Reviewed: June 3, 2005
Released: May 3, 2005
Enthusia Professional Racing has been in the works for quite some time now, so it was either cosmic bad luck or just poor marketing strategy that Konami released their new racing title only a few short months after Sony dazzled us with Gran Turismo 4. And to make the choice even more difficult for Xbox owners, Forza Motorsport released the very same day as Enthusia.
Of course true racing fans will have no problem with picking up all of these fantastic titles, but how does Enthusia fit into the grand scheme of racing? It clocks in with slightly more than 200 cars, less than a third of the cars from GT4, 40+ tracks, an advanced physics engine with a unique Visual Gravity System, and all of the classic driving modes as well as a few surprises.
But most importantly, Enthusia is a "simulator" in a world or "racing games". And yes, there is a difference, a difference you will realize the minute you start to play.
Enthusia gives you multiple ways to play the game starting with a lengthy career mode called Enthusia Life. This mode divides your ďlifeĒ into weeks of racing. Each week you get to race in new events using new cars assuming you have enough Enthu Points. These points are very similar to the Kudos system in Project Gotham Racing only in reverse.
You will start off each race with a fixed amount of Enthu Points and as you go off the track, hit a wall, scrape a guardrail, or trade paint with another car (regardless of who hits who) you will lose points. If you lose all your points you will be forced to skip the next weekís racing. Not to get all psychoanalytical here, but Iíve never been a big fan of negative reinforcement. I would rather be rewarded for driving well than punished for driving poorly. Now gamers will either have to choose between driving like their grandmother when their Enthu Points dip into double digits (and probably lose the race), or miss a lot of their career.
Of course the whole point system is to inspire you to hone your skills and drive perfect laps, but that isnít as easy as it sounds with Enthusiaís solid physics engine and less than GT4-perfect controls. To help master the physics, you have a clever little device called the VGS (Visual Gravity System).
This compass-like indicator can be toggled to show numerous bits of information including tire traction and direction, as well as the effect of G-Forces and how they are affecting the car and the driver. While this is a clever feedback tool, I never found it particularly useful, and it became more of a distraction from the driving so I just turned it off.
Back to the career mode though. Each week you get to choose from several races, sometimes against a field of cars and others are more personal challenges. You earn points for each race as determined by a fairly clever ďoddsĒ system that allows you to remain competitive, even with lower class cars. The odd system encourages you to try and win races with low-powered cars, which basically challenges you to master the course and your driving skills rather than relying on pure horsepower to win a race. Naturally, these points are used to advance your career and unlock more cars and races.
One perk to winning races is the slot-machine-like reward system where you can randomly ďwinĒ a car and unlock it for the rest of the game. This is a fast and easy way to build up your garage quickly.
Your career will take you to more than 40 tracks from all over the world, but only two of them are actually real. Each track offers up a distinctive look as well as plenty of unique challenges for mastering the course. There is even one desert course used for off-road racing that randomly generates making it impossible to master. The designers obviously focused on track design far more than superfluous details, and this helps keep your focus on the track, where it belongs.
But even with solid physics I was a bit disappointed with the controls. Naturally, being a simulation-style game, and with me being a dedicated racing fan, I pulled out my Logitech Driving Force Pro wheel expecting the same level of interaction I had experienced with GT4. And while the steering wheel does work, it just doesnít have that same level of precision. The steering often seems too loose and the feedback effects were a bit weak and inaccurate. Even so, itís a far greater experience than playing with the Dual Shock.
Another thing that takes away from the racing experience is the overall sensation of speed, or rather a lack of it. The game does a neat blurring effect along the edges of the screen to try and fool you, but something is missing. Perhaps itís the lack of roadside objects whipping by at 100mph, but for whatever reason I just never felt I was going as fast as the speedometer said I was. Of course, after Midnight Club 3: Dub my entire life has seemed like itís in slow motion.
Typically racing games are fun, even when they are simulations, but Enthusia just saps the fun from driving, partially because of the point system that punishes you, even when you arenít at fault, and a rigorous ranking system where one bad race can practically ruin your ďlifeĒ or at least set you back several races. The very nature of the gameplay discourages risky driving, which is often the main source of fun in these games.
Of course if you donít feel like playing by the rules you can always opt for the other traditional game modes like Time Attack, Free Racing, and two-player Versus Racing. One of the more fun and interesting elements to Enthusia is the Driving Revolution mode. Anyone who knows the words Revolution and Konami might know what to expect.
Driving Revolution is a mini-game that mimics the rhythmic patterns of their DDR titles, only this game isnít set to music. The game is comprised of levels, each with four stages. Each stage has you driving around a course with gates that you must pass through at the speed indicated by a floating horizontal bar. The goal is to pass through the gate with the bar in the middle of the gate. Speeding up or slowing down will raise or lower the bar. There are also gates where you must brake or accelerate as you pass through. So combining all of these speed challenges with a slalom of gates makes for a rather challenging and entertaining diversion that can relieve some of that stress from the Enthusia Life mode.
Most of the visual work in Enthusia has gone into the cars. Their models are exquisite. They offer a reflective sheen that more often than not looks more like shiny plastic than metal, but after a lap or two and the real-time accumulation of dust and dirt these cars take on a weathered look that is very natural.
The accurate physics engine is modeled perfectly with cars that lean into turns and tires that bounce with independent suspension. There are also plenty of standard environmental effects like weather and lighting. Itís not the prettiest racing game out there it certainly holds up with the competition.
The courses are a bit simple, but again, this game is about driving and not sightseeing. Considering that all but two of the tracks in this game are fantasy tracks I would have hoped the designers would have taken more creative license with their designs. Instead, we have a lot of tracks that are actually more boring than a lot of real-life racing locales.
Again, nothing in the sound department is going to rock your world. You have some authentic engine noises for each make and model of car along with the standard noises of tires skidding and screeching and the occasional crunch of fender on fender, bumper on bumper, or impact with a wall or guardrail.
The soundtrack for Enthusia is more for ambience than anything else. Typically, the final few pages of any racing game manual is full of music credits. Well, there are no licensed tunes here, just a lot of instrumental tracks that blend into the background. Itís not as engaging as I Canít Drive 55 or Panama, but itís also not as distracting. I rather enjoyed it.
I donít think this game has nearly the staying power as GT4, but if you manage to come to terms with the Enthu Point system then the Enthusia Life career mode will keep you busy for weeks to come.
The two-player split-screen racing is what it is, and the Driving Revolution mode is probably the most fun you can have with this game once you are bored with the core gameplay modes even though it wonít replace your other party games.
For Konamiís first venture into the racing genre, they did pretty well. I was really impressed with the spot-on physics and equally unimpressed with the controls which are terrible with the gamepad and really only become playable when you tack on a $150 driving wheel. The cars look great, the tracks, not so much, and the oppressive Enthu Point system just seemed to sap the fun and excitement from racing. Racing is about risks.
So with all of these highs and lows we end up with a fairly average racer that could have been a whole lot better and a lot more fun than it ended up being. Side by side on the shelf, GT4 is still going to offer you more fun, but if you are looking for a true ďracing simulatorĒ it doesnít get much more real than Enthusia Professional Racing.