In combat racing games, the competitors typically race on the same course, using any means necessary to stay ahead. MotorDuels: Outcast defies these genre conventions, in that dueling cars are never on the same track. Instead, you and your computer-controlled opponent race on identical but separate courses, within firing range of each other. Because of this, you can choose to balance the racing and fighting elements in any way you see fit, ignoring enemy fire and going for the goal, or spending the whole time deforming the opponent's car and track. This mix is initially interesting, but it turns out to be less than the sum of its parts.
In MotorDuels, you assume the role of Ian, who, as the game's scenery suggests, is living outside the Aztec city of Technoctitlán. Gangs have taken control of Ian's hometown, and dueling against other outlaws is the only way to acquire the ammunition, money, and reputation necessary to take back the city. From opposite sides of a straight track, you and an opponent race toward one another, meet at a halfway point, quickly turn around, and then head back to the starting point, which has now become the goal. Although your onboard weapons can damage and slow the opponent's car, or create potholes on his or her track, you and your adversary never meet face-to-face. This strips the action of the kind of immediacy and urgency that probably would have made it more exciting.
A bar on the right side of the screen (which looks more like a volume indicator than a speedometer) tracks your car's speed. After reaching top speed, the car maintains its momentum, unless it is slowed by an obstacle or enemy fire. Attacks are shown on a small onscreen map that indicates the trajectory and pace of both incoming and outgoing fire. The map also pinpoints pothole locations, although these obstacles aren't as abundant as this feature would have you believe. Pressing the fire button once brings up a cursor that scrolls up and down the enemy's track. When the cursor is in the strategically appropriate place, you can press fire again to launch the attack.
Duels are won either by destroying the enemy's car or by crossing the goal line first. Racing can be more beneficial, however, as the first person to arrive at the course's halfway point gets a reward. This often comes in the form of money or ammunition, though there's also the occasional weapon upgrade to be found. Both weapons and ammunition can be purchased between races, but they come much more easily in races. In fact, the tracks are littered with money and ammo (the ammo is in crates that could be mistaken for obstacles), so if you're comfortable with your standing in the race, you can weave back and forth to collect them. Money is best used to repair your car between races, something that needs to be done frequently.
After gaining a certain number of reputation points (by winning races), your level rises, which, in turn, increases both your hit points and your rank. Rank has little bearing on the gameplay except that, after gaining a certain number of levels, you can't compete against easy opponents anymore. It seems slightly perverse that leveling actually limits what you can do.
The most interesting aspect of the game is the way in which different styles of gameplay are facilitated at certain ranks. For example, in the beginning, it's futile to concentrate on battling, because, at that point, you won't have sufficient money for ammunition. Later, though, once you've begun to collect money, it becomes a better strategy to upgrade your weapons and focus on destroying the enemy car. Around the expert level, you may find yourself not even trying to race at all. By the end, when competing against Grand-Master Necro, all these elements merge, presenting you with a decent challenge that requires your best battling and racing efforts.
There are two settings: the Aztec countryside and the urban desert. Neither backdrop has an effect on the game, but there are some nice graphical touches. You can see several different avatars of your enraged opponents, and the weapon graphic on the car changes, depending on how much it has been upgraded. Aside from that, the graphics are merely functional--an above-average effort overall, but nothing spectacular. Less can be said for the game's sound. The introductory theme is fairly catchy, but the gameplay is riddled with bleeps and bloops that bear a suspicious resemblance to our Nokia N-Gage's stock Series 60 sounds. In short, the audio is certainly not a highlight.
While MotorDuels: Outcast can be fun, its lack of variety hurts it quite a bit. Alternative track, vehicle, and gameplay options, as well as a more-complex method of unlocking and upgrading weapons, could have helped flesh out MotorDuels' unusual concept. As it stands, it's enjoyable in the short run and unique in many respects, but ultimately too monotonous. While providing two different types of action seems like a great idea, MotorDuels' flawed execution prevents it from fulfilling its potential.