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World Driver Championship (N64) Review


Another driving game for the N64? Will it be any good? PSX owners have long bragged about the great selection of racing games available for that platform, including the Need for Speed and Ridge Racer series and, of course, Gran Turismo. Here and there the N64 has come up with a few games with staying power, but most of those titles tend toward arcade racing. Now comes along World Driver Championship (hereafter WDC). Will it give you a run for your money?

Presentation/Graphics : 95
WDC tracks are colorful and diverse, with interesting scenic detail. A hi-res letterbox option enhances their appearance even more. With daytime, dusk, and night racing across rural, mixed, and urban environments, there's more than enough to see. No complaints here (although, as with most racers, rub the walls of a tunnel or underpass and be ready to see what's on the other side).

Race locations include Hawaii, Black Forest, Las Vegas, Kyoto, New Zealand, Rome (sortta--lots of open spaces, a few villages, and a handful of landmarks), Zurich, Lisbon, Les Gets, and Sydney. Not all the tracks are available at the beginning; each course has several different variations, which can be run in reverse or as mirrored. Most impressive are the glare effects on the Lisbon track, which can temporarily blind a driver, and shaded areas, which can make it hard to pick out both the track and your competitors (if only they had varied time of day as well!). You can pick out planes, handgliders, cable cars, and helicopters in the air above you, depending on the course you select. At faster speeds, there is some pop-up, but on the whole these tracks will hold your interest visually.

The cars are equally engaging. It won't take long for you to identify the real-world counterparts of these "fictional" vehicles. You can choose from a handful of color combinations, although you had better like the pattern. The brake lights, the head lights, the reflections--again, very nice. The cars kick up a little dust and leave skid marks.

There are three in-race camera views: one up and behind, one in the cockpit with rearview mirror, and one that simply shows the world ahead (and there is a "look-back" button which you can employ at your peril). You can toggle on/off various race information, with either a full array of displays (speedometer/rpm, lap times, and race course; the speedometer/rpm alone; or nothing).

The game includes a letterboxed hi-res mode as well as a full-screen regular mode; both are vivid. Occasionally (during a turn with many cars on the screen), there is momentary slowdown or jerkiness, but the game's ability to portray so many cars at one time and in such detail is striking.

In short, this is one of the best graphic packages available for a N64 racer. My only complaint is that it is hard to pick up cars in the distance.

Presentation/Audio : 72
Music: turn it off. Enough said.

Without the music factored in, the score would rise quite a bit, for the racing sounds (engine, wheels against surface, the sounds of the opposition) are solid (and the sound changes depending on whether the camera is in or out of the cockpit). Turning off the horrendous music also allows you to gather some of the sounds of the scenery (waterfalls, for example) and extraneous vehicles (a train going by).

Interface/Options : 82
Simple and straightforward. Navigating through the menus is easy enough; racing itself is merely an exercise in A=accelerate, B=brake, the R and Z buttons for shifting gears, and the joystick for steering (plus options for changing in-game screen displays, cameras, and the "look behind" button). That's right, no car set-up, no garage, no variable controller setups. One can maneuver the car just fine using the joystick. Saving everything important costs one 11-page note; however, if you want to save ghosts, replays, etc., dedicate one memory pak to the game.

Gameplay : 92
First, the options: there's a training session (useful for some people), a quick race option (with a time attack which comes with some pre-loaded ghosts who will show you how to approach a track; a free race; and an arcade race); and a championship series option. You can also toggle hi-res/normal speed, transmission (automatic or manual) and a host of minor options.

Now, before you go running off to the championship options, let me point out that many players may find both the training session and the quick race options useful. Here's why: players will find that controlling the cars may take a little work, and the training session gives you a taste of how it is to drive an introductory level car on a fairly simple track. No licenses, no tests, just a course, a car, and a driver. The quick race is extremely useful in testing out possible cars on tracks which have been opened up during the course of competition--an excellent way to learn whether that new model a team owner is dangling in front of you as an incentive to join his/her team is something you want to operate (and much better than the test drive option in the championship series). Watch the ghosts on the time trials to learn something about how to approach each course.

The championship circuit option (actually two circuits) is at the core of WDC. The story line (not unlike R4 or a host of other racers) is to pick a team, race circuits, win money, open up new tracks and circuits, buy better cars, and field offers from other teams. Win the GT2 circuit and advance to GT1 (there are ten circuits in each class). There are no shortcuts, power-ups, or other gimmicks (famous last words). As you advance through the various series (most are composed of 2-6 races of 2-5 laps apiece), the competition goes up, but so do the rewards. Keep winning points for performances in each race or overall circuit performance, and you'll gain points; gain enough points and your ranking improves; as you advance, while more points are available, the number of points needed to advance goes up.

In considering offers from other teams, you may test drive their cars (but only on one pre-selected track). Now you see the wisdom of leaving championship mode (saving your game) and going to the quick race--where you can test any available car on any available track. There's some RPG elements in team selection (race for one owner, and you won't get an offer from a long-time rival), but this element of the game is overplayed in the manual (and you have very little idea of what may be the consequences of your acts until you are deep into the game). I wish the teams were more diverse in their offerings, allowing a driver to choose between two different sorts of setups while remaining on the same team.

This is all fine and good, but what happens when you get behind the wheel?

WDC combines elements of simulation and arcade approaches to racing. Braking and accelerating are well handled (you brake before going into turns, accelerate as you come through them). That's like driving. Stray off the main road, and you'll slow down, and you may skid. Scrape a wall and you'll slow down; ram into a barrier or get into a mixup with a competitor, and you may bounce or spin around. But you'll suffer no damage. Oh, time will tick off the clock, and it may take you a while to get going again, but otherwise you are fine. That, folks, is enough to deprive WDC of sim status. It also influences driving tactics, for a driver skilled in bumper car tactics will prosper in this game. So will those drivers who learn how to corner effectively; put the two together and you'll do well (although, if you need to pick up points in order to improve your ride or attract another team, drop back a few circuits with an advanced car, win some poles and blow away your opposition for easy points).

In the earlier circuits, order of finish is pretty much predetermined, and the challenge of the game is to pass the same cars running in the same order. As the cars improve, more tracks open up, and the circuits become more competitive, there's much more mixing of order of finish from race to race. The cars in GT1 are lighter than those in GT2, reducing the bumper car competition a bit. However, the various cups and series can become rather time-consuming, and there's no save option between individual races (unless you retire). Some of us have lives, you know.

The result is a fun and challenging game, but not quite the ultimate racer some people have proclaimed WDC to be--and definitely not a sim racer. Of course, for most of us a fun and challenging game with high replay value is more than enough.

Difficulty: 92
At first, players will find that the greatest challenge posed by the game is controlling your car. That has as much to do with the tangential relationship between real driving and video game driving in some other titles. Work at it for a while, and it will come. However, the learning curve and the competition is such that many players will be rather tempted to repeat earlier cups and series with better cars to pick up more points. That process will repeat itself again when you jump from GT2 to GT1. So, you can beat the game, but to do so, you may have to do it through the back door.

Overall : 87
This is a game that will frustrate many people at first, but patience and playing the game will pay off. It is fun; it is challenging; it is part sim, part arcade challenge, best suited for those people who like to concentrate on driving. If it's not exactly the second coming of Gran Turismo or R4, it is a solid, enjoyable, competitive racing experience--something that until recently has been all too rare on the N64.

By: Brooks Simpson 7/14/99

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