As a native Hoosier, there are a few things that I am genetically predisposed to know and appreciate. First, I know the true story behind "Hoosiers" and why the class system has forever ruined high school basketball. Also, I am obliged to root for Notre Dame, no matter how much Charlie Weiss screws up the program. Finally, there is something way down deep in my DNA that holds a special appreciation for the Indianapolis 500. Even though I've never been to the race, I still revere it and have toured the Hall of Fame and driven on the track itself. For one weekend every May, a sleepy Midwestern state becomes the focus of the whole racing world, with rednecks and celebrities coming alike coming to witness "The Greatest Spectacle in Racing." Some may wonder if this same level of excitement could be accurately translated into a game, and the best answer is both yes and no. Indianapolis 500 Legends, while not a terrific title, is still an enjoyable game that may be appreciated by a few open-wheeled racing fans.
The most important thing to understand about Legends is that this is more a historical sim than a traditional racing game. The entire experience centers on the Indianapolis Motor Speedway for the 10-year span of 1961-1971. The drivers and cars are all historically accurate, and you'll be flying around the turns with the likes of Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt and Al Unser. If you only enjoy racers that boast tons of tracks, scores of cars and fully upgradeable parts, then this is not the game for you. However, if you're a racing historian, or if you'd just like to learn a little more about one of the world's oldest and most respected automobile races, then you may get a kick out of the title.
The majority of the content is contained within Mission mode, which leads you on a year-by-year recap of the race complete with introductory historical footage, featuring three prominent drivers from that particular race. Know this up front, you are confined to specific vehicles and drivers, and you will only be driving on the famed 2.5 mile Indy oval. Don't expect anything any exotic locales or experimental engines; the game is much more concerned with execution than innovation.
The missions themselves are actually interesting and can be quite fun. Rather than forcing you to race through all 200 laps over and over again, the game places you in the seats of actual drivers during critical race moments. These events normally last three to five laps and often consist of passing a certain number of vehicles within a period of time, beating your rivals by a particular margin, or coming from behind to win the race in the waning laps. In addition to these more traditional racing modes, the missions also occasionally feature pit stops and avoiding massive pileups. The pit stop missions are a nice change of pace, as you must use the Wiimote's motion sensing capabilities to knock off wheel locks, remove and replace gas caps, and even put out fires. It's a great complement to the extensive racing action, and trying to speed through pit stops provides its own special thrill. The avoidance missions are the most exciting, as things never play out the same way twice. Once the cars start swerving and the mayhem truly begins, it's up to your quick reflexes to save you from getting caught up in the destruction.
Unfortunately, once you get outside of Mission mode, there's not much left to explore in Legends. Classic mode allows up to two players to compete in the 500 using any unlocked drivers or cars. You can set parameters such as the year of the race and the number of laps, but there's not really anything here that isn't more exciting and fully fleshed-out in other racing titles.
The visuals of Legends take the same simplified approach as the rest of the game. The track is accurately reflected, right down to the famed Pagoda, and the cars are very true to life. The developers actually accessed the real cars featured in the game through the Indianapolis 500 Museum, so you can rest assured that they look and sound almost identical to the real thing. However, authenticity doesn't necessarily translate into beauty, as nothing about the graphics really stands out. The track is simple asphalt and concrete, and the cars aren't really detailed enough to warrant special notice. Everything here is functional, but nothing is outstanding.
While the graphics won't blow you away, thanks to the super-tight controls, it won't be long until you feel like you're truly behind the wheel of an Indy car. The game features the classic Nintendo-style grip on the controller, and you turn the wheel through gentle tilting. If you want an arcade-style race, you can simply turn on the braking and acceleration assists, jam on the gas, and bob and weave through traffic without much concern. Those looking for a more challenging race can turn off the assists and attempt a more realistic competition, complete with careful positioning, controlled acceleration and judicious braking.
Unfortunately, the controls may work a little too well, and pretty much every car drives like every other. There were a lot of changes made in the years between 1961-71, as the cars grew much faster and more complex. However, the game never really makes you adjust your strategy, and you can drive the rockets with wheels just as easily as the earliest vehicle models. It would have been nice for later model cars to require a bit more strategy, but this is a case where accessibility has trumped authenticity.
In many ways, Indianapolis 500 Legends is more an interactive history lesson than a proper game. By limiting you to certain drivers and certain years, players gain a deep historical knowledge of certain races at the expense of all the others. In addition, things grow boring fairly quickly, and only the most devoted fans will stick around for all of the missions. I was hoping that this would be a title that would bring the rich and storied history of the Indianapolis 500 to the masses, but there just isn't enough here to keep your attention. Sadly, not even a native of the great state of Indiana can find much enjoyment in going through this game. While it may be fun for a while, there really needs to be a lot more content to make this title worth it, even at its already discounted price. This game will be ignored by most, rented by a few and purchased by almost none.
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