Reviewed: October 14, 2003
Released: September 16, 2003
Itís been just over two years since Acclaim dazzled us with their futuristic racer, XG3 Extreme G Racing; a game that set the bar for concept racing so high that I still use it to judge games today, a game that even the mighty WipeOut Fusion couldnít dethrone back in 2002.
Now Acclaim is back with XGRA: Extreme G Racing Association, and once again it sets new standards for futuristic racing action, as it expands and improves on just about every aspect of the original that made it famous.
XGRA serves up its own brand of supersonic racing in all the traditional flavors including Arcade, Time Trials, and of course, the 2080 Championship Season. The season mode definitely has all the flavor and is presented as a sports broadcast with all the flair of an EPSN event, only in this case it is SiNN (Sports Interactive News Network).
Once you enter the championship season the game takes on the guise of a broadcast much like the golden days of Mega Race - oh how I miss Lance Boyle. You can play the game as any one of several characters, each with their own stories and rivalries that never seem to fully develop.
The first objective is to qualify in the opening event where only the top eight racers will receive sponsorship. You get to choose your sponsor, which in turn determines the bike you will be racing. As you rise through the ranks you might receive offers to join other teams, which is how you move on to bigger and better bikes.
The store from the original game is gone and you are no longer allowed to purchase new bikes or upgrades. You can go into the Workshop and tweak your settings for attributes like downforce, ride height, and braking, but the interface for this isnít that intuitive so you really donít know how your changes are going to affect your ride. Some type of graph would be nice.
Races now have multiple objectives, the first being to win the race (obviously) while other goals may have you destroying other racers or trackside objects or placing ahead of a particular opponent or breaking a track record or achieving a high speed. While these help break up the monotony of a typical racing game many of these objectives just arenít that difficult or creative and you can do most of them by accident just by participating in the race.
The controls have been totally revamped in XGRA and now conform more to the style of games like F-Zero GX. The bikes seem bigger and heavier and bounce off the walls more often. Some of this is definitely due to the fact that you can no longer lean or use your side brakes to turn sharply. Youíll definitely learn to appreciate the responsiveness of the control scheme, but your time to adapt will vary based on the last racing game you played and what you are used to.
One major improvement is the new enhanced combat system. The weapons system has received a major upgrade and is now easier to use and plays a much more strategic part of the racing experience. There are a wide variety of weapons and power-ups and knowing which ones to use and which ones to drop are critical to your overall success. In addition, your primary weapon can be independently aimed using the left stick allowing you to target other bikes or even billboards.
One of the things that set XG3 apart from any other racer was its wild track designs. In the past two years we have seen Wipeout Fusion, Tube Slider, F-Zero GX and many other racers that have taken track design to the outer limits of the imagination, but I am pleased to report that Acclaim has managed to come up with even more exciting designs that not only surpass their initial release but easily rival their current competition.
I had just managed to keep my lunch down while playing F-Zero GX and now XGRA subjects me to some of the most twisting, looping tracks in racing history. Some of this twisted design is hidden by the camera view you are racing in, but if you are playing from the cockpit cam or watching a replay have a paper bag handy.
Words and even screenshots canít do this game justice. You really have to see the game in motion to fully understand and appreciate the flowing design of this winding tracks that loop around cities, tunnel below the ocean, or float in orbit inside diamond-reinforced tubes. Tracks have the traditional turbo pads and scattered pick-ups, so learning the design and the location of these elements is a key element for victory.
XGRA has some of the best tracks in racing history set in some stunning locales. Whether you are racing around Scavenger City or speeding around the Outlands, winding through Vostok Peaks, diving into the Santarem Reactor, or speeding through the anti-grav tubes of the Deep Space ERF Station, the sights are totally original and always breathtaking. There is a lot more background scenery and trackside objects to make these tracks look even more authentic than the first game.
The sensation of speed is incredible, and your bike sticks to the twisting ribbon of track like some magnetic roller coaster. The tracks and environments are further enhanced with weather effects like rain and snow and the use of colors and real-time lighting is flawless. One of the coolest effects still has to be breaking the sound barrier. Itís just as cool as the first game, and really puts you in the moment as the game become eerily silent and the visuals blur and distort then pops back in when you reach the ďother sideĒ.
Thankfully, the Xbox manages to power through the framerate issues this game had on the PS2. Aside from a few hiccups that appear to be more of a caching issue than graphics related, this game is silky smooth and blistering fast. The sensation of speed and the wild looping track designs will cause vertigo in even the most stout of racers.
XGRA offers a choice of Dance or Rock or even a mix of the two. I opted for the mix and itís quite easy to tell which type of music is playing. The dance music is hardcore techno and is really very good while the rock music is not quite as good but still decent considering it fairly obscure licensed tracks.
Sound effects are flawless from the hum of the bike engines to the various weapon noises and resulting explosions. Dialog is limited to some minor commentary and random taunts from the other racers. Itís all bundled in a nice Dolby Digital package that sounds incredible on a supported home theater system. The music has great separation and the spatial sound effects change based on your camera view and surround you in the racing experience. And nothing beats the sound and visual effects of breaking the sound barrier.
The career mode is massive and spans five leagues made up of various circuits and tracks. Each league puts you in a faster bike and new variations of the tracks. By the time you reach the Ultrasonic league you will be breaking the sound barrier and your track records.
Once you have unlocked everything in the career mode you can access all of this new content in the Time Trial and Arcade modes. These will provide some additional gameplay and the four-player split-screen is always welcome, but the game does lack some overall content to keep you playing for more than 15-20 hours.
Even something as simple as unique cutscenes and fleshed out stories for each of the racers would have been enough to keep me playing through all the characters, but once I had mastered all the tracks the game lost my interest. Even so, at $30, XGRA is a steal for the fun you will have for as long as you do play it.
XGRA made some bold promises when it was first announced and while it delivers a fun and challenging racing experience it fails to innovate as much as it promised. The courses are longer and there are more of them. The weapons are more advanced and so is the AI of the other racers, so winning will take strategy and skill.
Even though we can't score this game as high as the GameCube's F-Zero GX everyone here at GCM who has played XGRA unanimously agrees this is the better racing game, both in gameplay and track design. If you like futuristic racing games or just racing games in general then you will definitely want to take XGRA for a spin. The Xbox does a great job of polishing up all the blemishes of the PS2 version and XGRA easily speeds its way into the winner's circle for best futuristic racer of 2003.