Full Review: Apparently ?Really Cool & Involved Racing? was taken.
In what's becoming a usual trend for the current crop of game systems, racing games have flooded the market, with seemingly endless choices for anyone in the market for a racer. The Xbox alone is full of excellent racers, from Sega GT 2002 to RalliSport Challenge to MotoGP ? creating a lot of variety, if anything. With as much quality in racing games as there is on the Xbox, a game needs to really stand out to make a difference, whether it's a flashy name, big license, or some revolutionary gameplay standard.
It's those reasons alone that really sink any chances of Total Immersion Racing. Quietly released by Empire Interactive and created by Razorworks, TIR immediately gets struck with blandness on the title of the game alone. ?Total Immersion Racing? kinda has that ?Corn Flakes? vanilla wrapper feel that gives off this aura of a cheap and dirty budget game. While it's definitely a budget game (only $30 bucks, though for comparison's sake the PlayStation 2 version is $10 less), TIR is far from cheap and dirty ? quite the contrary. The game carries a certain feel from Test Drive Le Mans (also known as Le Mans 24 Hours on PS2), with a decent car selection, true to life tracks, and some excellent control and game options, especially for a discount title. Most likely it will be ignored by the masses due to the weak first impression, but anyone who's willing to give Total Immersion Racing a shot, they'll find a racer that is well worth $30 bucks, and probably would be worth $50.
While TIR contains the usual time trial and single race modes, those are largely ignored and the focus should be set on the 2 main single player modes ? Challenge and Career. The challenge mode is set up very similar to the recent Need for Speed game ? there's about 20 specific kinds of challenges, from series-specific races (GT, GTS, Prototype), or just races with single teams or cars, even country versus country. Beating each challenge unlocks the next, and sometimes you'll unlock brand new stuff for the other modes, like new cars and tracks.
The career mode is where things take a turn for the even cooler. In Career, you have just 2 options when you start, between a pair of GT teams. Do well, and you'll start getting offers from the GTS teams, and eventually working up to the Prototype class. At the end of every season, you can either stay with one team or go with another, even jump classes if you need some challenge. It's pretty much endless, and it tracks all your statistics year in and year out to see improvement, or lack thereof. The different seasons have different lengths and different tracks, so the repetition factor isn't as bad as you could expect. Each season is fairly short though.
The big thing about this game that was hyped is the emotion-based computer intelligence. Basically, the opposing drivers are to remember your actions, whether its bumping them off the track or costing them a race, and they then will target you in later races, be it the very next race or the final race of the season. Unfortunately, this element really isn't put together well, since the other drivers are very timid even on high difficulty levels. Either I just don't get nasty enough to irritate them or it just didn't get executed properly. Perhaps I should have packed an Uzi and did some drive-by's to piss them off? At the least, the AI is tough and you really never run away with a race, since they capitalize on your mistakes often ? just don't expect them to return the favor too easily.
Thankfully, despite that gaffe, the rest of the game feels solid and well done. On the higher 2 difficulty levels, you can adjust your car, optimizing it for your driving strengths. It's not as in-depth as say Gran Turismo, but there's enough tweaking to keep gearheads happy. It does make a difference too, as changing some elements drastically affect the abilities of many of the cars.
On the track, the vehicles control well, once you get past the initial curve. At first they feel a bit heavy, yet floaty around corners, but once the timing is down, they control very well, and you always feel like you're in control of the car ? a big thing for a racing game. The tracks are loaded with challenges, like tight hairpin turns, and challenging chicanes that catch up with you extremely fast. One second you're cruising, the next second you've done run into a stack of tires. There is a lot of braking and turning, so patience is required; though the better you get at turns the faster you can take them. The learning curve is a bit steep, but manageable after about an hour of play.
Speaking of tracks, the dozen or so tracks are nicely done. Since they're real tracks like Hockenheim, Springfield, and Rockingham (in both ring and road versions), the design is already top notch, and challenging at that. Along with the tracks comes about 20 cars, all Le Mans style, similar to TD Le Mans. Many you might even remember from that game, and many are brand new beasts. While it's not in the same league as Sega GT 2002 in terms of cars, the selection is fairly nice, especially for a budget title.
Visually, Total Immersion Racing is an interesting blend. Sometimes it looks like a straight to Xbox PS2 port, yet other times it looks like an Xbox game built for the system. There is some very nice lighting effects and the cars look really good, though there is some jaggies around, especially on the tracks themselves, which can get distracting.
The game does manage a frame rate of 60 per second, though the sense of speed early on is really lacking. The GT series races can sometimes drag on, especially in one that has a lot of laps. Getting to prototype makes the pace pick up a lot though. Even so, the speed isn't as strong as many other Xbox racers ? though still not bad at all.
Probably the weakest element of TIR is the sound. First off, the game lacks a custom soundtrack option, forcing you to listen to the horrendous menu and race music. Horrible really isn't the place to start either?you might just want to make a real custom soundtrack by muting the game and putting on a CD or something. It doesn't help that the set of music tracks is limited, so repetition is constant.
The effects consist of some generic engine noises and some lackluster crowd noise, for touches I guess. You do get a crew chief guy who talks to you and gives you advice, though that too gets repetitive. Apparently, the music portion of a game costs the most, thus skimping on a $30 title. It does support Dolby Surround, so you can hear crap coming from all different directions.
Despite some of the problems that are known in budget games, Total Immersion Racing does the job in the right area ? racing. The issues with the game are easily ignored when you get into the challenging and fun races, and while this is far from the best racing game on the Xbox, it's a good one for the price tag. Racing fans that own all the big Xbox racers will definitely want to take a look at Total Immersion Racing, as should the budget gamers looking for a cheap game with some meat to it.