Release Date: 15-Apr-2003
Pro Race Driver, the latest from Codemasters, attempts to do what few other racing games have done: add a realistic story alongside the races. Apex, to a degree, played out in a similar fashion, but focused more on building and development. Pro Race Driver centers around a rookie driver trying to break into the big races. Although the plot is reasonably corny, it does give you a reason to play. But without an actual good racing experience, the game wouldn’t be worth playing. Thankfully, the game offers a solid, if flawed, driving mode.
The racing itself is extremely straight-forward; your only goal is to finish in first place. You have some pretty standard controls: the left thumbstick steers your vehicle, the triggers are used for accelerating and braking, and the face buttons can be used for various things such as shifting up and down, changing the camera angle, or pulling the handbrake.
There’s a fair sense of speed and a great physics system in place here, and it must be noted that many of the cars control very differently from one another. Where one car makes easy, slow turns, another might retain a high speed, but probably propel you into a wall if you aren’t careful. Driving can be a lot of fun, for sure.
The tracks, many of which based on real life locations, can be fun to drive on and seem well thought out. There are some problems, however. One of which is the obviously out-of-place pit stop. These may work for NASCAR, but they do not work in this game. Having to slow down to 37 miles per hour on a long, narrow road will almost always guarantee you the lowest position once you get out of the pit. When the other racers are flying by at a solid 100 MPH, it’s simply unreasonable to have to slow as much as you do.
Playing through the career mode can be incredibly monotonous, as well – and this really does hurt the game. Though there are cutscenes to keep things going, they’re usually followed by a series of five or so races, and they’re usually exactly the same as the ones you just raced after the last cutscene. Yeah, you might be in a different car, but the incredible feeling of repetition will set in on about the third time around. The courses will change, eventually, and more will become available, but you will find yourself in the exact same races quite often.
This isn’t a problem in the game’s Free Race mode, though, where you can pick any car unlocked, any track unlocked, and change a number of settings before playing a nice race. You can compete against a friend, too, which is a lot of fun. A few more multiplayer options would have been great, as it is pretty bare-bones option-wise, but that won’t stop you from having an intense match with up to three people.
The game’s graphics have their ups and downs. On one hand, car models are exquisite; shiny, reflective surfaces, smooth curves, gritty tires, and a nicely animated little man in the driver’s seat are all represented in wonderful detail. The damage system is the best I’ve seen yet, too. Smashing into the back of a slow-moving car while going 120 really makes it seem like that’s what’s happening: the back end of their car crumples up, glass shards explode in all directions, and your car tends to take a similar beating. It’s lovely, really. Unfortunately, the rest of PRD’s graphics aren’t all that stunning. Tracks look okay, but won’t wow you, and the cutscenes are a little hokey and in need of nicer character models.
Sound is also a mixed bag. The developers have decided that no background music can be played while driving. Frankly, I find this disappointing, as I would have loved to jam to my custom soundtracks, and driving without the pleasure of music can get rather boring after some time. I definitely recommend having a stereo nearby. But perhaps Codemasters decided to do this to allow you to appreciate the marvelous engine sound effects. It really does sound like you’re sitting in one of these incredible cars when your volume is high.
Overall, Pro Race Driver is a fairly solid package. The story’s not great, but it gives you a reason to keep playing through the many races. And although they may not offer a whole lot of variety, the actual driving is very good, and you can always play however you like in the Free Race mode. The graphics and sound are a mixed bag, but the presentation is well-done. If you’re looking for a new racing game, this one could be it. Give it a rent to see if you like it, and if you do, don’t hesitate to purchase it.