Antz Extreme Racing Preview

Empire Interactive and Supersonic Software team up to bring the Xbox a different kind of racer.

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Licensed games are pretty safe territory when it comes to making games. Combining a known license with a user-friendly genre has been a blueprint that developers have been following since the first days of gaming. The latest video game incarnation of a movie license is the upcoming Antz Extreme Racing for the Xbox. Developed by Supersonic Software and published by Empire Interactive, the game is a racing title that uses characters and locations from the 1998 Dreamworks CG movie. We checked out a preview version of Antz Extreme Racing to see how it was coming together, and it's shaping up to offer a pretty solid racing experience on the Xbox.

The whole six-legged gang is on hand.
The whole six-legged gang is on hand.

Although it features characters from the Dreamworks movie, Antz Extreme Racing relies more on the film's themes than its actual plot for its content. You'll find six characters from the film to choose from, and they include Z, Bala, Cutter, Mandible, Weaver, and Azteca. Each character's overall goal is the same--that is, to become the highest-ranked ant in the colony by competing in a series of racing challenges.

The game's structure is pretty standard. You'll find two modes in the game--single-player and multiplayer. The game's single-player is a "career mode" of sorts, wherein you'll take your selected character through a set of challenges specific to each of them. While you'll initially have access only to Z and Bala, you'll unlock the other characters as you complete the game with each ant. The multiplayer mode lets you race against up to three other players in four-player split-screen racing.

The races take place in a variety of locations set in a 5-yard section of Central Park that--thanks to the ant's diminutive size--is a massive raceway. You'll test your skills in races in such locales as the anthill, a child's bike, a termite colony, the ant city, a dung heap, a grassy area, a garden, and a spider's lair, as well as around a pond and amongst the treetops. The actual races will be broken up into five types: driving, running, boarding, flying, and bug riding. Driving puts you behind the wheel of a makeshift vehicle. Running races require you to be on foot and to jump across obstacles. Boarding races are the ant equivalent of snowboarding, as you'll find yourself riding a leaf down a track. Finally, flying races put you on the back of a flying insect, while bug riding races have you riding a six-legged beetle. As you work your way through each of your selected ant's challenges, which are usually time trials or just races that require you to finish in a certain place, you'll find flower-shaped power-ups littered throughout the tracks. In keeping with the game's insect theme, each of the power-ups is reflected by different types of insects. You'll find homing missiles, straight firing missiles, a shield, a smoke bomb, turbo, and two types of mines--aphid land mines that explode and patches of sticky green goo to slow your opponent.

Controlling your ant is a breeze, thanks to the game's simple controls. You'll steer with the left analog stick, accelerate with the right trigger or A button, and brake with the left trigger. The X button triggers any powers-ups you've collected. The black face button handles camera chores with cycles through the available views, and the B button looks behind you. When boarding, you'll also use the left analog stick to accelerate and slow your acceleration by pushing forward and pressing back, respectively. The setup works fine for the game and is very easy to pick up.

Ants riding leaves--not something you see on the Discovery Channel.
Ants riding leaves--not something you see on the Discovery Channel.

Graphically, the game faithfully re-creates the look of the movie. The ant's character models come very close to the CG cousins and move well enough. The game's environments are suitably huge and modeled well enough. Natural objects such as trees, birds, and rolling balls of dung are massive obstacles to be avoided and feared. In addition, you'll find other hazards in the form of burly termites and spiders that pop down and grab you. You'll also see some weather effects on hand. However, due to the ant's tiny size, raindrops are concussive balls of liquid that adversely affect your chance of winning. In spite of the onscreen action, the game's frame rate manages to stay stable.

While the game's graphics do a good job of matching the movie's look and feel, the sound in Antz Extreme Racing doesn't seem as consistent with the film's audio. For instance, the ants in our build were pretty silent, and while we didn't expect to hear the stars of the film voice their virtual insect counterparts, we did hope that Supersonic would have rounded up some soundalikes. It would have been nice to hear something out of the little guys during a race, though with a few more weeks of development ahead of the game, voice work might make it into Antz Extreme Racing after all.

From what we've seen, it's clear that Antz Extreme Racing is shaping up to be a solid racing game for the Xbox--it will certainly be interesting to see how the game shapes up for its final release. Antz Extreme Racing ships next month for the Xbox.

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