Developer: 10tacle studios AG
Release Date: November 9, 2004
Hey! How was everyone’s summer? (Sorry, I’ve been meaning to write some new material)
In recent weeks, the name Michael Schumacher has been bandied about the news, mostly due to his incredible humanitarian effort to support the victims of the devastating tsunami in Southeast Asia. According to recent reports, this amazing man donated ten MILLION dollars to the recovery and rebuilding of these ravaged countries.
As I watched the coverage of this disaster unfold on television, the name "Michael Schumacher" kept running through my head in search of something to connect with. "Racing," I thought, and stumbled off into the bathroom to wash. I went to the window, saw a bulldozer, plagiarized Douglas Adams, and began a computer game review.
Now, on to cases. The mainstream topic of today’s symposium is Kart Racing. Not the cheapo ones you ride at your favorite vacation spot, you know, the ones powered by a Briggs and Stratton lawnmower engine? Not here, my fine friends! We’re talking the pro Kart circuit, where these little asphalt power sleds hit speeds in excess of 90 mph! Precision goes hand-in-hand with speed as you maneuver chicane after chicane in a flat-out race to the finish.
Michael Schumacher's Kart Challenge 2005 is a beautifully rendered, tight-feeling little gem of a racing title. I have never been much for the "realistic" racing titles. Whenever I find myself suckered into a match of NASCAR Racing (or something similar) with a friend, I keep looking for the "Fire Weapons" button. I’m much more of a Spy Hunter kind of guy, but I have to tell you, this Kart game is a ball to play!
Interestingly enough, the sound of squealing rubber will do nothing more than hurt your times in this game. Precision is the key here. I’ll admit, this game made me a little frazzled at first, mostly because I had become accustomed to more "arcade-y" titles (with the notable exception of the Gran Turismo series). So, I kept racing and racing and racing, and voila, I got the hang of this one! The next thing you know, I am bullying my friends into buying this title, just to prove once and for all that skill beats speed.
But that’s beside the point.
The point is, Kart Challenge 2005 is a stunningly beautiful example of what racing games are and can be. Remember the last few Gran Turismo games where you had to glance away from the action on the screen to catch your spot in the pack, your distance from the leader, and how many laps you had to complete? In KC2K5 (as it will be called from here on in) you can actually see, and clearly read the leader board as you speed beneath it.
A variety of gameplay options are available for your racing pleasure. You can take on each of the many courses one at a time, or immerse yourself in the Career Mode where each victory awards points toward unlocking more events. Online play is also supported; however, I was only able to find two servers, and both were deserted. If you decide to venture into one of these servers solo, prepare to play exactly the same way as a single-course solo race, but with a few glitches from the server. Until this title takes off, it’s better to just play against the computer, or (as I have) use the "manual IP" feature to play with your buds.
For the purposes of this review, I launched into Career Mode. My little Kart was ready to go! The first few courses are not particularly tough, but as you progress, the tracks become much more interesting, especially the great indoor tracks. A total of 17 head-spinning courses are yours for the racing, spanning the globe from the US to Japan, Europe, even Cuba! Pass the Cohibos! (chuckle) The tracks twist and turn back over and under themselves, blast through underground tunnels, soar over elevated catwalks and more.
The computer AI, boasted to be patterned after Schumacher’s own instincts and skills, will almost invariably follow the best line through each turn. This is valuable to the newcomer, as you can see where your best chances are for passing. I’ll admit the AI is very precise, but not as aggressive as I was expecting. The computer drivers are more reactive, as opposed to proactive. If you try to nudge them out of the way, they fight back a little, but nothing compared to what live human competition will do to you.
The control scheme is as simple as any other racing title. I played KC2K5 with a Logitech Wingman RumblePad, and the response was just right. You do have the options to set dead zones on the sticks to suit your style of play. Otherwise, it’s the standard affair of one button for the gas, one for the brake. As for the reactions on the screen, they are tight and realistic. There is a very good physics model at work here.
Graphically, this game is superior! The detail on the karts, the scenery and the opposition is incredible! As your career progresses, you have the option to customize your kart, and your driver as well. The color of everything is changeable, down to the tine of your visor. Tires can be swapped, body styles can be altered, and much more. The scenery around the courses is also painstakingly rendered, from the forests of Switzerland, to the warehouse interiors of Japan. Each venue is beautifully detailed and convincingly captured.
The audio is quite realistic, but I will admit, the semi-buzzing sound of these machines can get a little annoying. Imagine ten 6-foot tall mosquitoes hovering over your computer and you’ll get the idea. Perhaps some music would help here, at least to break the monotony.
Your solo session scores can be uploaded to the internet from in-game, and posted on a website that tracks everyone in the world who bothers to post scores. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much of a "buzz" going for this game. What with all the ballyhoo around racing games like the Need For Speed Underground series, the Midnight Club games, and of course, the GTA franchise, a very well-executed Kart racing title will likely fall by the wayside, and that is too bad. I have a feeling this will be one of those "niche" titles that fails to impress any but the most die-hard Kart racing fans, and to be totally honest, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a professional Kart race anywhere, not even at 4AM on ESPN6.
In the final analysis, Michael Schumacher’s Kart Challenge 2005 is a well-designed, well-executed, graphically superior racing game. The replay value is high, the learning curve is fine, and the overall presentation is first-rate. I just hope more people pick this one up. It would be a shame to see all of this goodness go by the wayside.
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