Go straight, turn left. Go straight, turn left. Repeat 200 times.
I am a big fan of open-wheel racing. Ever since "the split" tore apart the motorsport I loved and let NASCAR gain a stranglehold on racing in the United States, things have never quite been the same at Indianapolis in the month of May. The so-called "Greatest Spectacle in Racing" has been more of a debacle in recent years, with there being barely enough cars to fill the traditional field of 33. Fans have been desperate for the two open-wheel series to unify. Recent events might get things moving on that front (for better or worse), but chances are it's not going to happen for quite some time.
If what I just said made absolutely no sense, then Indianapolis 500 Legends will bore the hell out of you. Legends is a racing game that has only one track, the historic Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Games in the racing genre usually make it a point to include as many tracks as possible, but this one makes no attempt at it whatsoever. If you're the kind of gamer who likes a lot of track variety in a racing game, you should stop reading this review and start looking for something else to play.
If you know the deal with open-wheel racing, Indianapolis 500 Legends will still bore the hell out of you, although there are some interesting things to see. To get around the fact that there is only one track in the game, developer Torus Games took the historical route to make the game somewhat more appealing. Progressing through the game's Mission Mode will take you through the years at the speedway, starting with 1961 and ending at 1971. With each passing year, the cars, drivers, and track change to reflect the times. As you clear missions, you'll unlock videos and historic photographs of the race during each year.
Each mission year features three drivers of note, featuring scenarios that parallel what happened to them on the track that year. You'll get to play as the same legends that raced during the '60s: A.J. Foyt, Parnelli Jones, Jonny Rutherford, the Unsers, Mario Andretti, and more. Each driver will usually have three missions in a given year, which can be qualifying challenges, timed pit stops, avoiding a big crash, or racing against the other 32 drivers in a race. Mission years start with only one driver available, but you can unlock the next one by clearing all the missions available to that driver. Clearing the second driver's missions unlocks the next mission year, and clearing the third driver's missions gets you more bonus content.
Every mission year that passes will put you in the seat of a faster set of cars. New cars will feel somewhat different from the old cars, but it doesn't take long to get used to the new handling and speed characteristics. The handling differences aren't significant enough to make the game feel any different as you jump from car to car. The speed differences from year to year aren't very significant either, so as you slowly progress through the game, you're not going to notice anything different while you play. This helps to make the game extremely boring to play. After the first few years in mission mode, you're going to wish you had a radically different car to drive.
What really kills the game is the fact that you're racing on a big, giant oval. Oval racing isn't very appealing from a video game standpoint because all you're doing during a race, besides passing other cars, is turning left and going straight. A single lap will take a little less than a minute to complete, but they feel a lot longer when you're not doing anything besides cruising around a track that's mostly straightaway. Most of the race missions are two or three laps long, though they feel like they take forever to complete. At times I found myself praying that I didn't have to do another lap as I approached the finish line, only to see the white flag wave instead of the checkered flag.
Some missions break up the monotony of a regular race. Pit stops require you to change tires and refuel your car. They make you use the Wii Remote pointer to perform actions like unscrewing the fuel cap or hammering on a wheel nut. Compared to the racing missions, these are fun to do. It's especially fun when you can't keep the fuel nozzle over the tank and your car catches fire. There's a mini-game to put out the fire, too!
Another type of mission makes you try to avoid a crash that occurs ahead of you. These are also fun missions, not just because they are over within a half of a lap, but also because getting involved in one will produce hilarious results. For instance, one time a car in front of me swerved directly into my path, and I "T-boned" it at 160 miles an hour. Then, all the twenty or so cars behind me all piled into the wreck. There were cars flying through the air, cars upside-down, wheels bouncing around, and debris all over the place. It looked like a bunch of die-cast cars had run into each other, only in slow motion because the frame rate took a nose dive with that much happening on the screen at the same time.
It was about then when I realized that if I was having more fun by crashing cars and setting fires, the game must not be very good to begin with. Still, as a fan of open-wheel racing, I did enjoy going through the years and looking at the photos and video that I had unlocked. I was willing to tolerate going around in circles for minutes at a time to get at some of this stuff , and to eventually get to the years with the cars that were essentially jet engines with wheels on them. It is pretty cool to buzz around the tracks in those cars, or at least it was in the moments before I realized I still had to drive around the same boring track, over and over again.
Indianapolis 500 Legends is not a very good game. It's got bad graphics, boring, repetitive missions, and not enough variety to justify toiling through race after race. The game is really nothing more than a photo and video collection of the race's history with some interactive parts to tie it together. To be able to enjoy this game at all, you would need to be a big fan of The Indy 500 and its history. Even if you are, you'll be bored to death between the parts of the game you want to see. Then again, when the best parts of the game happen when you're not really playing it, there's probably no point in playing it in the first place.