One of the benefits of heading to Japan on the occasional business trip is perusing the Japanese game shops. I'm always on the lookout for oddball titles on the PS2 or titles not scheduled for release for sometime to come. One of those titles includes the latest in the Tokyo Xtreme Racer series. The Japanese title Shutoko Highway Battle 01 is targeted for a U.S. release as you read this, and at a budget price. If you're a fan of the TXR series, the 2001 version gives more of the same but with even more rivals and more miles of highway.
Presentation/Graphics : 85
The graphics in the game haven't evolved much since the original TXR on the Sega Dreamcast. The buildings that envelope the highways are plain in appearance. More detail is saved for the cars and the highways. Traffic signs are detailed and readable (if you can read them as you whiz by at over 100 m.p.h.). The seams in the slabs of concrete focus on the track detail. This time around, the cars in the game are licensed. There's no more guessing what makes and models are being suggested. With licensed cars from a variety of manufacturers, each car in the game looks like the real deal. Further, as you add hardware or change paint or decal schemes, the changes are shown completely during your many races.
You can race from a third- or first-person view. The racing is intense from the first-person view. It gets even better when it rains. Rain is something new for the series. First seen in Gran Turismo 3, rain dampened roads look incredible. From the first-person view, you get the added feature of raindrops hitting the windshield.
Presentation/Audio : 75
Much like the graphics, the audio hasn't changed much, if any, since the original TXR. The car sounds are good and change with car upgrades. If you desire, an electronica style soundtrack accompanies the racing. Overall, the audio package is simply average for a racing game. Effective but not inspiring.
Interface/Options : 60
Unfortunately there aren't many game modes. The free-run mode lets you roam the highways without traffic or rivals to bother you. The time attack mode has you reach checkpoints in closed highway circuits. Both modes pale in comparison to the Quest mode, which aside from the multiplayer versus mode, is the only reason to pick this title up. The Quest mode is the traditional TXR mode of seeking out and racing your rivals. Aside from these few game modes, the game does allow for audiovisual customization.
Gameplay : 90
The latest version of the series provides some additional gameplay aspects. The original TXR had limited highway runs around Tokyo. TXR2 bumped the total to more than 100 miles. Now, you've got two extra cities through which to roam. Add to this, additional rivals and you've got one deep game. The gameplay still has you hunt down rivals and race under cover of night. Flash your lights to initiate a race. Race at speeds well in excess of 100 m.p.h. dodging traffic and making strategic moves at highway interchanges. The goal is to have your rival's energy meter bottom out. This is done by being in the lead or your enemy taking on damage. While there is no damage model in the game, hitting another vehicle or the highway barriers reduces your or your rival's health. Winning (and even losing) races generates revenue that can be used to purchase upgrades or new cars.
The game is deeper than simply initiating a race, though the racing is still on the Japanese highway system. As you plow through a rival gang's members, you eventually take on the leader, who initiates the race battle. The gang leaders offer intense racing with cunning tactics. In some cases, you end up racing against multiple rivals at one. This new gameplay element intensifies the racing even more.
The handling depends on the type of car being driven. There's a tangible difference between FF, FR, 4WD, and MR cars. As you upgrade suspensions, engine and transmission components, and tires, you get the expected handling gains. On the roads, fortunately the civilian traffic is better behaved than in past versions. Innocents now rarely dart into your lane at inopportune moments. Unfortunately, the rival AI isn't as good as in the past. Rivals sometimes rear end the civilian traffic and take on unnecessary damage.
Replay Value : 90
With several hundred rivals spanning three highway systems, the game has replay value built into it. The style of racing is repetitive, but as the game progresses the races provide an adrenaline rush pushing you to keep going.
Overall : 85
If you're a fan of the TXR franchise, you will be served well to get the latest in the series once it hits our shores. If you haven't experience TXR yet, there's no time like the present to do so. This is the best yet in the series. The addition of licensed cars, more rivals and highways, and a few new gameplay twists make this one fine racer.