Some of the best racing comes from the less popular classes. Formula 1 is often criticized for its lack of passing. You get plenty of passing in NASCAR or IRL, but the joke there is that drivers only know how to turn the wheel in one direction. But racing based around touring class or GT cars have always been a joy to watch. The combination of interesting circuits and plenty of passing makes this type of racing a real attention grabber. Codemasters brings it all home with Pro Race Driver for the Xbox: 38 tracks, 42 cars, and a good physics engine all tempt your racing needs.
Presentation/Graphics : 70
Despite coming out around a year ago, Rallisport Challenge is still the leader when it comes to graphics for an Xbox racing game. The graphics in Pro Race Driver are strictly run of the mill and do nothing to leave you in awe. If you are familiar with Moto GP on the Xbox you know what to expect with Pro Race Driver. Still, the graphics are good enough to not interfere with the racing. You'll be able to pick a clean racing line because of the clarity. During a race, cars will lose parts if hit by another car or a barrier. For example, it's very common for rear wings to come flying off. The wings stay on the circuit and bounce around like a pinball when struck on subsequent laps.
Presentation/Audio : 85
All I expect out of a racing game is a realistic sound engine that recreates the many aspects of driving. Pro Race Driver delivers very well in this regard. Each car has a unique sound, and there's no mistaking a four-banger from the throaty roar of a racing Mercedes. Over-revving the engine is nicely done when the car gets just a tiny bit of air on bumps or over curbs. Rumble strips create a nice little audible clue that you're coming close to the edge as does a persistent tire squeal around corners at high speed. There is little in-game audio during a race. You won't hear spotters, but at times your crew chief will come on and interject a comment.
Interface/Options : 80
The main mode of Pro Race Driver is the career mode where you progress from the bottom of the racing world up through various classes of cars until you reach the top. In addition, you can partake in single races and time trials. The single race mode lets you race on any unlocked tracked with any unlocked car. You can set the number of AI cars to race against as well as adjust the difficulty of your opponents.
The number of options in the game is minimal as you might expect in a racing title. Besides the modes of play, you can adjust some of the parameters relating to the audio or controller mappings. During a racing event you can also perform performance tweaks to your car.
There are some problems with game options. First, once you've loaded a game you can't load another one. That is, if you are playing with two drivers simultaneously (either separate drivers or strategies for example), the only way to load another file is to reset your Xbox from a warm or cold reboot. Secondly, when it comes to the career mode, you are given all of a couple seconds to see what track you'll be racing on including the type of conditions for the race. Unless you catch a quick glimpse before the screen disappears or take a few test laps on the circuit, you'll be racing blind in terms of car setup. Finally, there's no in-season ability to see where you rank in the current series. You'll have to wait until after a race for that.
Gameplay : 85
We have come to expect pretty good driving games from Codemasters: Pro Race Driver should be no exception. As a sequel to the TOCA series of driving games, we look forward to touring class cars, diverse tracks, damage, and decent AI. For the most part, this game delivers all that and more.
The primary mode of Pro Race Driver is the career mode. The developers thought it would be interesting to develop a story mode as the basis of the career mode. Frankly, I'm more interested in the actual racing rather than a goofy storyline with some animated cut scenes. As Ryan McKane you start out from the bottom of the racing series and work your way up the ranks. At first this means driving underpowered front wheel drive cars. In time you'll work your way up to the real jewels in the game, including such goodies as racing Vettes, Vipers, and prototypes.
After your first race you may wonder about the game's physics engine. As you floor the throttle you watch helplessly as the AI cars blow by you. And entering corners you'll be aghast as you slam the brake button, turn the wheel, and have no turning ability. So what's wrong? Well, frankly it's your driving style. First, to succeed at an acceleration in the game you must realize you can't slam on the gas. You have to accelerate smoothly lest you lay rubber down from loss of traction. It's all about grip, and if you feather the throttle trigger and avoid laying tracks you'll accelerate just fine. Likewise, when braking you can avoid locking up the brakes by gently pulling on the brake trigger. Ease into it to burn off energy more effectively. While the game gives you full control over car setup, from changing brake bias to gear ratios, those changes are meaningless if you don't drive the car correctly.
Speaking of car setups, as you progress through the game it is vital to tinker with your car. On some tracks the default settings will leave you overgeared for a particular track. By using shorter gear ratios you can accelerate like a bat out of hell out of the corners. Likewise, adjusting forward and rear downforce via spoilers will provide a subtle change in handling. Overall, I'm pleased with the amount of setup options in the game, particularly for the classes of automobiles represented in the game.
The AI in the game is another issue. I'd consider it a slight step up from the brainless AI of Gran Turismo 3 on the PS2. AI cars at times have sporadic lines through the track, which means they tend to bump you and other cars from behind for no reason. While there is a fair amount of bumping in GT racing, the amount and type in Pro Race Driver is annoying because the AI cars aren't necessarily defending their racing line. You experience most of the bumping early in the race. One reason cars get in the way early in the race is that there is no qualifying system in the game. Your start placement is completely random and pre-determined by the game. This is a huge oversight on the part of the developers. If cars do bump and you go off track, you'll likely hit the wall. In this case you'll experience some damage to your vehicle. As damage accumulates, your pit times increase during races where pitting is mandatory. The damage accumulation does affect your driving ability, but one aspect of the damage never appears to affect handling. You'd think that losing a rear wing would send the downforce into the toilet. However, at no time did I have to change my driving style when my wing was sheared off by a competitor. The downforce settings don't change a bit. That aspect of damage is strictly graphical.
Replay Value : 85
Despite some AI flaws and the huge oversight of no qualifying rounds, I'm enjoying the racing in Pro Race Driver. Admittedly, I was excited about the prospect of racing against 19 AI cars. However, you rarely get to race against anywhere near that many cars during any stretch of a race. Rather, the game boils down to an F1 type race where the field quickly stretches out. Still, I love racing on road courses, and Pro Race Driver offers over three dozen real tracks on which to take a spin. More importantly, this game isn't a pushover like Gran Turismo 3. As you progress through the game the challenge grows. I appreciate a game that forces me to hone my driving skills to succeed.
Overall : 81
Despite a goofy story line, Pro Race Driver provides a nice racing experience. The diversity of tracks and cars allows you to race in a variety of conditions. However, the AI, which is the weak point in this game, can be a bit cheeky at times and will often wreak havoc on the course. If you can manage the AI, you'll find a game with plenty of passing and quality racing.