It's a good racing game with lots of zoom zoom, but too much boom boom.
Extreme-G Racing Association (XGRA) is game number four in Acclaim's long-running XG series. After a surprisingly good XG3, fans of the series were eagerly waiting for XGRA, and after being released on the PS2 and Xbox, the game is finally available for the GameCube. If you like weaponry with your futuristic motorbikes, this game has got it, but unfortunately, the added emphasis on blowing up your opponents takes something away from the racing aspect.
Instead of racing with hovercraft, as in F-Zero and Wipeout, XGRA has you tear around tracks on magnetic bikes. These bikes can be going straight up or hang upside-down without a problem, and they go so fast that they can break the sound barrier and sometimes crack the 1000mph mark. Of course, your bike is also outfitted with a wide variety of weaponry, so if someone is in front of you, blasting him out of the way is an option.
The game's career mode has you pick a pilot and start your racing career in the lowly ranks of the XGRA. As you win races and progress, you can earn contracts with teams and get the opportunity to ride faster bikes. If you earn enough points in a class, you can go to the next one, choose a new team if desired, and ride even faster bikes. By the time you get to the last class, Ultrasonic, you'll be going three times faster than what you started at, and you'll have a wide assortment of weaponry to go with that speed, as long as you've fulfilled your contract obligations.
In order to get better secondary weapons for your bike, you'll need to do some tasks while you're engaged in a race. These tasks can range from simply beating a set number of bikes or beating your rider's rival to destroying some racers or roadside billboards of a rival team's sponsor. These tasks are usually fulfilled during the course of normal racing, but sometimes they get in the way of it. For instance, if you're a few blown billboards short of a quota, you might find yourself slowing down to get good aim, which might affect your positioning in the race. However, you only really need to do 15 or 20 of these billboards in order to get all the secondary weapons, which eventually makes this feature pointless.
The racing in XGRA takes place in different speed classes, and each class is divided up into different race types. Standard speed and combat racing make up most of these modes, with other modes that adjust the number of laps, while still others have new conditions on speed, weaponry, and obstacles. All of these different modes mix up the game rather well, and they also force you to change how you approach races. For instance, you might not have enough time to kill your way to the front in a short race, so you'll need to do more racing instead of more shooting.
As you get deeper into XGRA, though, you'll find yourself doing more shooting instead of more racing. The new weapons system makes it way too easy to destroy your opponents later on in the game. As you race along the tracks, you'll find weapon pickups. Every time you nab one, the secondary weapon counter at the top of the screen will increase. The more of these pickups you get in a row, the better the secondary you'll be able to get. In the lower classes, since there's no chance to get the better stuff, this isn't a big deal at all. However, when you get the final secondary weapons, which include a mini-nuke and an instant-kill satellite strike, it becomes way too easy to kill off everyone else in the race. On top of that, every time you kill someone, your primary weapon gets upgraded, which makes it even easier to finish off people. If you can hit the majority of the pickups in a longer race, you can easily kill off the other seven racers and have a lap or so to spare.
This powerful arsenal destroys the balance between combat and racing that the game has in the slower (less armed) classes. The loss of balance is really a shame, because if you can hold off on using the super weapons (or stick to Peacekeeper races), you'll find that the racing is extremely competitive. If the weaponry didn't get in the way of it, you'd have one great racing game. All the racers seem to keep up with you no matter what speed you go at, and making a poor judgment on a sharp corner will cost you a few positions. The Wipeout-style speed strips on the tracks are intelligently placed so that you need to find the best racing line. The tracks themselves, of course, come in a variety of types, from the twisted outer space tracks to the completely flat city track. The seven locations found in the game have two tracks apiece, and some of them share track sections, including some open-terrain sections, like the Martian or Dunroth tracks.
Although you won't notice it at first, the XGRA track environments are pretty neat. They include the Amazon basin ravaged by a nuclear plant accident, an asteroid in outer space, a Martian track that is sometimes barraged by fierce dust storms, and a set of tubes deep underwater. With all the detail in the surrounding environments, the speed of the bikes, and the weaponry flying around during a course of a race, the game stays remarkably smooth with only a few hiccups and nothing that hinders gameplay. In fact, the only thing about the graphics that will hinder gameplay is actually a race type; Extreme Weather races add in horrible weather, which makes it really hard to see where you're going. On Mars, you'll be greeted with dust storms, and while they are annoying to navigate through, they are very impressive to see.
The game's soundtrack is divided up into the two cliched futuristic types: dance and rock. You can set the option to listen to just the dance music, just the rock music, or both while you play the game, but you'll soon find yourself switching over to dance, since just about all of the music in that soundtrack is really good. The rock half, on the other hand, is about 50/50, and some of it doesn't really fit with the game. On top of that, since there aren't a lot of music tracks, you'll hear the same ones over and over again as you play the same levels again. However, anytime you do anything, a character will tell you one of his three obnoxious, repetitive lines. Worst of all, you can't even turn the communications off!
Leading up to the release of XGRA, people were concerned that the more combat-oriented style might ruin the game. While the game definitely packs more heat than previous XG titles, it's not so much that it ruins the game completely. What the focus on combat does turn the game into is an unbalanced weapons racing title, that, while still a good, fun game, could have been amazing if the weaponry didn't get in the way of the racing. Anyone who likes his Extreme-G fix will love this game to death, and people dying for GameCube racing games should go for this one too. For everyone else, you'll definitely get your money's worth if you make it a Blockbuster night.