An amusing, harmless automobile brand inspires an amusing, harmless racing game.
- Car models look nice
- beetle and golf fans will have plenty to choose from
- "slidy" driving physics are fun for a while
- lots of parts to choose from.
- Absolutely zero challenge, even at stiffest difficulty
- single-player experience is very short
- Locales and tracks are recycled too much.
When you think of the pinnacle of motorsport excellence, which automobile companies come to mind? Ferrari, Mercedes, Chevrolet? Only if you page through the list a bit further will you come to Volkswagen, a company known more for its marketing slogans than its history of racing success. That said, the Volkswagen company has inspired the maker of GTI Racer to create a racing game based solely around the family-friendly brand. While fans of the VW line will likely be pleased with a pretty comprehensive lineup of Volkswagen makes and models, the actual racing in this game leaves much to be desired.
The meat and potatoes of GTI Racer's single-player game is the race-series mode, which is sort of a low-rent Gran Turismo career mode that has you progressing through a number of different race types, collecting money as you go to purchase more powerful VW models, as well as upgrade parts to apply to them. Of course, beyond doing the very basic improvements of upping acceleration and/or top speed, the upgrades don't feel like they do much for your car--and the game's elementary difficulty level means you can win almost any event in the series without doing any tweaking to your car at all. For example, moving to a softer suspension and higher ride height seems like it would make sense for the bumpy off-road races--and in most racing games it would. However, in GTI Racer, these kinds of adjustments make practically zero difference in your lap times at all.
Winning races in GTI Racer is rarely challenging. Your typical event in the race-series mode pits you against three opponents, most of whom you'll blow by at the start line. Barring any catastrophic accidents, it's easy enough to keep your car ahead of the pack, and though the game does make use of catch-up logic to keep your opponents close, you'll usually only lose races if you get into a big wreck toward the end of the race. Other race events in the game include cross-country checkpoint races, point-to-point races, drift challenges, and drag-racing events (the latter two are the only events in which you'll need to make some adjustments to your car). There's also an odd variant on the checkpoint race that has you careening your car in some of the game's more urban environments, while trying to dodge cardboard-cutout pedestrians who randomly run out into the street.
GTI Racer's driving model is just as straightforward as the competition you'll face. Despite the stabs at grease-monkey car customization, this is pure arcade racing, with cars that drift and slide around corners with the greatest of ease and a damage model that is purely cosmetic. Braking, especially in the early going, is practically not needed at all, and the cars rarely feel as if they have any weight to them on the road. This isn't to say it's altogether bad--it can be fun whipping your ride left and right with nary a care for your car's safety as you navigate around the twisting turns of the game's courses--but the lack of challenge eventually overtakes the game's amusing physics. While the game can be played with either a wheel or a game pad, you can easily win races just by playing with the default keyboard controls. Need we say more?
Still, there is some pleasure to be derived from seeing all those Volkswagen models available at your fingertips. The game organizes its car roster along eight oddly named categories, including "expenses," "devotion," "addiction," and, naturally, "extreme." The majority of the cars in the game come from VW's Beetle and Golf line--sorry Jetta or Passat fans--and, though most the cars aren't exactly what you'd refer to as sporty, there are a few exceptions, such as the sleek-looking W12 Coupe 2001 and W12 Roadster 1998. The game's titular Golf GTIs come in a number of different shapes and sizes, seemingly spanning the entire lifespan of the line.
There aren't a ton of locales to race in GTI Racer--the events occur in places like Germany, Italy, France, Great Britain, and Texas--and all of these locales share a common generic feel that doesn't help to differentiate one from the other. The environments themselves look OK, with rolling hills and mountainous backgrounds that add a sense of scale to things, but practically everything in the environment is static. The courses do feature signs and other roadside objects you can smash, but beyond that, there's practically zero movement in the backgrounds. You'd expect, for example, the grass to roll and part as you speed through it during the cross-country races, but it just doesn't happen in this game. To its credit, the game features a number of different camera angles, including an in-car view. The bad news is that the textures used for the car interiors are ugly and muddled.
While the game's graphics has its highs and lows, GTI Racer's sound is almost all bad news. The car engines, from your very first Beetle to your final W12 Coupe, sound laughably tinny and lame. In our time with the game, we noticed multiple instances where the engine sounds would clip and stutter when engaging our car's nitrous system, and the sounds of the cars as they interact with the road (either by skidding the tires or by rolling and crashing) are just as uninspiring. To accompany this lifeless audio palette, or perhaps to drown it out, the game's techno soundtrack is shrill and repetitive, and it will have you quickly searching the menus to turn it off completely.
The minimal number of locales are recycled throughout GTI Racer's race-series mode, resulting in redesigned courses that reroute you off-road and into more complex series of twists and turns that rarely show off the increasingly powerful members of your car collection. Once you've tired of the single-player game, you can theoretically take your driving skills online and race in four-player events via an Internet or LAN connection. Unfortunately, despite multiple attempts, we weren't able to find anyone online playing the game to test our skills against.
It won't take you more than a few hours to rip through GTI Racer's single-player game, and by then you'll have long since experienced everything the game's simplistic driving model and comatose artificial intelligence has to offer. Like so many other make-specific driving games, GTI Racer seems more like a cheap attempt to attract fans of the brand than a serious racing effort. It's not terrible, but it's no Fahrvergnügen.