Many years ago--1995, to be exact--Virgin Interactive released one of the first semiauthentic karting games for the PC, SuperKarts. Filled with power-up items that wouldn't have seemed out of place in a console-style kart-racing game, SuperKarts nevertheless featured a mostly realistic driving model and was surprisingly fun. Of the handful of karting games produced since then, several have tried to further improve the simulation of the sport while retaining SuperKarts' level of entertainment. JoWood's Michael Schumacher Racing World Kart 2002 is the latest to step up to bat, and it is also the latest to fail. Although the game looks pretty enough and initially seems like it might replicate a real karting experience, it's ultimately too simplistic, too short, and far too prone to bumper-car madness and pinball-like ricochets.
World Kart 2002 offers three classes of karting, each based primarily on the engine power of the karts in that division. With a 200cc four-stroke 6hp motor, FUN-class karts are similar to those found at a go-kart rental facility. The substantially faster ICA-class karts feature a 100cc two-stroke motor capable of 22hp. At the top of the spectrum are the FSA-class machines, each powered by a potent 100cc two-stroke 32hp engine. The game does a good job of conveying the relative speed of each class--in the FUN class you must be as efficient as possible, while in the FSA class you'll have your hands full just trying to keep your little monster on the track.
Unfortunately, the actual game isn't nearly as impressive. There are three modes of racing in World Kart 2002, the first of which is the training mode. Here, you'll race against the prerecorded lap of a single ghost driver. If you beat him to the finish line, you'll advance to the next track. Once you've beaten the three events in the training mode's all-too-easy FUN class, you'll unlock the five in its ICA class, and thereafter unlock the eight in the ridiculously high-speed FSA class. At that point, you'll either continue to compete against your own fastest ghost laps or move on to another mode.
The second mode, time trial, is discouragingly similar to training, except you race against preposted lap times rather than prerecorded ghost laps. In other words, although you compete on the same tracks and in the same order as you did in training, there's absolutely nobody else on the track with you, ghost or otherwise. The only saving grace of the time trial mode is its online component, in which your best times are transferred to the World Kart 2002 site and displayed alongside the times posted by other drivers from around the world. It is important to note that you can't actually race head-to-head with another human--you can only compare finishing times.
The game's most intriguing element is its championship mode, which lets you feel the thrill of real head-to-head racing, albeit against computer-controlled opposition. Though the championship mode features the same structure and track order used in the two previous modes, it does give you some company out there, and for that reason alone is more compelling.
Sadly, your fellow racers are a loutish lot. They're certainly aware of your existence, but they go out of their way to abuse you as if you're their private plaything. Like bloodsucking leeches, they'll veer into your vehicle and fasten themselves there until you either slide off the track, hit the nearest retaining wall, slam on the brakes, or otherwise extricate yourself. It's hard not to notice such ill-mannered behavior, considering they'll often target and pounce on you within milliseconds of the start of an event.
Worse still, the game never really makes you feel like you're controlling a kart. In the FUN and ICA classes, in which the speed is reduced and an emphasis is placed on adhering to accepted racing lines, the game reflects some real-life driving principles. Yet spinning tires and two- and four-wheel drifts are rarely a factor, and your brakes seem to operate as a throttle reduction tool than actual braking mechanisms. Additionally, the pace is so fast and the kart-to-kart contact so frequent in the FSA class that only those with the best reflexes and the best luck will emerge victorious. In fact, when driving through a walled facility, you can sometimes ignore the brakes completely and take corners by gently letting off the throttle and bouncing off the nearest guardrail.
World Kart 2002 has a few other problems. For starters, it ships with just nine tracks, several of which are revisited in each of the three modes. Furthermore, German-based developer Terratools has skimped on the little extras that make a racing game great. In World Kart 2002, you can't damage your car or access a repair facility. You can't implement mechanical adjustments to improve performance, and you can't purchase upgraded parts. And although each class can be looked upon as an individual entity, you can't campaign through a true season or a career.
Thankfully, the game looks better than it plays. Terratools has created a pretty and colorful world that ranges from twisty indoor environments to purpose-built road courses and through-the-streets urban and village circuits. The outdoor settings are particularly impressive, since they feature time-of-day and lighting effects, convincing lens flares, and in some cases an obvious nod to Old World European architecture. The karts are intricately modeled, and the drivers are minimally but believably animated. The cockpit perspective features a moving steering wheel that corresponds to your own manipulations. However, you have to enjoy the experience as best you can while you're on the track, since World Kart 2002 doesn't have an instant replay feature.
Like most world-class racecar drivers, Michael Schumacher got his first taste of motorsports behind the wheel of a kart. He happened to be very successful in this discipline, and is therefore a perfect candidate to endorse a kart racing game. Unfortunately, World Kart 2002 proves again that a big-name endorsement generally means very little, especially for a game that's otherwise disappointing.