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PC Preview - 'Cross Racing Championship 2005'

by Tim "The Rabbit" Mithee on May 31, 2005 @ 12:47 a.m. PDT

Utilizing the next generation of the Invictus engine which incorporates its new real-time physics module, Cross Racing Championship (CRC) will allow the player to experience the thrills of high-speed on and off road racing across vast open terrains.

Genre: Racing
Publisher: Project Three Interactive
Developer: Invictus Design
Release Date: TBA

Here we are again, your entity-about-town with his hands glued firmly to yet another virtual steering wheel, careening wildly about tracks at unreasonable velocities ...when did I become the local racing reviewer? Well, no matter, because this go 'round, I've got a possible gem from a Euro dev team to show you, featuring racing in a somewhat different style than most of us Americans will be familiar with.

CRC is, at many points, very similar stylistically to RalliSport Challenge or even Colin McRae or Richard Burns. What this "crossracing" – a term I, as an American, have never heard of – is at its heart is a hybrid of your standard off-road racing and rallycross racing. It takes the major elements of each: each race is not unlike a traditional rallycross, featuring a variety of terrains set in areas where going 100 miles per hour is not an exceptionally wise decision, unless one truly enjoys dodging trees and possibly removing glass from his face at the end.

The cars are simple, small designs, again like that seen in rally, with the emphasis placed less on sheer performance and more on endurance and stability in the face of harsh environs. Instead of using segments and split-times, though, this is lap-style racing, often tight and frantic, with much pushing and scraping of fenders. To call the result "interesting" is probably understating it a bit: these are energetic races, based around low-performance "dura-cars" and unfriendly terrain.

Rallycross fans will not have any leg-ups against their circuit-style competitors, though: these cars are not the best handlers in the world, and P3i's insistence on accurate modeling will leave the "arcade" crowd in the dust. Braking and acceleration are handled as purely as is justifiably possible, so those of you out there who enjoy swinging your rear end around and power sliding through turns like an "underground" driver will be schooled quite completely — these cars, when the brake is applied, stop. Their tires do not have the world's grandest traction, nor do they hold speed off the main line. In simpler terms, much of your success here will be based on your ability to navigate ugly turns, snake-like runs through narrow forests, and hills that threaten to throw you into nearby foliage like so much garbage. Simply leaning on the throttle and tapping the brakes occasionally will not bring you success.

The internals of the system handle all of this with skill. While by no means a beautiful system, the engine powering CRC is above "ultilitarian," with strong car models, well-designed maps, and all the sound capability that's really required. The entire presentation cries "racer's game" as opposed to "gamer's race" – this a package intended for the die-hard racing fan, who wants to grab a car and fight against the forces of physics and his opponents at the same time. Sadly, there are few modification elements available (in the press version at least): while victory does net you prestige, sponsorship, and in turn, a variety of upgrade parts and new cars, there are none of the meters and graphs to gaze at that many a Gran Turismo fan has come to call home. I find this sort of welcome, but then, my understanding of the workings of an automobile lies in the steering and the radio only.

Aside from a career mode that stretches for dozens of races in a menagerie of locales all about Europe, CRC also carries along a cache of alternate modes where you can monkey about without worrying about prestige or that guy in second place. Time Trial and Quick Race are basics in any game, letting you play any track and any car you've already unlocked as one-offs, either against the clock or a set of AIs. Each and every race has a set of difficulties which dictate exactly what and who is permitted in, and how well they'll perform; at the easiest, the opposition is quite tame, while the hardest settings will simply blow your socks off — damage (which is isolated to your wheels and body only) accumulates faster as the challenge rises, meaning you're very likely to break off some very vital piece of yourself at the professional level. Don't expect to finish with two missing wheels, either!

My personal favorite mode is Free Ride, something not often seen in a traditional racing title. Here, you can roll around any given area, free of the timer, other cars, or barriers (though you'll still be "rescued" if you wander off too far). It's a good way to see the track without worrying about anyone or anything else, or to see how well this variation on your car actually handles; it's not only a good practice mode, it's also quite fun just for a quick burst of driving. It doesn't hurt that repairs are free here as well, so you can throw your car from that mountain bridge just for the fun of it. *grin*

Multiplayer is fairly standard stuff, bringing both Hot Seat (rarely seen in these days of TCP/IP connectivity and USB controllers) and Online Multiplayer to the table. While the former is simply quick races handed off between players at the same computer, the latter is multiplayer, online racing of the same genre as the main game. Included are a couple of odder modes, including a "Capture the Flag" game that seems rather interesting, at least on paper. I really couldn't test any of them, as the game is not out yet, so there aren't exactly other players to bring in, but it could be fun to dash about with a flag, going hither and yon ...

CRC at the very least will be a new challenge for off-road or rallycross racers to throw themselves up against. It's certainly not easy (unless you make it so, of course), and the structured-yet-open track design is sure to give many racers fits as they try to break old habits they've gathered in other racing titles. At this time, there's a demo available, and I would recommend that anyone who enjoys driving on the roads less paved takes a shot at it, and gives Cross Racing Championship a look when it's released.

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