Back in the Playstation era racing games went through a complete change, a puberty if you will. This change either sent racing game fans running for the hills to conserve their memories of yesteryear, or attracted them to a whole new world, as well as dragging in a completely new crowd of fans. Racing games went from being simple point to point, choose your car and win or lose, to far more complex strategy based games that caused you to not only focus on the race at hand, but also allowed you to setup the car through many changeable variants.
While not completely the first time a video game allowed the player to buy upgrades or change parts to make their racing machinery better, this was the first time this was attempted on such a large scale. You see, before the days of Gran Turismo you had games like Formula One: Built to Win for the NES, that offered a little bit of what Gran Turismo offered, albeit with only a handful of cars at most. Gran Turismo offered over 150 vehicles to choose from, as well as brought a whole new look to the genre and inspired many to emulate it’s depth, it’s compassion and it’s… well it’s drive for a lack of better pun.
Now let’s strip all that away and crap out a budget title for the dying console, poorly titled All Star Racing. As the Playstation was drawing it’s last few breaths companies were in a panic to get rid of any stock they had left, which ended up on store shelves at prices that, I’m quite sure, cost more to actually ship the items to that store to be placed on said shelf. Many were actually quite good and sadly overlooked. All Star Racing, however, is a game that deserves it’s shadowed corner in obscurity and abandonment.
On paper All Star Racing sounds like quite the bang for your buck, but in reality there is no currency denomination low enough for this game. You start out with the option to play one of four styles of racing, which is just a mirage as you’re not given as much freedom as you originally think, only laying one of four different racing style skins over the exact same thing. After choosing your desired racing class (for the sake of this review I’ll go with Stockcar Frenzy) you’re presented with what seems to be yet another title screen, with three choices; Start, Options or Quit Game.
While Start and Quit are self-explanatory, options is where things are really kind of important. The default lap count is 3, which you can manually change to up to 15, because… why not? Here you can also change the difficulty, center the screen and apparently pick on the disabled. I’m not joking, there is an option for disabled, but it does NOTHING! The difficulty levels are quite odd, which I’ll explain further in just a little bit.
After you’ve set the game to your liking it’s time to pick one of the three cars allotted per class. Yep, that’s all she wrote. Three cars per class. Not four, not five, just three. Oddly enough they’re all extremely well done representations of real-life cars with craftily parodied sponsors to skirt lawsuits. Once you’ve picked your car, it’s time to pick from three tracks, same joke from above applies here. Once you’ve picked your car, picked the track and gotten to the loading screen it’s time for racing! Which will quickly disappoint you again, as your only competition is five cars, two sets of the two cars you didn’t pick and an exact clone of yourself, making that a total of only 6 cars on track!
So the lack of cars on track may not upset you, but the racing mechanics may very well be the point of contention. Depending on what difficulty level you set, as well as it seems to vary from track to track, you may experience anywhere from a complete blowout in your favor, an almost enjoyable race, or a complete blowout where you can’t even hope to catch the competition. The extremely tight and laggy controls don’t make this any better, but if you’re a masochist and practice to learn the track you may find that you can actually maneuver the car around the track in an almost tolerable fashion. Although there is no damage modeling, which is ok as it wasn’t widely used in PS games anyway, smashing into someone, or something, is bouncy and stops time and your ability to steer momentarily.
So let’s say you’ve done your homework, you’ve setup the difficulty to your liking and you’ve learned every corner of your favorite track and now it’s time to furrow your brow and get yourself the big W. You speed past the competition and you hug those curves for the three to fifteen laps you’ve chosen, you’re seconds from crossing the line and you can already taste the champagne, see the trophy girl’s lycra bodysuit and you’re prematurely basking in a glory that is highly uncalled for. What do you get once you’ve grossed the line ahead of the competition? The screen dims, the end results appear, then a loading screen and then… the main screen of whichever class you chose to race in. No fanfare, nobody cares.
I will say that the game looks decent for a Playstation game and the car models actually look quite stunning, even compared to Gran Turismo, perhaps as good or slightly better! The game does have quite a few glaring flaws and it’s cut down to seem so sparse that it’s downright painful in areas. I mean, the game is playable and if you fiddle around with the difficulty and can stand to play it long enough to build up any real skill with what it offers you might actually enjoy it. It’s in no way a beaming example of what Playstation era racing games should have been, but at least it’s not completely broken, just moderately uninteresting and gravely disappointing.
It’s not perfect, but what do you expect from a death of a console release from companies such as Mud Duck and ZeniMax Media. Wait, what? ZeniMax Media? The same ZeniMax who own Bethesda and id Software? The exact same! While ZeniMax was busy releasing games like this, the companies it bought were busy releasing games that are now considered video game history makers. Let that sink in for a while. A good, long while.
And yes, there is a sequel.