Star Wars: Episode I - Racer
a game by LucasArts Entertainment
Based around a ten-minute sequence from The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Episode I - Racer uses a proven formula: pick a vehicle, join an event, cross the finish line and then blow your prize money on purchasing upgrades.
The most capable craft available to you is that of young Anakin Skywalker, in the sense that it has no obvious strengths or weaknesses. His arch rival, a cheating bastard called Sebulba, is from the Dastardly & Muttley school of driving. Where Anakin squawks in an incongruously American accent during each race, Sebulba is full of dirty tricks and looks like a cross between Biggies and the mascot for Camel cigarettes.
In the film and in the game's Boonta Eve circuit on Tatooine, Jabba the Hutt can be seen overseeing the entire affair from a balcony like a Roman Emperor at a chariot race. Indeed, the Podracers themselves can be likened to ancient charioteers, only here they control ludicrously improbable craft. Two massive propulsion units are harnessed side by side to a tiny, suspended cockpit, with a baffling array of flaps and air brakes that pop up and poke out to manoeuvre the craft through the tight turns of each circuit. Every craft is capable of at least 600mph, and pilots sit behind the big engines, directly in the line of thrust.
To make things easier than they look, each 30-foot Pod is effectively a beefed-up landspeeder, able to hug the land and its contours like a hovercraft, so you don't have to worry too much about straying off the beaten track. They're also hugely flyable, and you should get the hang of things in about five minutes flat.
There are more than 20 Pods and Podracer characters in total, although only six are available when you start the game. As with bonus tracks, each is unlocked as you progress.
Clamber into the exposed cockpit and get ready to dash around 20-odd circuits and numerous planets at breakneck speed. Each level is set in a sumptuous environment, with dynamic coloured lighting and fully animated trackslde objects adding to the ambience. Opponents taunt and jabber in alien tongues as you motor past them (the game contains close to 2,500 individual sound files), and the musical skills of John Williams make the interlude scenes really shine.
Except the game isn't as enjoyable as it could be. Pick a Pod and a planet, and you're stuck way out in front from beginning to end with little to do apart from gawp at the vivid landscapes. If you do stumble upon another racer, they're on screen for such a short space of time that it's impossible to see who it is, let alone get into any argy-bargy. There's no limbering up to a daring overtaking manoeuvre, instead you just pile on the boost and shoot past like an Exocet missile. Your objective, usually to finish fourth or higher, is so easily met that there's never a nail-biting sprint for the chequered flag.
Later levels and upgraded Pods help even things up a bit (Galactic grade opposition does put up something of a fight), but we found the gulf between you and 'the pack' to be insuperable throughout. w More often than not, you feel as though you're the only one in the game.
Uranium Relay Race
We'd dearly like to be complimentary about a Star Wars game from a company we've all come to respect, but Episode I - Racer is mostly icing with hardly any cake underneath, and in that respect it feels like a superficial marketing exercise. In which case we'd rather have a baseball cap and signed photo, please.
2018-12-03 Star Wars: Episode I - Racer game added.