Reviewed: June 22, 2006
Released: June 6, 2006
Déjà Vu! That’s the first thing that hit me when I began my first career in Race Driver 2006. Despite the subtle name change, this latest PSP racing title is a whole lot like the 2004 console and PC game, TOCA Race Driver 2 which was already a retooled sequel to the 2002 release of Pro Race Driver, yet despite this four-year legacy, Race Driver 2006 continues to be the most comprehensive racing title and the only racing simulation currently available for the PSP.
Designed as the definitive racing experience, the game features wireless support for up to 12 racers and the same story-driven career mode as TOCA Race Driver 2, as well as a few PSP-exclusives thrown in to sweeten the deal like 16 new cars, 10 new tracks, and the all-new Trans World Cup mode.
Race Driver 2006 boasts the most diverse range of insanely fast motor sports ever seen in one game including; 31 championships cover 15 different motor racing styles including GT Sports Car Racing, Street Racing, Rally, DTM, V8 Supercars, Global GT Lights, Rally Cross, Formula Ford, Open Wheel Grand Prix, Classic Car Racing, Super Truck racing, Stockcar Oval Racing, Ice-Racing, Convertible Racing and Performance Cars.
In Codemasters’ attempt to cover “all the bases”, no particular genre of racing gets too much special attention, so Grand Prix fans will enjoy the open-wheel racing but probably won’t feel very much at home behind the wheel of a big rig Super Truck or a classic Mustang. The same goes for any other style of car or racing. You race them all but specialize in none. Just when you master the traction of the tarmac you'll be skidding around the dirt tracks of the rally races.
For those without a preferred genre, you will find Race Driver 2006 a great “sampler platter” of all things racing. The career mode spans multiple racing styles and the free racing mode allows you to pick your type of race, car, and track from a massive list of unlockable content you can earn by competing in the Trans World Cup challenges.
Race Drive 2006 mirrors not only the presentation of the console and PC version but also the complexity and seriousness of the racing engine, so much in fact, that at several times I was almost wishing I had a wheel and pedals. Not that the game cannot be played on the PSP – the analog pad is surprisingly response and I found this to be one of the best controlled racers available on the PSP, arcade or sim.
You can race from several views including chase, cockpit, hood, and bumper cam. Sim purists will cringe at the lack of a functioning dashboard. Even without the realistic cockpit view you still have your instrument cluster in the corner. I was very pleased with the design of the instrument gauge that not only had an analog tachometer and digital speedometer, but also included a fuel gauge and an arc of indicator lights that change from yellow to orange to red as your car takes damage. These symbols are all easy to understand and cover all of the internal parts of the car like engine, steering, transmission, etc.
In additional to the aforementioned instrument cluster, there is also a rotating map that shows your position on the track as well as any nearby opponents. In lieu of rearview mirrors there is a clever arrow system that warns of approaching cars. A transparent red arrow appears near the bottom of the screen indicating any car that is trying to pass. The more solid the arrow is, the closer the car. If you can keep the arrow in the center of the screen you can effectively block a passing car.
There is also a realistic damage model that will have your glass shattering, doors swinging off their hinges, bumpers dragging behind you, and wheels bouncing down the road ahead of you. Sometimes the damage seems more cosmetic than anything else. You can throw a tire and your crew will tell you to “keep on racing” but only when you actually lose the wheel will you come to a grinding halt. You can take enough engine damage to lower your top speed and wreck your steering enough so the car pulls to the left or right, but these effects require excessive damage.
This allows for some cheap racing tactics, which I freely admit to taking part in. Often, it seemed I was totally outmatched in many races. I was racing flawless laps and the computer was passing me like I was parked, so I started retaliating by ramming the opposition off the track or cutting inside on turns and using the outer car as a shield.
Race Driver 2006 features a lengthy career mode that tells a story about a simple up and coming racer - you. You hook up with a mechanic and later on an agent. Working out of your trackside trailer, which also serves as your menu interface, you plan your race schedule, manage your garage, and negotiate for sponsorship. The between-race cutscenes are shown through the eyes of your character creating a unique first-person perspective.
You advance through the career by earning milestone amounts of money or placing in a certain position. These various objectives help break up the monotony of most racing games where your only goal is to come in first and if you don’t you simply restart the race until you do. My only complaint with the career system is that you are often required to race on unfamiliar tracks and there is no practice option prior to a race event. While you are free to restart any race as often as you like without penalty, the only real way to practice is to play outside the career mode until you have experienced all of the possible tracks.
Another oddity is the lack of pre-race qualification. While I seldom take the time to “qualify” in most of my racing games there are those that might be annoyed at the random starting placement feature, or at least they say it’s random. Out of about 50 races I’ve played I’ve never started ahead of 3rd and never further back than 7th. Still, with no hope of ever “winning” the pole position, it takes away slightly from the racing experience.
For those who like to tinker, you will find plenty to experiment with outside of the career mode. Your car setup is fixed for career races but for free racing you can adjust gear ratios, downforce, suspension, ride height, tires and even your brake bias. There is no parts list or upgrades to worry about, which again may turn off the hardcore racers. Personally, I found plenty to keep me busy.
The Trans World Cup is the most obvious new addition to the PSP version, and features a large and varied number of challenges that are short and addictive, and perfectly suited the handheld gaming. You might have straight races, time trials, or be required to finish in first place with no damage. There are pit challenges, average lap time, racing line, and a grueling challenge where you start the race at the midpoint with serious damage and still have to win.
Winning these TWC challenges unlocks more cars an d tracks for the other modes as well as new TWC challenges leading up to the final event. It’s a great new feature and offers nearly as much new content as the carry-over career mode.
Race Driver 2006 supports four racers locally using the Game Sharing option so you only need one copy of the game. Of course serious multiplayer racers will want to check out the 12-player racing via wireless connection – sorry, no Internet racing.
Race Driver 2 looks great considering it is rooted in realistic simulation. There are no fancy street racing locations and most of the courses are fairly barren with the exception of expected trackside objects, grandstands, tree, sand pits, etc.
The car models are exquisite, perhaps the best of any PSP racer to date, and they are fleshed out with realistic paint jobs, textures, and decals and they come apart with explosive detail when you start smashing into cars and objects. The damage model is accurately depicted with cracked and shattering glass and dented and broken body parts. Tires will fly off the wheel on impact and the metal wheel will grind on the pavement. Your hood can crumple up and actually block your view when playing from the cockpit view and your bumper will invariably drop off the first time you rear-end the car ahead of you.
The various camera views are all quite playable so the one you pick is based solely on your preference. The chase view gives you a standard arcade experience and the bumper cam puts you right down on the realistic textured pavement giving you an enhanced sensation of speed. The various hood cams offer their own advantages and disadvantages. It might give a more realistic look to the game, but the reduced track visibility and the slowly deformed hood as you take damage can be distracting.
Tracks look stunning, especially considering the simple textures and 2D sprites that are used to create them. Architecturally speaking, they are flawless, at least the ones based on real tracks. The other tracks are gorgeous whether you are racing on circuits, or through sectioned off parts of a city. If you look closely enough you can see the spectators and trees are 2D cutouts but at 120mph you’ll never know. Most importantly, the game runs silky smooth – not quite the crisp 60fps as the Xbox version, but the framerate and steering is so smooth that it was almost unsettling
The movies are slightly compressed but still great quality with excellent character design and a unique first-person view so you see everything from the “eyes” of your character. The movies tie in the various race events including angry rivals that you may have rammed in the previous race. The movies and animated maps actually blend the menu interface right into the game for a seamless experience.
The sound package is just as good as the rest of the game. The voice acting is excellent with a fun Scottish accent for our mechanic friend and a sexy confident female voice for our agent, and the bubbling reality TV show producer. The dialogue is witty and complements the entire experience rather than trying to dominate it.
Music is restricted to the menus and is pretty much forgettable jazz and instrumental pieces you might hear in a hotel lounge. It’s just some simple techno, jazz, and bass riffs that do nothing more than accompany the clicks as you navigate the menus. It fades away when you hit the track leaving you with nothing but the excellent sound mix.
The PSP version does allow you to insert your own customized soundtracks if you want to energize your racing experience with your own metal or techno beats. This requires you to download a utility program to your PC to process music files and format them so Race Driver 2006 can read them from the memory stick.
There are plenty of great sound effects ranging from unique engine noises for all the vehicles found in this game to fender-crunching wrecks, shattering glass, squealing tires and the occasional radio encouragement or chastising from the pit.
The career mode should keep you busy for 15-20 hours. If you dive into it without playing any of the non-career races you will end up having to restart and replay many of the races simply to learn the tracks. The opponent AI can be brutal and even unpredictable. It’s easy at first but ramps up quickly and some races took me over an hour each to win or at least place high enough to continue.
Outside the career mode there is another 20-30 hours of free racing events and the Trans World Cup challenges to keep you occupied and the game sharing and online racing will extend this even more. This is a game of skill and the more you play the better you get.
Race Driver 2006 is one of the better racing games and the best racing sim I have played on the PSP since its launch. It’s not as casual as Burnout nor as involved as NFS or Midnight Club but it is definitely serious and more difficult than your typical PSP racing game. And don't let the Teen rating scare you away from letting your younger kids play this game. The language is very mild and confined to the cutscenes, and the violence is nothing more than typical rivalry in the pits.
The massive scope of the content, both cars and tracks, makes this an awesome opportunity for racers to sample a bit of all racing genres. The story that ties the career together is also a nice touch that helps to immerse you in the gameplay and gives it a more personal touch, allowing you to identify with the lead character and get an insight into the world of racing. This is a great game for racers of all skill levels and fans of any or all styles of racing.