Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Star Wars Racer Revenge (PS4)

Three years after the release of Star Wars Episode I: Racer, a sequel known as Star Wars Racer Revenge was released for the PS2 in 2002, in time for the release of Star Wars: Episode II: Attack of the Clones later that year. I will admit that I never really knew Racer Revenge existed at the time, in part because I lacked the system to play it on, only hearing about it when Limited Run offered a physical copy of the PS4 port of the game and bought it out of interest. After getting to experience Episode I: Racer again, I decided to check out Racer Revenge for the first time to see how much it changed from the first game, finding a number of these changes to be for the better.

To quote the opening crawl at the beginning of the game: “It has been eight years since SEBULBA, Galactic Podracing's most notorious champion, met his downfall at the hands of a young ANAKIN SKYWALKER. Humiliated by his legendary Boonta Eve defeat, SEBULBA eventually disappeared from the Podracing circuit. Meanwhile, Podracing's underground allure has continued to spread. The vehicles are bigger and faster, and the pilots more aggressive. Now at the opening of a new Galactic Podracing season, there is an unexpected challenger on the horizon. Emerging from seclusion with a dangerous new Podracer, a crew of sadistic henchman, and a murderous vendetta, SEBULBA at last has ANAKIN in his sights - and he is bent on revenge . . .”

Despite revenge being stated to be Sebulba’s motivation for entering the race, this has no impact on the experience and is essentially an excuse to get the game going in the first place. Despite that, it does create some continuity with the events of Episode I: Racer, even extending into some of Anakin’s dialogue in the game. This additionally provides an explanation as to why Anakin Skywalker as he appears in Attack of the Clones is a playable character despite conflicting with canon, though for the sake of the experience it’s best not to think about it too hard.

Before getting into the gameplay, I will mention that, as this is a PS4 port of a PS2 game, the touch pad on the DualShock 4 substitutes for the Select and Start buttons on the original platform by pressing left and right on the touch pad respectively, which you are informed about during first-time startup.

The core gameplay is similar to Episode I: Racer, though with some key differences. Being a straight port, this is a racing game in which you have to press Cross (X) to move forward, which easily leads to thumb pain after a while. Among the other controls, L2 repairs your Podracer during a race at the cost of speed and R2 boosts, the latter of which adds to a temperature gauge that you have to watch or else you might overheat, though pressing both L2 and R2 at once repairs your pod at minimal cost of speed without risk of overheating. This control scheme has led to me experiencing wrist pain a number of times after only a few runs through a given course, though I’m not sure how much of that is the controls or the way I was handling the controller itself. There are multiple control options, though none resemble modern racing games, so I stuck with the default option during my playthrough.

I will note that Triangle changes the camera view, which I would advise pressing twice the first time you start racing to get a more comfortable camera angle since it defaults to a first-person view otherwise. Additionally, the HUD adds a radar that shows your general proximity to other racers behind you.

The HUD is more streamlined compared to Episode I: Racer.

The main difference from Episode I: Racer is the introduction of a vehicular combat mechanic to bring it closer to the films, in which racers ram into each other repeatedly to potentially KO them and remove them from the race, including the player. This lends itself to a lot more interaction between you and the AI opponents, thanks to a noticeable increase in rubberbanding, however there are times where you can be surrounded by other racers with Boost being your only option to break free aside from trying to KO one of them. AI racers also have the ability to repair themselves over time, adding another competitive layer to the experience that simulates going against another player.

Much like the previous game, unlocking racers and courses is unlocked by playing through and completing Tournament Mode once, with Truguts earned at the end of each race depending on your finishing position. Unlike the first game, additional Truguts can be earned depending on how many KOs you rack up during a race, plus you can replay races after completion for potentially better results and any Truguts you didn’t earn in a race remain until you place well enough to earn them all. Thankfully, the upgrade system is also heavily streamlined so that you simply spend Truguts to improve your vehicle’s stats, which you can freely alter at will. Because of this, however, the only way to upgrade each character is to have each of them go through Tournament Mode individually, which can be either fun or tedious depending on the player.

Upgrading Podracers is streamlined as well.

Due to being released on more powerful hardware, the visuals are greatly improved over Episode I: Racer and hold up surprisingly well. Greater details in the environments, vehicles and character designs help increase the immersion into the world of Star Wars, even with some visible draw distance in places. This added detail can also lead to an increased risk in getting stuck on the level geometry and losing all of your momentum if you’re not careful. Additionally, due to an overall decrease in the amount of playable courses, whatever asset recycling there is between courses on the same planet is a bit less obvious compared to the original game.

As with the first game, the sound design is on-point for Star Wars, including the use of John Williams’ iconic music from the films in both gameplay and the menus. Over time, as the races in Tournament Mode got longer, I also took more notice to the use of Podracer sound effects from The Phantom Menace, which I thought was a nice touch for the immersion factor. Though the voice acting is good overall, the lack of a subtitle option for cutscenes notwithstanding, I will say that Scott Lawrence sounds noticeably different from Hayden Christensen in the role of Anakin Skywalker, but I could tell he was trying. I also immediately recognized Tom Kane as the voice of the announcer since I grew up hearing him as Professor Utonium on The Powerpuff Girls (1998). While he does bring a lot of energy to the racing experience, there are some lines that can get repeated often during a race even with a decently-sized dialogue pool (ex. “Is there a Pit Droid in the house?”, “For all your repair and collision needs, visit Watto’s Repair Bay.”).

Though my experience with Star Wars Racer Revenge was a bit mixed, I would still recommend it since I feel the positive changes outweigh the negative. On its own, it delivers a more combative racing experience compared to Episode I: Racer and streamlines the experience in a number of ways, though the lack of a more modern control scheme can potentially be frustrating for those used to modern racing games.

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