Release Date: May 3, 2005
Buy 'ENTHUSIA PROFESSIONAL RACING': PlayStation 2
Enthusia Professional Racing's title reminded me of Jerry Seinfeld's stand-up routine before the John Voight LeBaron episode:
"[Have you noticed] when they try and mangle a positive word into a car name, you know how they'll do that? The 'Integra.' Oh, integrity? No, Integra. The 'Supra.' Or the 'Impreza.' Yeah? Well, I hope it's not a 'lemona'...or you'll be hearing from my 'lawya.'"
So does "Enthusia" inspire the "enthusiasm" that its name implies? It's another racer that takes a stab at the simulation genre, so competition is heavy with Forza and GT4 being released in the same timeframe. Gameplay-wise, it stacks up rather well, with a superb physics model that encourages controlled driving. The graphics are appealing despite the lack of high-definition support, and the tracks offer up plenty of challenge. While it does get the driving part down pat, the arbitrary tuning, mind-numbing progression system, and tendency to become boring keeps Enthusia from evoking unbridled enthusiasm.
On the track, Enthusia plays very realistically, which actually may be considered a drawback to more casual players. This game is challenging, and even if you've played GT4 and Forza, you may find yourself in frequent spinout and oversteer situations. You can activate steering assist and traction control, as well as equip an automatic transmission, although you will not be awarded as many points after a race.
Enthusia's VGS (Visual Gravity System) indicator shows off the game's impressive physics. Centered in the bottom half of the driving screen, it's basically an outline of your four tires with a moving yellow circle in the middle. The VGS shows when tires lose grip or lift off the ground, and the yellow circle indicates the pull of gravity on your car. It's a nice little feature that is intended to help drivers continually improve their skills, but the fact of the matter is you're going to want to keep your eyes on the road, not the VGS. It may have been useful if you could refer back to the gravitational effects during a replay, but VGS is strictly a real-time feature that's only available during actual gameplay.
Nevertheless, the physics engine is impressive and accurate, allowing you to use real life driving techniques on the vehicles. Front, rear, and all-wheel-drive vehicles have very distinct characteristics, and there are also noticeable driving traits between many of the 200-plus licensed vehicles. Not surprisingly, Enthusia controls infinitely better using Logitech's Driving Force Pro steering wheel. Using the standard controller requires a lot of finesse due to the miniscule amounts of analog play that the buttons offer. As you win more races and increase your driving and tuning levels, your car will become easier to handle. (Make sure to let the demo run for a while to see an interesting real-life vs. Enthusia physics comparison.)
Although Enthusia emphasizes the actual driving over tweaking and tuning, you still are able to change settings such as suspension hardness, gear ratios and camber angle. While it's respectable that the game tries to put the focus on driving instead of tweaking, it would have been nice to have actual numbers to work with when making adjustments on settings such as ride height, gear ratios and so on. In fact, because your adjustments are fairly arbitrary, you may find yourself tweaking and fiddling under the hood more than you care to.
There are four modes of play: time attack, free racing, Enthusia Life, and Driving Revolution. Time attack is your token race-against-the-clock mode, and free racing is exactly that. The main modes are Enthusia Life and Driving Evolution.
Enthusia Life is the RPG-like mode of the game. You'll notice that dollar signs are absent from this mode, which is just one indication of how Konami was trying to differentiate itself from the sim-racing standard. Instead of incorporating the old race/earn money/buy upgrades/repeat formula, Enthusia uses a somewhat confusing odds system that determines how many ranking points you earn.
When you complete a race, you also earn skill points. Skill points are earned by turning off driving assists, such as traction control and steering assist, having the fastest lap, and avoiding collisions with other cars. As these points accumulate, your car and driver levels increase.
Your car begins at level one and sports a relatively low power-to-weight ratio and the worst tires. As you gain skill points and level up your car, your weight, power and tire levels increase. You don't need to worry yourself with spending money or points on upgrades. Your car's abilities just automatically get better. This is a small blessing, but a large drawback. Sure, it's nice not having to pick and choose which doohickey to install and spend your dough on, but Enthusia doesn't let you apply the upgrades where you deem them necessary. The game may bring your engine power up a level, when in fact you really need to bring up your tire level. You should be able to choose which area you want to improve, but you can't.
By raising your driver level, you increase the number of "Enthu" points you have, which are displayed as sort of a power meter during and between races. The meter decreases during races as you run into walls, drive off the track and as other cars run into you (which is kind of unfair, as you have no control over how aggressive the A.I. is). Depending on your driver level, the meter replenishes itself at a certain rate between races. If this meter is completely depleted, you are required to sit out of the next race, which lowers your overall ranking. This kind of makes up for the fact that there is no visual or internal car damage. As your ranking increases, faster (and sweeter) cars become available.
While we're talking about all these points and numbers, you should also know about ranking points. These are determined by your car class, the odds of you winning the race, and the place in which you finished. They also help determine your overall ranking. It's a unique, if not overly complicated, way of calculating how far you should progress. The odds and ranking system does a good job of keeping races balanced. If you succeed against much weaker cars with lower odds of winning, your rank may not increase. Enthusia Life definitely encourages you to challenge yourself.
The main complaint with the Enthusia Life mode is that it feels like you progress slowly, and it has the tendency to become tedious. That's not to say that there isn't any fun to be had, it's just that it doesn't offer much outside of standard racing, where GT4 and Forza offer many racing options.
Fortunately, if tedium gets you down, the Driving Revolution mode does a fairly good job of providing fun pick-up-and-play racing. In this mode, you are required to clear four challenges before advancing to the next round. You are placed in a car and must race through a series of gates at certain speeds. A grade is given according to your performance. Trying to get past the stages can actually be more addicting than the larger Enthusia Life mode.
Like GT4, Enthusia is missing an online mode. There is a split screen mode, but when compared to the fun of online simulation racing Forza has brought us, it just can't compete in terms of multiplayer fun.
Enthusia looks very nice, and graphically, it certainly holds its own against GT4 and Forza. The car models are well-proportioned and accurate, thanks to Konami taking actual CAD data from automakers. The game doesn't boast the hi-def 1080i graphics of GT4, but it does run at a buttery 60 frames per second without the slightest hint of slowdown. The game sports around 40 tracks (both real and fictional) that can be raced during the day or at night, with realistic ambient lighting. When it rains, the asphalt has a convincing shimmer, as raindrops fall on the "camera" lens, and a very cool effect is applied at high speeds, which blurs your peripheral vision. As mentioned earlier, cars cannot be damaged.
Sound-wise, the engines have distinct tones from car to car, which has come to be expected of simulation racers. Konami used hundreds of different recordings from various vehicles and driving situations in order to recreate engine noise and other driving sounds. However, the wind noise isn't as realistic as its competitors, and the tires seem to squeal only after traction is already lost, which can be a major hindrance when you're winding through a course.
Konami's racer is headed in the right direction with Enthusia, no doubt about it. The RPG-inspired leveling system is intriguing, although it could be more streamlined. There are a lot of points and figures to keep track of, which is more confusing than necessary. Despite this complex system, it's nice to see a simulation racer that doesn't rely on money to advance within the game. Hopefully, if there's a sequel, more racing options will be included so the Enthusia Life mode would have more variety and less repetitiveness because GT4 and Forza simply offer tons more to do. There are some shortcomings, but Konami can take pride in its realistic physics model. It's the heart of the game, and the main source of challenge, satisfaction, and fun. At the end of the day, Enthusia lives up to the tagline, "It's not what you drive, it's how you drive."
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