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PC Review - 'Xtreme Air Racing 2'

by Mark Crump on Feb. 2, 2004 @ 2:17 a.m. PST

Feel the adrenaline rush of the world’s fastest motor sport in Redline: Xtreme Air Racing 2. Fly at speeds over 500 mph and race around towering peaks, over frigid glaciers, through jungles and more on over 50 fantasy and real-world tracks. Blast your way to the front of the pack in the all-new Race Combat mode.

Genre: Simulation
Publisher: Encore Software
Developer: Victory Simulation
Release Date: October 30, 2003

The Reno Air Races, held annually in Nevada, are billed as "The Worlds Fastest Motor Sport", and are a natural to have a PC rendition created. Last year Encore introduced Xtreme Racing, and this year followed up with Redline: Xtreme Racing 2, where you have a choice of about 7 courses and over 70 aircraft to fly. The courses are located in Reno, England, the Alps, Southeast Asia as well as a Canyon course. The courses are circular, have pylons to fly around and gates you need to fly through; missing a pylon incurs a penalty which deducts from your score at the end of the race. The courses are fairly easy to fly, with only one figure-eight course posing much of a challenge. The aircraft range from World War II "Warbirds", to Bi-planes and Formula-1 planes. Each of the planes does have different handling characteristics, but flying the planes isn't difficult at all. Each map has a practice and qualifying mode, but not doing either of these didn't affect my successes as I was able to win early on.

There are four difficulty levels: bronze; silver; gold and platinum. Each of these progressively affects the speed of the AI planes, how closely they follow the course and how they react to avoiding collisions with your planes. Platinum is the hardest mode since a lot of the limitations on the AI planes are removed entirely. You can also fly just a single race, run a career, or fly around for the heck of it. As you win more races, you'll unlock more aircraft. The game also has a combat mode, which would make one think that it's an airborne version of "Deathrace 2000", but since you have unlimited ammo and auto-aim, it lacks the dogfight appeal you'd expect.

From a control standpoint, it's easy to tell this is an arcade game. Controlling the planes is no more difficult than yanking the control stick in the proper direction to make sure you go around the correct pylon; there is no finesse required, and playing "serious" flight-sims isn't a pre-requisite. You start the race in the air, and then simply jam the throttle to full and try and outrace the AI. To make life easier you'll want a joystick, but don't run out and buy one just for this game. While starting off in the air works for arcade titles like this, it would have added to the challenge to need to take off and land.

The big problem with the game is it just doesn't deliver the excitement you'd expect from a game with the words "Xtreme" and "The World's Fastest Motor Sport" on the box to deliver. The airspeed indicator tells me I'm traveling 500 miles an hour, but why does it feel like I need to get out and push? Multiplayer, where you'd expect the game to shine, is a dodgy experiment at best, since there's no matchmaking service. You're resorted to IP address swapping and hoping a buddy brought the game. Last years version had a browser but it got scrapped in this version. It's too bad, since multiplayer might have been fun.

Graphically, Redline uses an engine that is prehistoric at best. The game has two graphics options: OpenGL and 3dfx Glide and states in the manual that owners of non-3dfx cards should use OpenGL. Given that 3dfx has been out of business for 4-5 years, that's an option that shouldn't even be there. The graphics are blocky, unimpressive, and are a holdout from when Quake was considered "cutting edge". Granted, it's a budget title, but I expect the graphics on a budget title to look like they came from this millennium, or at least use DirectX.

From a sound standpoint, there really isn't much to discuss. There's no music whatsoever in the game and you'd expect an "Xtreme" racing game to have a heart-thumping soundtrack like you hear in the EA Sports line. The announcer who does the play-by-play speaks in a very dry monotone that's about as exciting as listening to the propeller. I found him more annoying than helpful, as I never could understand just who he was referring to in the race. If the commentator actually sounded like he cared about the race, it would have added more to the excitement.

Be prepared for some serious load times as well; load times of the "go toss a meal in the microwave while you wait" variety. The first splash screen that pops up when you first start the game took so long to load I actually thought the game had crashed. After that, the first race you run on any given course will take several minutes to load, as it seems to want to regenerate all the data for that course. If you go back and run the race again in that session the load time is better, but that first one is a doozy.

I'm willing to forgive quite a bit for a budget title as long as there is some redeeming quality to the gameplay. Sadly, since the graphic engine inhibits performance so much and doesn't allow you to experience the feeling of speed you'd expect, it's hard to get excited about this game. Winning races requires little more than a sober controlling hand than any sort of strategy. Even races that were neck-and-neck just didn't deliver the sense of urgency you'd expect when you are battling for the checkered flag at high speeds. The feeling you are actually going 500mph, as well as an adrenaline-inducing soundtrack would have made the game much more appealing, even with outdated graphics. The box also proudly proclaims that you can add your own courses, sound, and aircraft, but that's the only mention of it anywhere. I searched through the manual and didn't find another reference to it, so this must have been cut after the boxes were printed. At $30, it's a borderline budget price, and just doesn't deliver enough thrills.

Score: 5.5/10

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