Review: R: Racing Evolution (Playstation 2)

In this review, we join the team in the Playstation 2 game R: Racing Evolution. We find out how well this racing game plays.

This game was released in 2003 and is the 7th game released on a home console system in the series.

Ridge Racer is a game series we are very familiar with. We first reviewed the first game, Ridge Racer and found the game to have great graphics, but mediocre play. This was followed up by Ridge Racer Revolution, a game we found to leave a lot to be desired. We then tried Rage Racer. That game did refine the formula and brought the series back to being playable even if mediocre. The next game we reviewed was R4: Ridge Racer Type 4. That game, though short, did bring the franchise to a new height to the point of being a pretty good play. We continued down the series with Ridge Racer 64. Despite high hopes because of the console it was on, the game only proved to be a mediocre play. Another game we were excited for was Ridge Racer V. While it represented a huge opportunity with the console, it ended up being a little dull at times. So, we continue on to this next installment of the franchise.

This game takes a dramatic departure from the previous games. The first notable difference is through the plot. You play a character by the name of Rena Hayami. While this series always had a female protagonist, she typically ended up being the flag girl. In one case, she sends a secret message to you in R4, but that is the most players got up until now. This time around, Rena has a full blown background behind her. She is an ambulance driver. After a car accident at the race track, she takes the injured driver along with manager Stephan Garnier to the hospital. On the way, she is pressed to get to the hospital quickly. Impressed by her driving, Stephan decides to speak to her after and offers her an opportunity to spend some overtime at the track. Ultimately, she takes him up on his offer.

After the end of the first race, word travels quickly about the mysterious “76”, the car number Rena was driving. In the process, she cements her rivalry with the games early antagonist, Gina. From there, she embarks on a journey as she tries to understand what exactly she has gotten herself into. What is this mysterious organization that is G.I.V. running the show?

The plot has a lot going for it. It is engaging, interesting, and makes work at figuring out exactly what is going on. Some characters seem quite straight forward, but the plot is anything but simplistic. While these are the strengths of the plot itself, the writing does have some weaknesses. Some sections seem a little thin in details. Because of this, it’s possible to get a little lost from time to time.

Another bigger criticism I have for the storyline is the fact that the cinematic’s also tries sexing up Rena. As it stands, Rena has a very stoic and calculated personality. Because of this, the close-up shots of the boobs and the later shower just struck me as something that doesn’t quite fit. Her personality already carries her so well as it is. These moments in the game just seemed like it was tacked on last minute. There are female personalities where such scenes would make sense, but in this case, it doesn’t really work here. If such scenes were edited it out, I would say Rena’s character was brilliantly realized. One way was to simply replace the close-up boob shot with a foot to head pan instead. If you are introducing an unknown quantity such as a person, such a shot makes more sense to me. The only time such a shot made sense was during the press conference scene where she seemingly asserted her dominance.

The second big change is noticeable right when you enter any race in the game. This game is a big departure from almost every other game in the series in the driving style. Rather than the arcade style turning where over-steering reigns supreme, you are placed in a more simulated environment. If you are used to the franchise up to this point, everything you learned about handling vehicle is chucked out the window. This game essentially plays like a Gran Turismo game as far as driving is concerned. You need to slow down for corners and skidding is much more realistic.

In addition to the much more realistic handling, the tracks are much more in line with a Gran Turismo game because of the tracks. Instead of racing through cities, you are placed on race tracks in closed circuit environments. On the plus side, laps require more than 2 minutes to complete on many tracks. A long-standing problem I’ve had with this series is the fact that the tracks themselves are quite short. This game finally resolves this problem.

One criticism floating around is the fact that the tracks are very dull and boring. As far as I’m concerned, this is only true to a certain point. Some of the later tracks actually add a huge variety to the game. There is a beach-side track, a drag race track, and even a couple of Rally-style courses complete with a co-driver rattling off turn instructions. Unlike any previous game in the series to date, this game features actual dirt sections in tracks. There is some interesting features in the courses themselves, but it takes a while to get to them.

The main mode of play is the career mode. This is where the story mode takes place. The game features a whopping 14 chapters in this game. While this may sound exciting, keep in mind that each chapter only contains anywhere between 1 – 4 races. A few of them are single race chapters. In the end, this mode does feature a nice amount of content that will take players a day or two to complete. It still isn’t the longest game in the world, but at least it keeps you busy for a while.

In the races themselves, this game features a few interesting features. One of the big features is the banter that goes on back and forth. The comments you hear depends largely on the situation. If you are winning the race, you can hear Stephan offer compliments from the pits. If you are behind, you’ll hear him get annoyed or disappointed. In addition to this, you can hear the reactions of some high-strung opponents. They’ll brag about how great they are if you are behind, get flustered if you are driving close, and get shocked or dismayed when you pass them by. Some of the banter appears as text, but others aren’t.

Another interesting feature this game adds is the pressure meter. If you are behind an opponent, a bar will appear after a moment. The meter will gradually fill until you fall behind, fill it up completely, or you pass them. What can help is swerving back and forth which can fill the meter a little faster. The fuller the meter gets, the more likely they’ll make a mistake on the course.

A third, and more subtle, feature is the slipstream. A slipstream in this game has to do with wind resistance. If you are driving on a road alone, you’ll encounter wind resistance. The faster you go, the greater the wind resistance. If, however, you drive up behind someone else, that driver will simply absorb that wind resistance. The driver ahead of you will experience the slowdown while your car requires less work to drive faster. In this game, if you drive behind an opponent, you’ll get into their slipstream and be able to drive more quickly. These speed boosts can help you win races.

One final addition to this game of note is the return of the monetary system. This was seen in Rage racer previously and it made the game punch much higher above its weight. Only now has it finally made a return to the series. What has changed is how money is earned. While finishing a series or finishing a single race will allow you to earn RP, winning races is far from the only way a player can earn money in this game. Bonuses are earned with great driving. This can include drifting, air time, cornering, braking, no collisions, and not falling out of bounds during a race. While they may earn less than a good first place rank, they can help a lot in padding your earnings in each race.

The only thing about money in this game is that it can be confusing as to what you spend it on if you only play story mode. If all you play is story mode, then the money ends up being just a number. It only takes effect if you enter the Event Challenge. More on that a little later.

A feature in this game is that you are allowed to go back and take on previously conquered chapters. The inherent bonus is the fact that you can also take on different difficulties. There are three difficulties: easy, medium, and hard. By default, the game lets you cruise through easy. While this can allow players to more easily speed past the finish line, the payouts in RP are lower. The harder the difficulty, the bigger the payout you’ll get for winning.

If you win the game and wonder what else this game offers, you’ll easily find out just how much this game has to offer. One large mode is the event challenge. This isn’t just a mode of racing, but a huge set of modes.

Within this mode, there are several smaller racing modes, a performance shop that allows you to decrease car weight and increase speed, and even a car shop that allows you to purchase new cars.

The events offered include single races, championship style races, an “extra” event for drag racing, time attacks, and other events. Some of the racing events have restrictions on what you can and cannot race with such as engine location specific cars (FF, RW, etc.), country of origin restrictions (such as American, European, and Asian). For those who are fans of Gran Turismo, this will likely sound all too familiar. The difference here is the fact that races are given out in numbers. You can pick any of them at any time. You can “purchase” the events and try to win the medals.

This is where the game begins to start running into problems. If you play the career mode all the way through, you’ll not only end up with hundreds of thousands of RP, but also a huge number of cars in the process. If you complete the career mode, then dive into the special events mode, you’ll end up with a hugely overpowered profile that allows you to push down most, if not, all of the races without breaking a sweat. Some of the day cup’s that allow any car to compete can become pushover easy when you roll out a prototype class car. To make matters even more easy, you’ll earn RP in this mode as well, allowing you to simply not run into money problems any time soon.

One possible solution to this is combining these two modes. Gleaning some inspiration from Road Rash 64, a specific car or sets of cars could be purchased as a way of “leveling up”. You’ll get a set of courses to work with that is appropriate for the set of cars you get right away. If you are ready to tackle the next set, you need to buy the next big car to reach the next class. You can choose from a small pool if you like, but one of those cars need to be in your garage before moving on. This way, money plays a huge role in your progress and you’ll always have something to work towards. You aren’t just handed cars and the “practice is really paying off!” comments will make a heck of a lot more sense.

In addition to this, there is a time trial mode and an arcade mode. This allows you to practice with your vehicles as you get used to the driving style, but with so many races found in this game, it ends up being a superficial feature. This game also features a 2 player battle mode.

This game has a lot of surprising strengths here. For a game that is supposed to be considered dull, there are a lot of interesting features that can keep a player interested. The banter in the race, the engaging story, and the range of difficulty offered all helped to make this a pretty good game. The game improves on track length – a sore spot for so long in this game. It even features a half decent variety of tracks. In addition to this, there are other modes of play that extends the life span of the game. The game isn’t perfect. There are some flaws in the story and cut scenes. The money system, though well implemented through bonuses for good driving, isn’t well implemented when it comes time to spend that cash. If you are a fan of the previous games, the change from arcade style racing to more simulated racing might be a bit jarring and offputting, but that is player specific. Still, this game does have a fair bit going for it.

Graphics has always been a big feature in this franchise. Very few games fail to impress here. This game, unfortunately, might be a little weaker than most titles. While the shine on the track and the animations might be well-realized, the tracks can leave a lot to be desired. This was mainly through the choice of color pallet. This is where I agree with critics where the colors featured in the race were quite bland for a game of its time. Nothing really pops. Even with some of the features throughout the game such as bridges, villages, hot air balloons, etc., the colors paint a rather bland setting throughout the game. Additionally, this game doesn’t have much in the way of special effects that bring in any sort of “wow” factor. The models for the cars were decently done, though.

The audio, in this game, is both where this game shines and falls short. As mentioned, the banter that goes on between cars really added a sense of realism to the race. The different voices you encounter were brilliantly realized. The car sounds were OK, but nothing huge. Having said that, this is where we get into territory that has long been a sore spot for the franchise: music. There are only two remotely memorable tracks in this game: T-Minus Ten and the ending theme. Beyond that, the music doesn’t really do a whole lot.

Overall, when I went into this game, I got the impression that this wasn’t going to be the greatest game in the world. The game ended up being much better than I was expecting. The tracks are finally sufficiently long. The number of tracks were decently done. A monetary system has finally returned to this game. The modes of play offer hours upon hours of racing. The slipstream and pressure meter system were both interesting. Additionally, there were big strengths in the story in that the main character takes a bigger role in the game itself. Having said that, this game isn’t without flaws. There were some flaws in the plot development, the spending side of things for the money system didn’t work that well. Graphics weren’t as strong as other games as the color pallet left so much to be desired here. With few exceptions, the music wasn’t all that memorable. Overall, it was a pretty good play worth playing despite its flaws.

Score
Furthest point in game: Beat the game on easy. Beat the first level on medium. Finished 2nd place on Hard on the first level. Completed a number of events in the event challenge mode.

General gameplay: 20/25
Replay value: 8/10
Graphics: 7/10
Audio: 3/5

Overall rating: 76%

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Google+.



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