Release Date: November 2005
Ever play a truly average game that's modestly likeable but only somewhat above mediocre in every aspect? World Racing 2 seems to fit into that vein; it's built up just enough that you can tell the programmers cared about the game, but it fails in a few critical areas. By no means bad but by fewer means great, World Racing 2 just sort of comes and goes.
The first major gameplay issue is going to turn off many a player. You know all of those items that are advertised on the back? You don't get any of them right off the bat. You don't get a choice of cars, vinyls whatsoever, nothing. "Oh well, I'll just do a few free rides to learn the game before I get going on unlocking stuff," you might say. Unfortunately, free ride doesn't exist until you unlock at least one track and vehicle. Even the Burnout series, which is exceptionally unlock-centric, offers you several basic options when you start play, but with World Racing 2, you go straight into career mode, or you get nothing.
The controls are "retooled" for the PC version, at least in theory. In practice, this means that you'll be doing all of the actual racing with one hand (up to accelerate, down to brake, left and right to turn). The rest of the keyboard, in seemingly random placement, offers you little functions like lights, horn, and camera. This placement is random enough to send your left hand flying across the keyboard if you wish to get fancy. If you choose a manual transmission, your fingers will be parked on "a" and "z," and the developers smartly chose to have the most conspicuous key on the main keyboard – the spacebar – activate nitrous, once you've unlocked that.
Particularly in career mode, World Racing 2 follows the maxim "keep it simple, stupid" to the utmost. Menus are beautifully clean but are unfortunately devoid of options as a result, but the good news is that things are smooth enough that you don't need them. Profile creation consists of your name / license plate, and your driver image can be chosen from a small selection of generic, mostly European, appearances. To race in career mode, simply go to the latest mission (you have to do them in order for a while), see the modifiers, and choose your track and car, if given the choice. Note that there are hidden columns which allow you to select different cities in addition to the available tracks per city.
This game acts in the Midnight Club tradition of cities with numerous tracks for some race sets and mixes in more old-school style one-road, one-course tracks for others. The mixture comes across as lacking a unifying theme, but also provides a decent mix of familiarity and novelty for the courses – and there are a bunch of them, even after you consider the tens of tracks that one city can have. The thing is that some of these tracks come across as thrown together, with hairpin corners that are almost guaranteed to throw you right off the track and probably net you a "driver error" penalty.
Oh yes, I didn't get into that either. To unlock stuff later on, you need to get Speedbucks, which are earned primarily by completing race conditions, with a few bonuses and a few penalties to vary the amount you gain. Hitting a wall costs you Speedbucks and time, and flying too far off the course or going the wrong way has a similar effect. Given the game's physics, you will probably be doing all three regularly, slowing your Speedbucks gain to a trickle. This isn't my idea of fun, especially if you happen to fail a course and can't repeat it.
Graphically, World Racing 2 comes across mostly as though it were an earlier PS2 title; it's high on polygons and low on effects, although there is some fine use of lighting. The car models are amazing, so the end result is absolutely beautiful in stills, but they're less impressive in motion without some very good camera manipulation. Luckily, if you do certain things of interest (e.g., drifting, striking a series of road cones), an instant replay will give you just that, and these little bits are surprisingly worth the trouble you have to go through to get them. One area that is fairly impressive is the damage modeling on the cars. Damage doesn't just mean that parts fall off but also dirt accumulation and paint loss from sideswiping and things of that nature.
The sound effects are absolutely beautiful for the cars; from the roar of the engine to the squeal of the tires, it feels much like watching a real race. Unfortunately, no one at a real race would ever listen to the garage band-generated set of 12 custom tracks that come with the game. This makes the PC and Xbox versions much better than the PS2 version because of the custom soundtracks option, which in the PC version allows for MP3s, OGGs, WMAs, and a few other formats, meaning pretty much any DRM-free source you get your music from can be a replacement soundtrack – one of the Initial D discs would fit fairly well.
A major advertised part of World Racing 2 is its 200-variable physics system, which is listed as "realistic." This means that you're going to be sliding a lot and jumping a fair bit more than you might think you should, and it also enforces mastering the game's drifting, which is frustratingly precise and different from what you might be used to. Luckily, the game provides a couple of partial automations to get around the physics of starting without spinning your tires, in addition to a few other minor problem spots. Some people will probably like the realistic feel of this game more than I did.
To be fair, it's not like Synetic didn't polish up World Racing 2; the cars are absolutely beautiful and plentiful, and the tracks aren't bad either and are on par with the PS2 version of Burnout Revenge. However, while the game has lots of graphical polish, it can be highly lacking in a many gameplay areas, which limit it to being average in the overall scheme of things. It caters to fans of realistic European racing, but its appeal to everyone else will be highly limited at best.
More articles about World Racing 2