Review: It's Gran Turismo for people who hate Gran Turismo.
Trying to find something unique and different to base a racing simulation around is a difficult task; there's only so much you can do to a game based on realism. Somehow though, Konami found a way, with the unique Enthusia Professional Racing. Based around a hyper-realistic physics and handling model, Enthusia takes the road less traveled, and emphasizes not pure speed, but instead making driving skill the most vital component of the game. Thanks to some innovative features, Enthusia gets the job done, with few flaws, though the game is not perfect. In a year where Gran Turismo 4 and Forza Motorsport dominate the headlines for racing sims, Enthusia has received almost zero attention, which is a shame ? while it might not match Sony or Microsoft's games in terms of depth, it instead offers a new and ultimately fun racing sim that does away with many of the less vital conventions of the genre, making it a racing simulation for people who usually don't have the patience for a racing simulation.
At its heart, Enthusia lives and dies on the Enthusia Life mode that's Konami's vastly different take on your typical career mode. The basic goal is common, to become the #1 driver in the world, but the way you get there is a whole different beast than what you might be used to. Using basic RPG elements as a base, you're forced to choose from a small number of licensed vehicles, and use that ride as you 'level up' and increase your rank. You have an individual level of your own, and each car can be leveled up to the maximum of 10. Each time you earn enough race points (which we'll discuss later), your car automatically levels and three different aspects of your car increase ? tires, weight, and power, each of which changes how your car handles as the tuning level increases. There is not actual 'tuning' aside from some minor tweaks ? you don't buy new parts and whatnot like Gran Turismo; there's not even any form of currency. If you were to pick a different car, that car begins at level 1 and you have to do the same thing again and again to get a car to its peak performance. In many respects, Enthusia is trying to tie you down to a single car as long as possible, and force you to focus on driving skills rather than raw horsepower. There's about 200 cars in total, though you must unlock many by winning or finishing high in races, though which you earn is based on a 'lottery' of the vehicles you just raced against, and sometimes you win nothing from the lottery and have to wait for another attempt at winning a certain car. Overall the selection is wonky at best ? there's a lot of strange vehicles and not quite as many of the usual suspects you'd find, though they are there.
Enthusia Life is heavily based on statistics, and uses a ton of confusing algorithms to award ranking and whatnot. Each race is considered one week of a year ? if you swap cars, it counts as a week and your ranking may be affected. The main stats to worry about are race odds ? basically they handicap your chances of winning a race. If the odds are really high against you (meaning the other 5 cars are far superior to you in technical aspects), you begin at the head of the pack due to the challenge (sort of like getting a head start before the faster, better cars come out to demolish you), but if the odds are more reasonable, you start at the back of the pack for the same reasons. There's a risk/reward system in place that really can pay off ? if you're able to win a difficult race thanks to such high odds, your multiplier (which is actually the listed odds, if you have a 100 point race with 8.1 odds you earn 810 total points) will result in a huge point gain and thus increase your ranking tremendously and possibly break you into the next class of races. On the other hand, if you play it safe and do races that are of lower class or with low odds, your ranking can actually drop and force you down a class and make you work your way up. Granted this system can be gamed to your advantage as I've seen in playing my way through it, but it's a game designed to keep you going forward instead of just beefing up on simple races (like you can in games like GT4 or Forza, just keep doing simple races and horde money for ultra-fast cars).
The final thing to worry about is Enthu Points, which act like a form of Hit Points in an RPG. If you've ever played Sega GT 2002 or Sega GT Online for Xbox, this may seem familiar, just blown up to be much more vital. Enthusia does not have car model damage, but the Enthu Points are a form of such. If you hit walls, other cars, go off the track, etc., you lose your EP gradually, and if you lose a lot of EP, you don't earn enough racing points (separate from the points earned with the odds...I know, there's a lot of crazy statistics to deal with) during races to level you or the car you're currently driving. If you actually run out of Enthu Points during a race, you're forced to take a week off and rest to recover what you've lost. At the end of a race though, depending on your level, you recover some EP that can save you. As you progress through the Enthusia Life, this becomes more challenging, and perhaps not in a fair way ? while it's fine that hitting other cars yourself takes away your points, if an opposing car hits you...you're penalized for it, like that damned 5 second penalty in Gran Turismo 4 rally races. All told though, the game forces you to develop real driving skills, and if you're a good driver you'll never run out of EP and thus be able to climb the ranks pretty quickly.
While Enthusia Life is the deepest gameplay mode, there's more to go around. Driving Evolution is the other highly-touted aspect of Enthusia Professional Racing; and it's quite different from anything else you've seen. Using the knowledge from the Dance Dance Revolution games, Driving Evolution is all about rhythm while racing ? keeping a good, but not excessive speed, knowing when to slow down, etc. It all plays out in DDR-style mini-games which require you to hit marker checkpoints at exactly the right time, and then keep the rhythm all the way through the challenge. At first, they're really simple and easy to master, but by the time you get to the last ones, they're brutally difficult, but they force the issue and really teach you how to play the game. In addition, there's basic time trials where you can run all day long, and single races against competition that's comparable to the car you choose, on all the different (and numerous) tracks that you'll see in Enthusia Life. Many are original designs, but there's many real tracks, though many are extremely difficult to spell...but it has that really long, twisty track from PGR2, GT4, and Forza for starters. There's also a couple rally tracks, and the ultimate in cool ? a randomly generated desert rally track that has no map to use and everything is a mystery when you start racing. Nothing like racing blind ? Enthusia makes it really fun though.