Review: R: Racing

Nintendo and racing games have a complicated relationship. A large part of Nintendo's Christmas offensive consisted of racing orientated games, ranging from the futuristic F-Zero to the cartoonesque Mario Kart. Nintendo likes racing, regardless whether it's on a snowboard, on some kind of star (I'm talking about Kirby's Air Ride) or in a Yoshi-shaped car. 'Ordinary' racing cars however, are a different story. Close to two years since its debut in Europe, there still isn't an alternative on the GameCube to the game that is hailed king of racing sims: Gran Turismo. There's not even a mediocre one. But now there's R: Racing. And while nobody expected it to knock GT of its throne – which it indeed doesn't do – it's still an interesting release for GameCube owners. Namco's latest racer might just cater to those who want to race with real cars on real tracks for a change.


Cut a good story short:

R: Racing Evolution (as it is called outside Europe) does not revolutionize gaming (it could be argued it's not even an evolution) nor does it follow Nintendo's pick up and play gaming motto. It's an asset however, if only in terms of possible sales. Boys like cars, you know. But to be sure, a man's other interest is resplendent on the box: a nice-looking girl, dressed for the occasion in tight racing clothes. It's an old Namco tradition (remember Ridge Racer), but this time the company has actually built a story around her.

This story mode has been named Racing life and follows the start of the career of Rena Hayami. Though it's basically races alternated with beautifully rendered cutscenes, it's rather compelling. Besides a taste of all that R: Racing has to offer, like GT, drag and rally races, the story deals with intrigues and ethics in the racing scene. Story and racing are well integrated by good use of radio contact with the pit crew, meaning some vital plot elements and events happen during racing. Though it seems the story is merely intended as an introduction to the main part of the game, the event mode, it's over way to soon. It's an interesting mode and I would've liked to see more of it.


Courses of event:

Time trial and Arcade modes make their expected appearance along the before mentioned Event mode. It consists of a number of different races, like a one-on-one race, tournament or a time trial challenge. Cars and races have to be purchased with racing points, which can be earned with good racing results or showing good driving skills (kind of like the kudos system in Metropolis Street Racer and the Project Gotham games). It comes down to the fact that a good drift, driving the fastest lap and not colliding earns you some extra money.


The game encourages you to race in different events at the same time rather than finishing all races in an event before moving on to the next. As you progress, races get tougher and faster cars are required, so it makes sense to gain some cash in the easier classes. Complete story mode first however, and you'll have start with a garage full of some pretty fast automobiles. It's a missed opportunity that they can hardly be tuned, though. Event mode is still interesting enough to keep you occupied for some time, and makes up for the rather lame two-player versus mode.


Simulate being a sim:

It's not quite clear what kind of game Namco had in mind with R: Racing. Okay, it's a racing game – I got that part, but it seems to be neither an arcade game nor is it a true simulation. Though the same team has developed it, this is definitely not Ridge Racer (so I'm still in the dark about what the 'R' stands for). The game handles more realistic: brake and steer at the same time and your car immediately breaks away. Analogue accelerating and braking has been worked out properly, and it possible to adjust your car's settings, even during the race.

Despite some features that unmistakably point towards a racing sim, R: Racing can't really be labelled as such. I know it's a rather indistinct term, but the game doesn't get the physics entirely right. It's hard to exactly point out what is wrong, but the handling and collisions don't feel like they should. You get used to this though, and after you get the hang of it, racing with R can be quite an enjoyable experience.


The pressure is on! :

Less forgivable is the fact that game allows cheating. When you get off the track, the gravel hardly slows you down, making cutting some corners far too easy. The absolute low is the sharp curve after the tunnel in Monaco. Some of the boarding has even been removed, so it's possible to blatantly drive straight ahead at full speed while your opponents brake to tackle the turn at 50 km/h.


An original but stupid innovation is the pressure meter. This meter appears above the car in front of you when closing in. If you keep your position, the pressure will build ("Aaah, 76 is right behind me!") and you opponent will eventually make a stupid mistake. Overtaking most cars isn't much of a problem, but if you keep tagging along with the pressure filled, it's really too easy to pass. One opponent even drove of track on a straight road! Overtaking is part of the essence of a serious racing game and we're not asking Namco to mess with that in favour of some exclusive feature. Pressure should be subtle incorporated in the opponents' A.I.


Another (minor) issue is the failed brake assist function. Turn it off from the start, because later stages become impossible to win with this 'safety first' option activated.

The low-down:

Among the game's selection of licensed cars are the usual machines (Nissan Skyline, Audi TT, Subaru Impreza, Lotus Elise, Dodge Viper) as well as some surprising choices, such as the Renault Alpine, Alfa Romeo Giulia GTA Junior, Dodge Charger and a tuned up Fiat 500. The assortment is rather large, though by far not as large as in Gran Turismo, but then again few people care about a dozen versions of the Mitsubishi Lancer.

Tracks aren't available in large numbers. There's an oval, a drag strip, two rally courses, five circuits (some of which real, like Monaco and Suzuka) and a handful of mirrored and altered versions. It's not much, but the quality of most makes up for the disappointing quantity.

Graphically the game looks fine. Especially the cars are nice, but the environments are hardly stunning. There's little pop-up however, and framerate and sense of speed are good which are after all more important than beautiful visuals. The menus are one of the best I've seen in recent times; too bad they're accompanied by such annoying music. In-game music is better, but the few tracks do get dull after a couple of hours.


Final say:

R: Racing is almost nowhere up to par with its biggest example, Gran Turismo, let alone improving on it. It's a decent racing game in its own right, but definitely not an essential purchase. If you have a PS2 or Xbox you can pass up on R as these consoles offer plenty of better alternatives.

Matters are a bit more complex for the GameCube-only racing fan. R: Racing is an entertaining racing game, but also has quite some faults, most notably overtaking and handling. If you think you can live with the shortcomings mentioned above, and are eagerly awaiting something like GT for your purple box, this is what comes closest. Better titles are not expected anytime soon (Automodelista has more tuning options but has worse handling), so R seems like the best – if only – choice for a realistic racing game. And if you don't like it, you still have a free copy of the charming Pacman vs, but it's a scant consolation for the Cube's lack of realistic racing quality.

N-Europe Final Verdict

In the land of the blind, one-eyed is king.

  • Gameplay4
  • Playability3
  • Visuals4
  • Audio3
  • Lifespan4
Final Score



Story mode
Interesting car collection



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