Has a particular genre ever come close to matching the current popularity of racing games? Literally one out of every five titles being released right now is a driving game of some sort, and it's getting harder and harder to tell them apart. Falling smack dab in the middle of this indistinguishable landscape is Porsche Challenge, an arcade-style racing game from Sony for the PlayStation that stands out in no way, shape, or form except for its official endorsement from Porsche, maker of very expensive sports cars.
Porsche Challenge puts you behind the wheel of the Porsche Boxster, a high-powered sports car with the price tag to match. The game has six characters you can choose from to drive the vehicle: Beats, an English DJ; Dan, an American kickboxer; Taka-bo, a teenage Japanese hacker; Marco, an Italian mechanic; Rachel, a Swedish model; and Nikita, a French journalist. (Don't ask what their personalities have to do with the game, but they do say clever things at the beginning of each race). Also thrown in with this Village People-arrangement of competitors is a mysterious "test driver" who appears from time to time to race against you in one-player mode, as you compete in the game's twelve races.
There are three types of races in Porsche Challenge: classic, long, and interactive (as well as a two-player split-screen mode). The classic mode is just that - short and sweet, the long mode has additional shortcuts and track extensions, and the interactive mode is the most interesting of them all - each course gets re-mixed and extended for a new challenge. There are four courses in all presented throughout the game: USA, Japan, Alpine, and Stuttgart, the official Porsche test track. These tracks don't get old as quickly as you'd expect - there are many different race variations for each track - but they do grow tiresome after awhile.
In the most important categories, graphics and gameplay, Porsche Challenge is average. The lack of features aside (the game only sports three camera angles), the game's 3-D, polygon-based engine looks on par with most mid-level titles being currently released. Each vehicle and object looks nice, but they don't really shine. The background landscapes also seem a bit flat at times and don't stand out as much as they should. The flat graphics and constant pop-up also detract from the game's realism. The gameplay itself could use some tuning. The play control works well enough, but it doesn't feel as tight as it could and proves frustrating until mastered. Also, the game moves fairly slowly and you never get a good feeling of speed. All in all, nothing about this title, from the lame soundtrack, which sounds like a bad mix of Prodigy and Enigma, to the game's manual, which includes a directory of Porsche dealers nationwide, stands out to make Porsche Challenge exceptional.
Let's assume right away that the majority of players picking up this title have never driven a Porsche, and most of them never will. With that in mind, sure, it's kind of neat to drive the Boxster. Does it handle like a real Porsche and virtually simulate you behind the wheel? As much as any driving game does - which, unfortunately, is not much. This title is identical to the majority of arcade games out there with limited play control and gameplay options; once you get sick of driving the courses, most of the appeal is gone. If you love driving games and have to own them all, pick up this title. Otherwise, you're just as well-off waiting for the next driving game to hit the market, which will most likely be in about a day or two.