Glimmerati, the new N-Gage racing game from Nokia and Helsinki-based Bugbear Entertainment, offers a fun--if often strange--ride through the frivolous lifestyles of the sickeningly rich. Given the portrayal of the subject material, it's very obvious that Glimmerati has been designed with European sensibilities in mind. However, this point of view is also effective on US gamers, because the game's mildly naughty, Continental-flavored humor helps to sustain your interest between the unremarkable (but solid) racing sequences. Glimmerati's combination of simple driving with an engaging, character-driven plot makes it one of the N-Gage's better games.
At the beginning of Glimmerati's story mode, you're greeted with a brief montage of air-brushed art, commemorating the tragic death of your wealthy uncle. While idling your new sports car at a traffic light, you pull alongside Maxwell McCain--world-famous businessman, racing enthusiast, and president of Club Glimmerati, the vehicular playground of the loaded elite. McCain offers you a trial membership in the club and invites you to participate in Glimmerati's latest tournament: a Grand Prix that tours Europe's greatest racing cities, like Milan, Paris, and Monaco. As you compete in the month-long contest, you'll also be doing your utmost to put yourself on high society's radar by currying favor with the elite. Winning races, performing tasks for the blue bloods, and completing other media stunts all win you fame points, while certain special missions also produce memorabilia like magazine photo ops and newspaper headlines. Being a successful playboy isn't all fun and games--you have an image to maintain.
That's right...instead of trying to dispel the paparazzi, like any true American celebrity would, you're trying to attract as much attention as you can by swinging your bad-boy antics and irresistible charm around like a baseball bat. Accordingly, a substantial portion of Glimmerati is devoted to making headlines through womanizing, and the game provides a seemingly endless parade of supermodels, starlets, divas, and businesswomen to practice on, in addition to the two female members of Club Glimmerati.
Whether you're trying to pick up girls, test your nerves of steel, or win races, all of the game's driving sequences are arranged in a mission-based structure. Basically, every city has one or two "clubhouses," like chalets or yachts, where the club members congregate and hobnob with other notables that might be in town. You choose your mission by conversing briefly with one of your cohort, who will either lay out a task for you or precipitate the start of the next race. As you advance the story, you'll often have the chance to pick from several different missions. This lets you trace a unique path through the game each time you play, until you're finally funneled into the mandatory races.
Many of the game's missions are simple checkpoint dashes or races, although there are a number of more-interesting tasks to perform, like avoiding police cars, driving a massive limo, outrunning the press, or performing a stunt for a photo shoot. One particularly amusing mission involves a driving duel with the supercilious Prince Robert, who doesn't appreciate your advances on his fiancée. The missions are typically set up with a few sentences of voice-acted exposition, and these can range from intriguing to downright silly. For instance, a shrill do-gooder may guilt-trip you into driving on an icy lake. Doing so will supposedly show the kids you've dangerously encouraged that racing involves supreme skill, and not just a fast car.
Of course, the most important aspect of Glimmerati's gameplay is the driving, and Bugbear Entertainment has delivered one of the most playable schematics we've seen on the N-Gage yet. Previous racing games on the N-Gage have suffered from the system's narrow screen, which can make it very difficult to see the entirety of the track. However, Glimmerati pulls the camera all the way up to an overhead angle and solves the problem in one neat stroke. Even though everything on the track is rendered in 3D, the small size of the models ensures that Glimmerati dodges most of the slowdown and draw-in problems that seem to be endemic to the N-Gage. Plus, the controls are very easy to pick up: you can steer, accelerate, brake/reverse, use an occasional turbo boost, and bring up a pop-up map that displays your car and your objectives, if any--which ensures that you can be racing effectively within the first 15 minutes of play. The game does seem to have a few problems with pathfinding and collision detection, especially around certain obstacles, but it's still highly playable.
Although Glimmerati's fictionalized dream vehicles all handle pretty easily, they grow much more effective as you progress through the game. At first, you only have access to the relatively slow Modeste, but as you defeat missions, you unlock challenges against your fellow Glimmerati members, and you can then win their cars. You may not need to win all of the cars to beat the game, but upgrading occasionally is a must for the later levels. You also unlock periodic bonus challenges, like the icy lake mission, a speedboat race, or a brief spin in an experimental rocket car. These crazy vehicles handle very differently than your standard cars, and their races are among the most challenging parts of the game. These optional missions provide a nice burst of depth to your experience.
Glimmerati supports simple four-way Bluetooth multiplayer races, where you can pick out any of the tracks to race on (which display no lag to speak of). The game also has some limited N-Gage Arena functionality. Once connected to Arena, you can upload your "Club Card," which is a virtual scrapbook of all of your achievements in the game, browse other players' cards, and check your ranking on a global "fame" list.
Graphically, Glimmerati stands up to the best the N-Gage has to offer. All of the racing tracks look realistic--including the aquatic ones--and are embellished with interesting props. For example, you might race onto an airport's tarmac, and accelerate underneath a plane's wing to steal a march on the competition. The frame rate is steady throughout gameplay, even when the game throws out some basic lighting effects, like headlights and strobe-light cop sirens. The character art is static, but drawn in an attractive, clean style.
Glimmerati's sound, meanwhile, is second to none on the N-Gage, mostly because of the huge amount of digitized voice. All of the lines in story mode are spoken, and the quality of the voice acting is generally great, with a few notable exceptions. B-Dome, who is supposedly an American rapper, sounds absolutely ridiculous--kind of like your dad trying to affect a P. Diddy voice. Otherwise, though, the digitized speech is first-rate, and there's a lot of it. In the effects department, the game features several different types of engine noises that rev up and down realistically. Glimmerati's pretty strong musically, too. The title song is a catchy Euro-pop song that will probably lodge itself in your brain, and there's a limited selection of techno and neo-discotheque tracks to race to. The game's atmosphere is really heightened by its excellent use of sound.
Glimmerati is probably a game that every N-Gage owner should buy, unless they're seriously Europhobic. The lighthearted material is pure fluff, but it's also entertaining in a goofy sort of way, and the racing gameplay is enjoyable. Plus, there's enough gameplay here to last a good 10 to 15 hours, with all of the bonus missions factored in. Glimmerati may not let you feel the leather seats or taste the champagne, but it's a great approximation.