No one with any sense will deny that the Gran Turismo series has set the bar for all video racing games. The trick is finding other titles that can clear that bar. Sometimes, all you can hope for is a racing title that is good enough to fill the gap between GT releases. Besides all of that, what are we GameCube players supposed to do while the rest of the world plays GT? Well, Namco has stepped up to answer that question and fill that gap with the recent release of R: Racing Evolution. Not to jump any guns, but this is one of the best traditional racing games to strike a Nintendo console in quite some time.
As you might expect, R: Racing Evolution comes stock with all of the standard racing gameplay modes. Time Attack, Arcade and Versus modes are familiar territory, as is the aptly titled Event Challenge. However, R:RE also breaks a little bit of ground with it's Racing Life story mode. Instead of just letting you race your car around the track, earning a few bucks to buy a few new parts, R:RE actually sets your racing career over a backdrop of minor character and story development. By no means are we talking about a story to rival the works of Shakespeare, but it gives the casual player a little bit of motivation to keep on racing. There may be a few complaints that this compromises the replay value that open-ended gameplay provides, but only the most die-hard racing fans will really complain on that note.
Of course, no racing game can compete anymore without looking like it belongs in the Winner's Circle. R: Racing Evolution not only looks like it belongs there, but it looks like it owns the place. The cars are sharp and each of the 14 tracks taken from real-world and fantasy locations are stunning and are filled with a vibrant range of colors. To compliment the visual package, Namco has packed R:RE with oodles of imported bubble-gum pop music. While the tunes themselves are adequate, they do manage to get a little bit repetitive. Fortunately, if you get tired of the variety you can just shut them all off. Of course, without the music you are left listening to the drone of the car engines (been there, done that) and the radio chatter from the various other cars. It is this radio chatter and that from your pit crew help that adds a little bit of life to an otherwise stale genre. However, all of these sights and sounds pale in comparison to the quality and character of the cinematic sequences that fill the Racing Life mode. Think Final Fantasy with cars. These sequences really do turn the Racing Life into a true videogame story.
Now, R: Racing Evolution is not all style and no substance. The game handles well, as any racing title should, and the entire experience is amplified with the use of a racing wheel. R:RE does add a few new touches to the racing experience. First up is an incredible opponent AI system that feels the pressure you apply and gets angry when you cut them off. Next up is a unique RP, or Reward Point, system that essentially scores you on your performance during the race. Staying on the track, not using your brakes, avoiding collisions and keeping the pressure on you opponents all build up a few extra RP. As any good racing title does, R: Racing Evolution offers up a slew of unlockable cars, allowing you to spend your hard earned RP on the fastest rides.