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A.P.I Review: Monaco Grand Prix
Racing Simulation 2
Developer: Ubisoft OPTIONS: S.SHOT
SCREENSHOTS:
No.1   No.2   No.3
Distributor: Ubisoft 1-4 Player Link-up
Game Type: Racing Sim Memory Card
Review Date: May 1999 Dual Shock/Analog Compatible

Setting the Scene

"What, another racing game?"
"Ah, but this is a Formula 1 Grand Prix racing simulation."
"What, another Formula 1 Grand Prix racing simulation!"
"Ah, but this is a Formula 1 Grand Prix racing simulation by Ubisoft."
"Ubi... who?"
"Hmm, not much on Playstation apart from Rayman, an 'okay' 2D platformer, and All Star Tennis, a 'not bad' sports title."
"But have Ubi...thingy ever made a Playstation racing game before?"
"S.C.A.R.S. was their most recent attempt. A 'so so' arcade buggy racer."
"'Okay'... 'not bad'... 'so so'...?"
"Well their original Grand Prix Racing Simulation became a classic on the PC."
"Just tell me if it's better than Formula 1 '98."
"Shit... yeah, but then which racer isn't."

Such was the trepidation when faced with a copy of Monaco Grand Prix Racing Simulation 2 (is that title a world record?) that a thorough play test was in order before opinion could be submitted.

Sound & Vision

My first impressions of the graphics were purely negative but with prolonged play my heart gradually softened. I suppose I had expected a replica of the original Formula 1 game from Bizarre Creations... crisp, clean, precise. Instead Ubisoft have opted for a more arcady appearance... bright blue skies, lush green foliage, an altogether softer look to the scenery... as if painted by watercolors. In fact it very much reminded me of Need For Speed 4: High Stakes which is certainly no disaster.

All of the real Grand Prix circuits are immaculately represented from the opening Australian street circuit, with it's challenging turns and wide chicanes, through Brazil, Argentina, San Marino, Spain, Monaco, Canada, France, England, Austria, Germany, Hungary, Belgium, Italy, Luxembourg and finally the twisting, turning endurance of Japan. Most circuits have their trademark features held intact such as the famous Monaco harbor at the tunnel entrance, or the huge German stands on the home straight that hold 100,000 spectators. However much of the distant scenery has been sacrificed to allow the frame rate to keep rolling along at a commendable rate.

While the redraw distance is fine there is an element of pop-up that can be a little off putting. This is usually confined to occasional trees and buildings. Sadly the two player split screen mode is awful. I understand that sacrifices must be made to keep the frame rate up but you can barely see the road a few yards ahead. Thankfully Monaco Grand Prix includes a 2-4 player link up mode which eradicates this problem.

The cars are highly detailed although a little grainy, but this again is something that you gradually become accustomed to. There are a couple of effects that are worthy of mention such as the sparks that fly from the rear of the vehicle when the chassis touches the ground... or the grass and sand that sticks to the wheels on contact... or the thick skid marks on the racing surface that remain until the race is over... or the glowing flames and thick black smoke that pours from a crashed vehicle at the side of the track...

I was pleasantly surprised by the lack of slow down, especially at the start of a race when over a dozen vehicles can be crammed onto the screen at one time. Once a vehicle accelerates to a reasonable distance ahead the car is replaced by a small polygon block until it finally disappears. This effect is more helpful than an annoying.

There are several different viewing angles from 'high above and behind' down to a superb 'cockpit view' displaying a full working digital dashboard. Surprisingly this is one of the most playable in-car views that I have ever experienced. Once a race has been completed an option is available to watch a full replay of your performance from multiple viewing angles controlled by the joypad.

The sound effects are brilliant. The engine noises are so realistic especially when an opponent screams right up to your tail. Occasionally you hear your engine skip a beat which stutters a little before suddenly growling back up to maximum revs. The pit crew are always on hand to offer advice such as low fuel or tyre wear. Occasionally they state the obvious which is not what you want to hear, such as a few seconds after your car engine has exploded a voice warns of a 'problem with the engine blowing up'. Imagine what Schumacher would say! On the down side there is no race commentary at all giving an insight into how gloomy F1 racing would be like without the 'unbelievable' Murray Walker.

Playability

I best point out Monaco Grand Prix Racing Simulation 2 is not affiliated to FIA therefore don't expect real name circuits (although they are identical in design), no real drivers (although silly names such as Humigger, Colyard and Darin Mill may be amended to Schumacker, Coulthard and Damon Hill) and no real team names (make your own up).

Race modes include single player, two player split-screen, four player split-screen link up and two player link up. There is an Arcade challenge in which three of the easiest circuits must be conquered before others will open. Beginning in 22nd position the player must wrestle through the pack and finish in the top three to advance. Practice any of the sixteen circuits in Time Trial or Single Race mode before moving on to a full blown Championship season.

There are a number of options to tweak and tune in the set up section of the game. Brake assistance, three damage settings from realistic to none, three difficulty levels, random weather settings, race length from 10% to full and penalty on or off. The player is allowed 30 laps to practice each circuit and set up their car. This involves adjustments in fuel quantity, steering lock angle, tyres, wing angles, brake balance, gear box, body height and spring settings.

Twelve laps of qualifying must be complete within one hour of starting. Regular visits to the pits allows changes in car set up and a chance to speed up the qualifying times to see who is presently holding pole. On race day the camera spans the grid before settling down behind your car as the red lights begin to go out.

Although the graphics may not be outstanding I found the gameplay to be much more to my liking. Monaco Grand Prix feels as if you are in total control... unless an error in judgement sends the car spinning from the track. If this should happen then don't expect the run offs to be as forgiving as some were in Formula 1 (those chicanes at Hockenheim were too damn easy to cut across). The sand traps are a nightmare as the faster you try to get the car out, the deeper the hole you dig. I'll swear when you eventually return to the track the engine almost stalls a few times until the sand gets out of the system. Touch the grass verge and the car spins totally out of control and should you try to short cut corners (yeah, I mean Australia) you get black flagged for cheating.

The only problems I faced with Monaco Grand Prix Racing Simulation 2 were firstly that the brakes were very, very responsive. If they were softened down in the car set up screen then brakes had to be applied long before a corner was reached. Make them more sensitive and every touch produced a tyre wearing skid. The best way to combat this problem was to tap the brake button quickly rather than holding it hard down. I also found the CPU controlled opponents sadly lacking in AI. They seem oblivious to the sight of your car flying past them and hardly attempted to block your line. That was everyone until that driver in third position. Shit, this guy definitely failed the audition for Wacky Races because of dangerous driving.

Opinion
MARTIN
GRAPHICS: 15/20 The graphics don't instantly knock you out, but eventually grow on you. They are more Need For Speed 4's 'water color' style than Formula 1's rich textures.

Gameplay... much the same as Formula 1. All the circuits, 22 drivers, full race endurance.

Handling is fairly good but gets even better with practice.

Opponents sadly lacking in AI... apart from Mad Max in third position.
SOUND: 7/10
PLAYABILITY: 45/50
VALUE: 18/20
OVERALL 85%

 

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