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R: Racing Evolution

Developer: Namco | Publisher: Namco
Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 12/09/03 | Genre: Driving

Namco once delivered new versions of its Ridge Racer series with much frequency. However, the series hasn't seen many updates lately and fans have been wondering when the next incarnation would finally make its way on to the current generation of consoles. That wait is finally over with R: Racing Evolution. Unfortunately, while it is a new version of the series, it fails to offer much to the franchise and actually takes a step or two back.

First off, visually, I would like to say how disappointed I am with the Xbox version of R: Racing Evolution. Namco developed the title to be on all three major consoles. What it appears they have done is take the PlayStation 2 version and port it over directly to the Xbox and GameCube without taking advantage of how better those consoles can make the graphics look. Don't get me wrong, the game isn't the worst title to look at but on the Xbox, graphics matter and R: Racing Evolution doesn't have what it needs to favorably compare to the other big racing titles on the console.

The game also never gives you a real sense of speed and the overall presentation is just a big sluggish. There are some details on and around the track but it is mostly average and nothing special at all. I would really have liked to seen Namco go all out with the Xbox version and re-create the graphics to take full advantage of the system. When you have the most powerful piece of hardware doesn't it make more sense to start development on that system and take graphical elements out on the less powerful consoles? (Like the PS2)

Utilizing a story-driven gameplay mode, Namco had to use a lot of voices to continue the story. Unfortunately, they didn't quite come through in this area of the game either. Your pit seems to have some great lines and you don't hear them repeated that often. However, other drivers on the courses will repeat stuff a little bit too often. Besides the voices, the car sound effects and background noise aren't that great either. Particularly, the engines sound more like a racing go-kart than a real automobile racing. Give us some more engine noises Namco!

As I mentioned above, this time around there is a story-driven mode that Namco has implemented. This mode is called Racing Life and is similar to what Codemasters has done with the Pro Race Driver series. In R: Racing Evolution you control Rena in Racing Life and lead her through fourteen chapters as she becomes one of the greatest drivers in the world. To keep the story progressing you are forced to win races. However, this is usually not that difficult to do. This mode does help keep you involved in what would normally be a fairly boring mode.

Besides this mode, the only other interesting element of R: Racing Evolution is the pressure meter. The way this works is as you get behind an opponent's vehicle the pressure gage fills up. When this fills up all the way, your opponent will crash, spin out, or make some other mistake. Since you only have five other cars on the course, if you can do this a few times, you will easily be able to gain first place.

This brings up another issue with R: Racing Evolution. The game tries to walk a fine line between being a simulation and an arcade style racer. Usually when a game tries to be all things for all people, it fails at doing anything at all. This is the case with this title. It is very easy to handle the car, make turns, and maintain the lead--especially with the braking assistance option. The failure of the developers to choose whether they wanted to be a simulation or an arcade racer really makes this title fail to be good at either.

Overall, Namco's latest attempt at their racing franchise is a disappointing entry that fans will quickly forget about. Lets hope Namco can go back to the drawing board and get this title back on top. Until then, I recommend a rental before even considering a purchase.

By Kaleb Rutherford - 02/04/04
ESRB Details: Mild Language, Suggestive Themes

Screenshots for R: Racing Evolution