Codemasters crams a whole lot of racing into one little DS card.
Race Driver: Create & Race is the latest addition to Codemasters' library of racing games. This time, the makers of TOCA Race Driver and Colin McRae Rally have decided to transfer their expertise to the Nintendo DS, and have done so in fine fashion. It isn't perfect, but Race Driver: Create & Race gives portable gamers a very fun and lengthy challenge with a vast amount of extras thrown in.
In terms of sheer content, Create & Race is right up there with the best DS games made by Nintendo itself. Its primary game modes are World Tour, a beginner's Grand Prix mode; Pro Tour, an expert Grand Prix mode that requires use of manual transmission; and Simulation, a catch-all mode featuring free races, time trials, and specific racing challenges. On top of that there is also single card, multi-card, and online multiplayer, as well as a full-fledged track editor, customizable cars, unlockable extras, and the ability to enter cheat codes. In other words, this game has everything but the kitchen sink.
The meat of the game lies in its World Tour and Pro Tour races. Each "championship" features an array of licensed tracks from around the world, and each racing circuit offers fully-licensed vehicles such as Nissans, Renaults, MGs, SuperTrucks, and Muscle Cars. The sheer number of "real" locations and vehicles in Create & Race really give it an authentic feel, and make you want to go further just to see what you can drive next.
What's more impressive is that each type of vehicle drives slightly differently. SuperTrucks are slow out of the gate and handle clumsily, while GT-tuned exotics accelerate instantly and hug the curves. Control is accomplished via the D-Pad, with the A button accelerating, the B button braking, and the Y button operating your handbrake. Gear shifting is mapped to the shoulder buttons, with the right used for upshifting and the left for downshifting. The touchscreen isn't used during races, a sensible choice considering you'll have enough to keep track of without having to worry about tapping an icon (especially when using manual transmission). Codemasters wisely kept the controls simple, meaning most players will be able to pick the game up and dive right in.
For a game that's long on aesthetic authenticity, Create & Race has more of an arcade feel than one would expect. It isn't Mario Kart, but there's no need to spend hours perfecting your racing technique. That's not to say the game isn't challenging; later races are very difficult to win, and mastering manual gear shifting is absolutely necessary if you want to complete all the championships. But for the most part, you can get by with judicious use of accelerating and braking. Yes, braking. One control quirk is that letting off the "gas pedal" doesn't result in an immediate loss of speed; instead, your vehicle remains at its current speed for a brief interval and then slowly decelerates. If you're used to Gran Turismo and its immediate deceleration, this will take some getting used to.
The 3D engine that Codemasters has put together is impressive, easily handling eight detailed vehicles and plenty of scenery on screen at once. However, the main camera is placed at an awkward height, perhaps in order to keep the draw distance to an absolute minimum: it's a little too low behind your vehicle, meaning that you usually can't see far enough down the track to know what's coming up next. As a result you'll sometimes make an unintended pit stop (a surefire way to lose a race), and your first run through a course will be plagued with overshot corners. The placement of directional arrow signs well ahead of turns attempts to mitigate this problem, but you'll be constantly checking the track map on the lower screen to see what's ahead. As you learn each track this becomes less of an issue, but it's an issue nonetheless.
Create & Race's multiplayer mode allows two to four players to compete in single-card, multi-card, or online racing against friends or ranked opponents across the globe. It was a little difficult to find people to play against online, but once an opponent was found the races played flawlessly. Players vote on which championship to race on beforehand, with each having the opportunity to veto your choice before the race starts. Online championships are comprised of three races of three laps each. It would have been nice to have the option of a simple three-lap race, since playing through a full nine laps can get lengthy, but the online play is nonetheless very well done. Perhaps its most intriguing aspect, however, is the ability for players to race against others online using tracks that they have created.
Yes, the "Create" in Create & Race refers to the game's full-fledged track editor. Players can create tracks from scratch, tinker with scenery and different track types, and then save them to the DS card to be used for multiplayer races. The track editor itself is excellent, allowing gamers to add, rotate, and delete track elements (e.g. straightaways, grandstands, hills, trees, the sky) and then perform a "fly-through" to see what their creation looks like. The editor has a few usability flaws (dropping a new piece over an existing one deletes the existing piece instead of grabbing it, for example), but overall it's an impressive technical achievement. You can also create your own customized car, and while this feature is a little more limited, it's a cool addition that can also be used online. This element of customization is what sets Create & Race apart from almost every other racing game out there, DS or otherwise.
There are plenty of other extras as well. Simulation mode lets you attempt to beat Time Trial records for each track, as well as complete Challenge events such as reaching a certain speed and then coming to a stop within a set distance. Your performance in each challenge is graded on a three-star scale, with two stars being relatively easy to achieve in most instances. The third stars typically require a lot more practice and will keep you coming back for more. Completing challenges earns you "Reward Points" that you can use to unlock new race tracks, track editor pieces, logos for custom cars, and cheat codes. It's a great system that encourages users to explore everything the game has to offer.
Race Driver: Create & Race definitely has a lot to offer. Seldom do you see so thorough an effort put forth by a third-party developer, and on the Nintendo DS at that. It isn't a perfect racing game, but its sheer variety of vehicles, tracks, and game modes, as well as the ability to create custom tracks and cars for online use, make it a great gaming value. If you're looking for portable arcade racing at its finest, look no further.