Release Date: 3/2002
Racing games usually cater to either the simulation crowd with its realistic physics and tracks, or the arcade style crowd who don’t want to race 20 laps and want more fanciful gameplay. Pro Race Driver is something between the two, catering to both sides of the fence with aspects that can appeal to anyone. Pro Race Driver also has a plot. In PRD you enter the shoes, gloves, and helmet of Ryan McKane, whose father was also a racer and was killed under suspicious circumstances in a race fifteen years ago. Rather than shun racing, both Ryan and his older brother took to the tracks to follow in their father’s footsteps. Along the course of the game, you will go from being a mere test driver for small teams, to racing for major sponsors, and even head to head against the world’s best.
Pro Race Driver has a large amount of cars to race with ranging from stock cars from modern vendors such as Ford and Eagle, to exotic cars such as convertibles and sports cars, and even cars from the muscle car era. Each car’s base handling varies from one another; the Eagle Talon hugs corners like a dream, while sports cars will tend to powerslide if you aren’t careful, losing valuable speed. However, before each race you can fine tune your car to your hearts content, altering everything from the down force and suspension of various parts of the car to the type of tires and the height of your ride. You can even alter the gear ratios in your gearbox to exacting detail, changing all gears at once for ease of use or individual gears to fine-tune your machine’s performance.
Pro Race Driver also boasts a large amount of tracks which are all recreated from real life locales. The tracks you can race on range from traditional oval speedways, to open, winding tracks, and very claustrophobic tracks reminiscent of F1 car races. Each track has its own personality with varying turns, road types, and such, which means to achieve the best times you must tweak your car before each race. Thankfully, your manager tells you what to tweak and a general setting to set it to, taking away the guesswork. In PRD you will also contend with varying weather conditions, ranging from a normal, sunny day, to extremely hot days, and murky rainy days. Each condition has a different effect on your car and may require you to change your cars setup before a race, don’t expect to do much more than slide around if you are using racing slicks during a downpour.
As for the gameplay itself, Pro Race Driver presents itself very well. The AI cars are all very lifelike and react differently to some things. Say you move in to bump a rival car, the other car may either slow down to avoid your car, take the hit, or even try to ram you back. Of course, things like this would get you thrown off the track in a real race but in PRD the only real world rules that apply are the laws of physics. If an opponent is coming alongside you, sure you can let him pass but you can also feel free to slam him into a guardrail. Sometimes cars will even try to return the favor to you, nudging you while you are doing a powerslide or simply bumping into you.
Now, after all of this nudging, slamming, bumping, and scraping you would expect the cars to get a little wear and tear, and Pro Race Driver delivers. Cars can lose hoods, fenders, bumpers, headlights, taillights, doors, shatter and break glass, tires, and rims. Parts of your car are not just limited to that however. The various parts of your car can bend, crumple, and drag along the road but still be attached to your car. Your hood can get bent in ways too numerous to count, your bumper can be attached to your car on one side and scraping along the road on the other, and even your muffler can flap in the breeze as you work your way through the track. The damage system doesn’t stop on the exterior of your car though. Your engine, gearbox, and drive train can all accept only so much damage before they start to malfunction. A damaged engine may not give out near as much power as it should, while a broken gearbox may go straight from 3rd gear to 5th, amidst much grinding.
The graphics in Pro Race Driver are eye candy of the highest degree. Every car is modeled extremely well, from the exterior to the steering wheel. Also, every car reflects the actual scenery; if you look at your rear windshield as you drive under a bridge, you see that bridge. If a car passes you, you can see the reflection of your car on its door as it drives past you. The crowds spectating the races don’t look so hot, but if you’re flying by at 150 mph you won’t notice. At high speeds things start to blur, the terrain textures and objects such as track markers all achieve a motion blur effect that is very realistic and really adds a sense of speed to the game. Cars that have left the track kick up dirt and grass, and expect to see a good amount of glass shards and bits of metal flying around if there is a crash.
Sound in the game is also high quality. Engine sounds come off very realistic, to the point that you can listen to your engine to check its status rather than open the damage indicator. Crashing cars give off the sounds of breaking glass and groaning metal, crowds cheer as you fly past, and if it’s raining you’ll hear the noises of the raindrops impacting against your windshield. If you even have the most basic stereo sound setup you can hear cars passing on your left and right, and even get a Doppler effect if they are really whizzing past you at high speeds. Users with a 3d sound setup will be twitching with happiness as the positional sound is extremely well done.
Pro Race Driver is definitely a game to watch very closely as it nears its March 2003 release date. With its awesome graphics, sound, a realistic physics and damage system, and its overall fun factor, PRD is set to fly past the competition when it’s finally unleashed. If the final version of the game is anything like the preview build (I assume it will be improved/optimized) PRD will easily be one of the best racing games ever.