Review of Downforce
I can honestly say that I wasn’t expecting much from Downforce. While it is true that I love racers and anxiously delve into anything that has me ripping down a racetrack, the pedigree that this game comes from had me extremely cautious. Well, after waiting for the somewhat long load time (why can’t all games be on DVD to take advantage of the superior access speed is beyond me), I was prepared for the worst and settled in to begin my play testing.
The menu interface is rather sterile with your selections scrolling vertically over a fixed, rather bland background screen. The choices presented are Trophy, Championship, Time Attack, Free Race, Time Trial, 2-player Free Race and finally 2-player Time Tag.
All of the gameplay modes are actually interesting and add a nice amount of replay value to the title. In Championship Mode the objective is to complete a 6-track season against nine other drivers and compile enough total points to become champion. There are three levels (beginner, intermediate and expert), which must be completed, in order to progress to the next one. Upon starting this mode, gamers can already choose from a nice selection of vehicles, which differ greatly from one another. The biggest distinction being the engine choice. Some cars have dual turbo V8’s while others will have supercharged V12 muscle. There are also nitrous oxide engines tucked away in there as well. As you progress and manage to unlock cars, some fantasy motors begin to appear like an Ion charged engine or triple roto turbo’s (whatever that is). Other differences include break type, tires and special extras like maneuverable airfoils and nitrous cooled parts, etc.
In Trophy mode gamers select their track and must complete the objective to progress (come in a predetermined place). Once again you must start in beginner and progress through this challenge to reach intermediate and then expert…unlocking additional tracks along the way.
Time Attack is a cool mode. Here racers have to reach each checkpoint before time runs out. If the checkpoint is reached, the time remaining is added to your total time and it’s on to the next checkpoint. If you can complete the 6 rounds without running out of time, a secret track is unlocked and can even be played in the other game modes!
Free Race is the place to get a feel for the cars and the track layout and Time Trial is pretty much what one would expect…this is the place to set track records.
The two-player Time Tag is blast to play. Racing head to head with a bud, the object is to grab a lead and maintain it for 10 seconds. Do that and you are awarded 1 point. The person that has the most points accumulated after 3 laps wins. Beware though, if you crash your opponent is immediately awarded a point. We really had fun trying to slam each other into the walls to get our points instead of trying to lead for the 10 seconds (hehehe).
The car handling and physics in Downforce are downright enjoyable. Like any F1 car game, steering is extremely tight with a small lock-to-lock turning radius. This really comes into play when being confronted with some of the tracks hairpin turns. At these times, careful breaking and acceleration is key so that unnecessary time is not lost while navigating some of these hairy turns. Of course if the corners aren’t negotiated correctly you will crash the car and the some of the accidents can be spectacular. Slamming into a wall at 150+ miles per hours can have your car flung high into the air, while literally disintegrating before it touches back down. Wheels and car parts fly off all over the place and of course the end result is a nice smoldering mess of a cart.
The time lost from these mishaps can be considerable and often end up dropping you into last place…which brings up another good point… The driver AI in Downforce is damn good. No rubber band, no cheap shots, just great racing. If you are good enough to grab the lead early in the race and have a good run, then you are going to finish well ahead of the pack. I always hate racing games where I am well in the lead and begin my finish line approach only to see the pack coming up in my rearview mirror…where the hell did they come from? Drive a good race in Downforce and you are rewarded with a well-earned victory…make mistakes though and you are going to pay.
As with any decent racer, good driving strategies can be deployed here like drafting, passing on the inside and blocking. There is also nothing quite as satisfying as bumping a fellow racer into the wall on a good hairpin and looking in your rearview at the ensuing pile-up that occurs as other cars try desperately to avoid the crippled vehicle.
Finally we have the track layouts…which are all good. There are basically eight main locations (some being in Tokyo, Florida, Singapore and Sydney) with a total of 21 different routes (some locations have 3, some have 2 and Geneva has 1). The designs are highly creative and a real blast to drive on. I loved ripping down the streets Singapore, slamming on the brakes to navigate a hairy 180-degree hairpin and then flooring it through the downtown area. The only complaint that I have is that I wish there were some steep inclines/declines to negotiate, for the most part the courses are pretty flat…which would be fine for an F1 sim, but this is pure arcade action here.
The sense of speed, especially when entering the expert races is sensational. I wouldn’t say that I felt like I was traveling at 200+ miles per hour, but it still felt pretty damn fast. Unfortunately, for such diversity in cars and engine types, all of them felt and handled pretty much the same. I really didn’t notice any considerable change in speed or handling characteristics when changing from one car to another.
Another pleasant surprise with Downforce was its appearance. It’s not a half bad looking racer. The cars are modeled damn nicely with a decent poly count and good (not great) attention to detail. While I did not notice real time reflections taking place, the cars fit in perfectly with the background and do not appear to “float” over the track.
Speaking about the background, the track designs are for the most part quite beautifully done. The Las Vegas Money Clip course has bright neon lights and signs together with tightly packed buildings…all moving at a swift 60fps. The texturing can be rather bland at times, but the overall look of the game is very nice…surprisingly nice actually. One of the things that really stand out is the trees…very well done. Not Ridge Racer V quality, but good in its own right.
The track designs are all quite different from one another, with some real standouts. Of course there is some interlacing flicker in the backgrounds but nowhere near as apparent as in Ridge Racer 5.
I did notice slowdown on a few occasions though. This occurred during large pileups while negotiating tight turns. What is cool though is that it looked like everything was happening in a slow-mo replay and cleared up almost immediately. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought this was an intentional effect…it looked that cool.
From a sound standpoint, the game is pretty generic. There is very little in the way of an upfront musical track…in fact, things are pretty quite while racing other than the ambient sounds of the race itself for the most part.
The cars have that familiar whine of an F1 and the rest of the racing sounds that one would expect are present. There is also some limited driver to pit crew communications going on at certain points during a race (like when passing another car).
OUR PLEDGE: We promise that we have fully played 'Downforce' before writing this review. The scores given above are our honest opinion and were not influenced in any way by the manufacturer or distributor of the game.
This review was written by Tom Rooney © Absolute PlayStation
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