Genre: Racing/3D Platformer
Publisher: Vivendi Universal
Developer: Radical Entertainment
Release Date: Fall 2005
We didn't go to the Vivendi Universal booth expecting to spend most of our time playing a Crash Bandicoot game. It just sort of... happened. Oh, we saw other games first, like F.E.A.R. and Incredible Hulk: Ultimate Destruction, and we'll talk about them elsewhere. But Crash was the game we got to sit down and play for a good long while, and the experience was too surprising not to write about.
Much like Jak X, Tag Team Racing mutates a platforming title into a racing game. Unlike Jak X, Crash Tag Team Racing retains some platforming sequences and lacks the emphasis on multiplayer gameplay. The "feel" of Tag Team Racing is a lot closer to the feel of a typical Crash Bandicoot game, basically, although the game flow was too weird to remind us of anything else.
The game begins by placing Crash in a surreal, amusement park-like world where he can gather up ambient coins from the landscape and interact with the other local inhabitants. This section of the game is pretty standard platforming, but the Vivendi rep who was at the demonstration with us noted that it was intended mostly as a way for the player to access the various "missions" available in platformer mode. The missions weren't implemented yet in the demo version, though, so this aspect of the game felt somewhat naked and a bit on the overly-easy side. The intent of this half of the game is to force players to adventure for money and parts to upgrade their racing car, which is an honestly interesting idea. We look forward to seeing how this works out in the finished version.
The racing half of the game had quite a bit more depth to it and felt more complete. It was also mind-bogglingly hard. Even the Vivendi rep we spoke to mentioned that he'd only recently gotten good enough at the races to start placing first. Much of the difficulty comes from the way the Clash mechanice alters the flow of the gameplay. While the flow of Jak X was pretty similar to other weapon-based crash-happy racing games, Crash Tag Team Racing just didn't play like anything else we could think of. It was honestly hard to adjust to, but felt like something we could really get into, given more time.
The idea behind the "Clash" mechanic is truly bizarre. Basically, each car has the ability to become immaterial and possess other cars that happen to be nearby. This causes the two vehicles to merge, with the Clash-ing character sprouting out of a gun turret on the back of the Clash-ee's car. The turret has a 360-degree firing range and unlimited ammo that you can fire into the destructible roadside objects and other racers. But, perhaps most significantly, The Clash-ing character's car will automatically pass the Clash-ee's once the player Unclashes. It's profoundly hard to describe, as the previous sentence attests to, but actually pretty easy to do in-game. Less easy is figuring out how to use this mechanic to your advantage. Crashing doesn't penalize your enemies much in terms of time, although the game is difficult enough that fine differences in timing can matter. The heart of the strategy seems to revolve around using the Clash mechanic to leapfrog other cars, just judging from the parts of the game we played.
Aside from the Clashing, the controls were highly reminiscent of the Mario Kart games with a turbo button added. Collecting objects on the track gives your racer weapons you can use even without Clashing. The turbo boost made your car impossibly fast and even harder to control than we had initially expected. We didn't get to see much of the roadside destructible objects, since we were so focused on either shooting other drivers or trying not to be shot. The cars handled in arcade style, with little actual driving finesse required to take corners. The turbo meter fills fast in this game, though, so you'll spend a lot of time blazing across the track at barely controllable speeds. It contributes quite a bit to the surprisingly stiff difficulty.
The main thing that unified the two halves of the game, at least in the demo version, was a very cartoony sense of physics. The version we played was the Xbox one, so the poly count was ridiculously high. Crash himself moved in a distinctly rubbery fashion, and his body even had an unnerving rubbery sheen to it. This made the platform controls feel a little bit loose, but also contributed a lot to the feel of the racing segments. There the cars and weapons bounce off of their targets in a nicely fluid fashion, complete with unreasonably well-rendered clouds of cartoon smoke and stars. It's almost like the graphics are too good for the subject matter, honestly, although maybe we're just nostalgic for the early days when Crash was Sony's attempt at a mascot and a barely recognizable heap of orange polygons. On the Xbox, Crash is a bogglingly well-rendered creature, and we can't even begin to imagine what he'll look like on the next gen consoles.
Gamers out for a challenge and a dose of cartoon style will probably want to check out Crash Tag Team Racing when it hits stores this fall. Although we played the Xbox version, it's a multiplatform release that will be hitting pretty much all of the current gen consoles and portables. The platforming may not turn out to be anything special, but the racing segment of the game is remarkably strange and the graphic quality is almost too good.
More articles about Crash Tag Team Racing