed previously, where the game doesn't allow you to actually drive through them.

Overall : 50
I must admit I grew bored of XS Racing rather quickly. It did not intrigue me the way other futuristic racers like Powerslide have done. I only raced each of the tracks at most once, and felt no desire to return to them. I really can't recommend that you buy this game.

By: Joe McGinn 8/2/99

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