Total Immersion Racing


Review by Greg Wilcox



Graphics: 8

Sound: 7

Gameplay: 7

Overall: 7

Empire Interactive's new Total Immersion Racing is a pretty solid game that brings GT Class racing home with a minimum of bells and whistles along for the ride. The game definitely delivers the goods as far as its true to life track and car varieties, excellent control, and overall sense of speed, but is missing a few minor details that keep it from greatness. If you're a huge fan of the sport you'll most likely agree after spending some quality time with it that "Almost Total Immersion Racing" would have been a more fitting title.

The game has enough cool modes to keep novice and expert race fans busy for a while. There are 3 difficulty settings (and a fourth tucked away for the masters of unlocking), and the Career mode is perfect for gamers new to racers and those looking for a good challenge. You jump into the shoes of a rookie driver looking for a shot on one of two racing teams, and if you manage to bring home the cup, more teams will offer you work. You can also stick with your original ride for a few seasons, but I'm sure many of you will find driving the same car over and over can become a bit stale, especially with so many other, more tempting exotics available.

You can spend a while opening up all the teams in Career mode, or you can jump into the Challenge mode for a series of fun races that test your driving skills under some interesting conditions. Sometimes you'll race with a pack of the same cars, or you'll be required to do a series of foul weather events, and later on, some long endurance races. Come out on top, and you'll be rewarded with loads of new cars for the Quick Race mode. Some of the better, faster GT-S and Protytype cars are locked away until the middle of the Challenge mode, but you will see them blazing by (and lapping you in some cases) in the other modes.

From the slower, easy to handle Noble, to a really exotic Dome (with its super futuristic dashboard), there are at least 15 different cars to uncover. The BMW, Audi, and Bentley models you'll see here definitely aren't street models, and the handling is a lot different than in Racers like Sega GT or Project Gotham. You won't be powersliding through corners here, especially going 185 MPH in a Panoz a few inches from the tarmac. It's all about speed on the straightaways, braking down to a comfortable smooth glide for turns, and cutting off slower cars around the more twisty areas of the tracks.

There are some really nice touches in the game not found elsewhere, such as a Race Engineer feature which tweaks your car during a series of practice laps. Those microseconds shaved off your time add up after a few laps, and can make a huge difference in the actual races. Another interesting feature in TIR is am emotion system, which tracks the AI drivers' response to not only your road skills, but the other cars on the track as well. If you're doing well in Career mode and not bumping other cars or shoving them off onto the grass, you won't notice a thing. But get a little too NASCAR on the guy in front or beside you, and he'll hold a grudge that won't soon vanish. You can toggle little icons on or off above each car to see just how the tensions are running if you like, but I found them too distracting to keep watching while also keeping my eyes on the road. The system is also in effect in the other modes, but it's most noticeable in the longer endurance events.

Visually, TIR scores high marks for much of its overall presentation- the 12 tracks are excellently rendered, and the game has the best version of the sprawling Sebring raceway I've seen in a game. You may be disappointed if you were expecting fantasic courses out of a Sega arcade game, but deal with it- real race courses are generally pretty average-looking. The car models are quite detailed as well, with great touches like realtime reflection mapping and dashboard viewpoints for each car. You'll also see up to 16 cars on a track at a time hopefully from your rear-view mirror, if you catch my drift. The sound effects are very well done and the music is good enough not to get in the way of the action (no crappy licensed songs here). But as I said before, there are a few issues that should have been addressed before the game was released that other racers have as standard features.

First of all, while there are races held on wet tracks, there's never any rain in the game at all. Even if you set the weather to rain, you'll see gray skies and a little bit of a trail effect from the cars on the track and that's it. No windshield wiper action, no raindrops on the screen- nothing. I didn't like it in Gran Turismo 3, and it sticks out much worse here. Second, in the inside the car viewpoint, the driver NEVER shifts gears, which is a BIG no-no, especially after excellent games like Pro Race Driver and WRC. Squaresoft's messy Driving Emotion S was the last game where I saw this ridiculous error, and it ruins the illusion by making it look as if you're driving a bumper car or old arcade racing standup instead of an exotic race car.

Finally, while racing in the same car events you'll notice that all the other cars have the same number as yours. This is not only cheap corner-cutting by developer Razorworks, it makes for some confusing replays if someone comes along and watches. Imagine being a spectator in a real-life race where all the cars had the same color and number- it would look like a shell game on wheels. Yes, it's nitpicky, and casual fans looking for a good racer won't really care, but again, if you're a big fan of the sport, you'll pick up on this and the other flaws after an event or two. There's also no car damage or dirt accumulated during races, but that seems to be standard in GT-Class games like this.

Call it a tough love review- I really got into Total Immersion Racing, which is why I'm being so anal about it. I'm hoping that if a sequel arrives on the scene, it addresses these issues and fixes them completely. Then, I'll definitely be coming back for another ride.


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Last updated: Wednesday, December 10, 2003 02:34 PM