LEGO Racers Review
By Chris Commodore |
I have to tell you, after playing the early beta of Lego Racers, I was really chomping at the bit to get my hands on the final copy of this game. After playing the final for about a week now, I have to say, that while there's no doubt that the game is a worthwhile diversion, it falls a bit short of what I had hoped it might be. Graphic card incompatibility problems and an utter lack of any network options keep what might have been the PC's ultimate answer to console titles like Mario Kart from living up to the lofty standards already set by Acclaim's Revolt.
For those of you not familiar with the game, Lego Racers is a quick and dirty racing game that takes place inside the diverse worlds of Lego's building block playsets. Once you've gotten the game up and running, you get to build your own racer and car out of virtual versions of the same Lego blocks that you can find on any toy store shelf. This isn't just for show, how you build your car actually determines how well it will perform on the track. Once you've finished putting together your racer, you can test your car's functionality on the practice track, race against the clock in a Time Race, take on a friend in a Versus Race (don't get too excited, this is a split screen affair), try out the available tracks in a Single Race, or jump i9nto the real meat of the game in a Circuit Race. There's actually a storyline behind the Circuit tracks, but it doesn't really enter into the game that often, so we're going to skip it here.
When you first start playing the game, you will only have access to one Circuit Race, hosted by Captain Redbeard, one of the Lego Pirates characters. In order to unlock the next circuit, you'll have to defeat Redbeard by getting a higher point total over four races. Each 1st place you get earns you 30 points, each 2nd, 20, a third place is worth ten, a fourth worth three and fifth and sixth are worth two and one respectively. Once you win, not only will you open up another circuit hosted by another Lego set (the next one is the island set), but you'll also get access to the special blocks of the racer you defeat. After winning the first track, for example, you can go back and use Lego Pirate blocks when constructing your car. This layout is pretty addictive as it keeps you trying again and again to get access to those blocks that you don't have yet.
The actual gameplay is pretty good as well. Each race takes place on different Lego inspired worlds that range from Pirates and Islanders to Castle sets and Futuristic Space Stations. Control is about as simple as it can be, you can steer your car either using the arrow keys or by hooking up a joystick. In addition to pure racing skills, you also have access to a few tricks that will give you an edge. If you hit the space bar, you'll go into a power slide that allows you to take turns more sharply. Once you've mastered this technique, you can try the Super Slide, which is performed by hitting both the slide button and the brake at the same time. It's tricky, but it'll help your final times quite a lot in the end. If you really want to win though, the real things to master are the power-ups that are scattered over all the different levels. These power-ups come in four different types, red (Projectile), which are mostly forward firing weapons, yellow (Hazard), which are backward weapons, blue (Shield), which offer defensive abilities, and green (Turbo), which give you speed boosts. You can use these power-ups immediately, or you can collect Power Plus bricks, which are white, to give your power-up a strength boost. This sounds confusing at first, but it's actually pretty simple. Here's an example: if you use a red brick as soon as you pick it up it fires a simple cannon ball at the nearest foe in front of you. If you first increase the strength of that red brick with a single Power Plus brick, you'll send a grappling hook out to grab the foe in front of you, which will send you zipping past him. If you use two Power Plus bricks, you'll send out a bolt of lightning in front of your car that will zap anyone who gets close to you for a short period of time. With three Power Plus bricks (the maximum) you'll fire out three guided rockets that will seriously mess up anyone in front of you (possible several anyones). All of the power-ups are pretty cool, and the collection of Power Plus bricks really adds a new strategy to the game as you try and decide whether it would be better to use a small power right away or whether you should save up for something really nasty.
Lego Racers also looks really good on some machines. All of the tracks (which are really well designed) feature all sort of Lego related hazards, from Lego alligators to Lego booby traps. There are also a load of different background animations, like overhead Lego airplanes or flying saucers that not only add to the atmosphere of the game, but which also affect the way it plays (those flying saucers can cause all sorts of problems for you). Unfortunately, if you try and play the game with a TNT based card, many of the objects in the game appear blocky and glitchy, which ruins a lot of the feel. We managed to get the problem to replicate on every non-Voodoo machine we had in the office every time we played, so we consider this to be a pretty serious problem. It also must be said, while Lego Racers does look nice and delivers a quirky Toy World kind of feel, the visual impact of the game is not anywhere near the level of Revolt, the game's main competition.
But none of this really matters. The real thing to remember about Lego Racers is that, with the exception of a very simple split screen mode (you know, like back in the Commodore 64 era, when both players have to sit at the same keyboard to complete) there are no multiplayer options available. I can't emphasize enough how much this disappointed us. I mean, what's the point in collecting new bricks to build a cool new car if you can take it out to compete against your buddies' cool new cars? I'm not even going to tell you the impolite things that Steve and Vinnie said when they tore open their copies of this game only to discover that they could go head-to-head.
I really liked Lego Racers. The single player game was really challenging and took me quite a while to finish. I thought the track layout and construction options were inspired and, as a Lego fan, just the idea of the game itself really appeals to me. The problem is, the game just isn't finished. With another few months, the developers could have put in a network mode and play tested the game long enough to solve all of the compatibility issues. As it stands, I would recommend this game only to Voodoo owners who are really into Lego, or to gamers who don't plan to play over the modem or network anyway.
-- Trent C. Ward