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Episode I Racer feels rushed-to-market

June 8, 1999
Web posted at: 11:53 a.m. EDT (1553 GMT)

by Thomas Crymes


(IDG) -- Being a huge Star Wars fan, I love to play every game based on the legendary movies. And the racing-game genre is one of my favorites. So a Star Wars game based on a racing experience couldn't miss, right?
"Star Wars: Episode I Racer"

Well, not really. Star Wars: Episode I Racer certainly has its fun moments, but ultimately it feels like a hollow, rushed conversion of a Nintendo 64 game, whose primary goal is to cash in on Episode I's substantial licensing prowess.


In a word, this game is fast. Simulating speeds in excess of 600 mph, it's one of the fastest--if not the fastest--racing games out there. To this end, the folks at LucasArts have faithfully re-created the essence of pod racing from the movie. The landscape rushes by at dizzying speeds, and once you've mastered the game's controls, turning a lap at full speed without hitting everything in sight is a gratifying experience.

Episode I Racer is no different than most other futuristic racing games. It offers 21 tracks on a 8 different worlds that players must compete on for prize money. Using their winnings, players can buy upgrades to their pods. These upgrades boost performance in a number of different areas (top speed, acceleration, traction, etc.), and are essential if you wish to compete in the advanced races.

Unfortunately, Episode I Racer seems to be a rushed product. The No. 1 indicator of this is the fact that, barring the added multiplayer support, the title is basically a direct port of the Nintendo 64 version. Because the game was designed primarily to interface with Nintendo's controller, finding a suitable controller to play the PC version with was a daunting task.

I started out using a force-feedback steering wheel. That was OK, but didn't blend well with the game: I couldn't seem to find a button layout that felt comfortable. Next, I tried a gamepad. This gave the game much more of a console

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feel, but the digital inputs made control harder than it should have been. Using an analog stick, I faced the same problems I had with the wheel. Finally, I tried my trusty SideWinder Freestyle Pro. This tilt-controlled marvel provided me with the analog control of a stick or wheel and the feel of a gamepad. While it wasn't perfect, it provided the best feel.

As if the control wasn't difficult enough, the collision detection between pods leaves a lot to be desired. Sometimes you seem to fly right through them; other times, it seems like you're bumped off the track for little or no reason.

On the plus side, the game has a nice learning curve. The beginner circuit is fairly easy and allows racers to familiarize themselves with the controls. After you pass the beginner circuit, the going gets significantly tougher. Players will be struggling to get the prize money to buy the upgrades necessary for competing at the next level.


This is one area where it's easy to see why games such as Racer shouldn't be ported from the N64. For one thing, the game was designed to be viewed at a maximum resolution of 640-by-480, which is the upper limit of an N64 with the extra RAM installed. This graphical limitation is particularly evident in the menus, where all the words are blurry and the mouse control is atrocious. Furthermore, the in-game textures are fairly bland and not detailed to the level that gamers have come to expect from 3D-accelerated games--especially games that are 3D-card-only.

To be fair, Episode I Racer is set on a number of interesting worlds. (There are 8 in all.) One in particular is a prison colony that features anti-gravity tunnels that temporarily turn your pod racer into a kind of spaceship. Other worlds feature long jumps, gas swamps, and transparent ice formations.


This is perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the game. Sound is such a crucial part of the pod-race sequence in the film, but it seems to be only a fleeting thought in Episode I Racer. Crowd noise would have been nice, yet there's none to speak of. And the engine noises aren't as prevalent or as distinctive as those in the movie; instead, we're treated to a few sound samples that seem to be repeated to the point of irritation.

Overall Score: 6.0 out of 10

Star Wars: Episode I Racer is a game without a soul. Seemingly rushed out the door to be released alongside the movie, this title is long on potential and short on delivery. It's a fun racing game at times, but lacks that special something that many of the other Star Wars games have: a passion for the Star Wars universe. From the hastily thrown-together FMV to the less-than-stellar textures, it's quite clear that the Force is not strong with this particular title.


For the beginner circuit, where coming in first isn't so difficult, select "winner take all" for the prize money. You'll need all the money you can muster so you can compete with the big boys later on.

Use your turbo boost early and often, but watch for overheating and engine fires.

Follow the computer opponents around the tracks when learning the courses. They'll show you the best paths to take around branched courses, plus the location of some shortcuts.

Top speed and acceleration are important pod characteristics. Save your winnings and upgrade these features as fast as possible.

Your eyes can deceive you. Don't trust them.

Reach out with your feelings. Feel the Force flowing through you.

Remember, Anakin is the only human who's able to race pods, so don't feel so bad if you can't keep your vehicle on the track


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