Inspired by Travis and Joel’s column from January, I too took a chance on a budget title this past month. There’s a reason they call ‘em budget titles, and there’s a reason no one ever buys them. Honestly, I have found a few gems in the bargain bins; but like squeezing coal in hopes of finding a diamond in the rough, you’d save a lot of time and money by just buying Tiffany & Co.
Condescension out of the way, DT Racer is probably one of the most extensive and well-rounded budget games you can find for the current run of consoles. Ditching the draw of swear-heavy dialog and cap-dem-busters, we-spent-our-time-on-style urban flare, the developers chose to create an actual racing game.
While they lack the financial backing to offer the names of real vehicles (they did win the support of BF Goodrich), it doesn’t take a life-long subscription to Car & Driver magazine to see the inspiration. In fact, if this weren’t an under-the-radar budget title, XS Games would probably be sued into poverty for copyright infringement by a slew of car companies. By likeness only you’ll have access to 11 sports cars inspired by Ferrari, Dodge, and McLaren, as well as a few of the obligatory imaginary supercars that we all wish really existed. Each also has a faster “pro” version bringing the car total to 21 and the re-race monotony to 11.
The courses suffer the same copy-and-tweak treatment as the cars, with six locales each with a short and long path as well as the mind-bogglingly, out-of-nowhere originality of the Reverse run (end sarcasm). The locales do manage to look different enough, mimicking real-world raceways, and after all the midnight street racing of late it’s nice to be out driving in the sunshine again.
Visually, the game looks surprisingly good. Okay, it all feels a bit sterile and sparse, but there are just enough interactive objects and “animated” onlookers to give the world a solid feel. There’s also car damage, which is nice. It feels like it’s been an eternity since I was able to send my side mirrors flying down the raceway or watch my hubcaps smack into a guard rail. There’s even some slick speed blur effects, nice reflections and over-the-top fire and smoke when using your turbo boost. There’s some slowdown at times—namely when several cars are on-screen at once—but overall the game looks and runs like a well tuned Hyundai: not very impressive, but better than you’d expect.
And much like that Hyundai’s factory sound system, DT Racer sounds sub-par. Effects are typical and tinny, the announcer sounds lame and unexplainably quiet in his banter and the music tracks (from “dance superstar” DJ Tiesto) are like electronic muzak. It’s possible that your ears will quit paying attention well before you do. The main menu music gets special mention here for being the most annoying and repetitive loop of four notes I’ve ever heard. Oddly, I swear I’ve heard it in one version of Dance Dance Revolution or another.
I am not a fan of racing simulators. I’d take San Francisco Rush over Gran Turismo any day, but no matter what you prefer DT Racer’s gameplay is seriously lacking. It tries to be realistic with its pit lanes and gas gauges, but it never feels solid enough to be much fun. Driving in DT Racer is a game of miniscule button presses either too precise or too unrefined to ever be enjoyable. Even with three driving assist options all of the cars feel as slippery and uncontrollable as the next. Even the desperate act of racing headlong into traffic to grasp the slightest shred of fun is lost here. Though the car damage is nice, the physics are off-the-wall. Hitting another car (or slamming into an obstacle) at speed usually sends your car into impossibly high spins and flips from which you will always land rubber-side down. Realistic simulation, there’s the window.
Should you somehow find the gameplay to your liking—and this review not warning enough to save your $10—DT Racer at least offers some longevity. The Grand Prix mode lets you qualify on each of the 22 races, gives you a garage and bank account to collect vehicles and presents a few basic tuning options. Also nice to see is an Eye Toy feature that lets you replace the generic racer mugshot on your in-game license with your own photo. Without a doubt, this (and abusing A.I. cars with a friend in multiplayer) was the most fun I had in the whole game.
Like a famous TV geek once said, I Want to Believe. I want to believe that good games still get made by tiny developers and that quality gaming doesn’t have to cost $100 million to produce and $60 to play. I know the gems are out there! DT Racer comes close with more content and a better presentation than most budget games, but it just doesn’t have the gameplay to keep up with the pack.