Infogrames surprised everyone with Test Drive Le Mans for the Dreamcast. Featuring impressive graphics, tight control, and challenging AI, the Dreamcast version of Le Mans won GameSpot's coveted driving game of the year award last year. Realizing it has a winner on its hands, Infogrames is currently in the process of porting the game to the PlayStation 2 with several improvements.
The grueling 24 Heures du Mans race takes place in France every year and stands as a screen to separate the men from the boys. Le Mans 24 Hours on the PlayStation 2 provides this same opportunity. You may race compressed one, six, 10, or 30-hour races or go completely hard-core and take on the full 24-hour race at Le Mans in real time. So that you're not depriving yourself of necessities like sleep and nourishment, you may save your game in the middle of a race and return to it at your whim. There will also be quick-race, championship, time-trial, and two-player multiplayer modes. The championship mode consists of a series of races where rankings are based on the total points accumulated. Winning circuits unlocks some of the 70 licensed cars and 12 official tracks in the game. The quick-race feature lets you unlock more tracks and cars for the multiplayer and time-trial modes. Advancing through the time-trial mode opens even more new cars for play.
Eight extra cars have been added to each race for the PlayStation 2 version for a total of 24 cars on the tracks at once. The car models have been refined to feature much smoother edges and more accurate reflections. Fully animated pit crews and drivers have also been added so that a trip into the pits is more than just navigating a menu system. Once pitted, you may change tires, refuel, or make repairs to damaged car parts. Due to the lengthy nature of 24 Heures du Mans, the environments undergo day-to-night changes and vice versa. Graphical effects like particle effects, reflection routines, and real-time lighting are used to create smoking tires, a rear-view mirror, and headlights. Weather effects have also been included, and driving in the rain requires a different car setup to achieve maximum performance. Based on the screenshots released thus far, the off-track areas are heavily populated with objects like bleachers and promotional banners lending an air of authenticity to the game.
A racing game can have all the bells and whistles it wants, but in order to be fun, its gameplay has to be rewarding. Infogrames knows it has a solid backbone in the Le Mans series, and it isn't changing much for the PlayStation 2 version. The sense of speed was excellent in Test Drive Le Mans for the Dreamcast, and Infogrames Melbourne is hoping to preserve the same feeling of screaming down a straightaway at 200mph for the PlayStation 2 iteration. The handling, while still grounded in simulation, will be much more user-friendly than the tedious wrangling of cars around corners present in games like Gran Turismo. While it makes the game much more accessible to the average racing game fan, those who enjoy simulation-style racing aren't completely left out. For those who enjoy tweaking car performance to cut an extra half-second off lap times, there are four adjustable car attributes including transmission type, fuel load, tire type, and downforce. Minute factors such as oil and gas pressure and tire traction factor heavily into the speeds obtained, so pitting for adjustments is a must. For those who like to mindlessly zip around the track, Infogrames Melbourne is also including driving assistance to help develop playing skills.
There are 12 ACO-endorsed tracks in Le Mans 24 Hours, including famous locales like Suzuka East and Donington National. As you might expect, the game's namesake, Le Mans, is also included, along with a slew of other lesser-known tracks like Bugatti and US Road Atlanta from the 2000 US Le Mans series. The 70 licensed cars include machines from BMW, Nissan, Audi, Corvette, Cadillac, and many more. Judging from the AI developed for the Dreamcast version, Le Mans 24 Hours on the PlayStation 2 should offer an adequate challenge no matter what your skill level.
Test Drive Le Mans is one of the best next-generation racing games ever made, so the expectations for Le Mans 24 Hours on the PlayStation 2 are extremely high. With a multitude of added cars, a couple of extra tracks, and improved graphics, Infogrames Melbourne is already on the right track. Le Mans 24 Hours is a nice balance between sim-style racing and the arcade driving experience, so there are elements of the gameplay that will appeal to everyone. We have yet to receive a playable version of Le Mans 24 Hours, but when we do, you can expect hands-on impressions soon thereafter.