We take a look at Titus' upcoming futuristic F1 racer.
Typically, F1 racing games have been associated with realistic driving simulations that really appeal to followers of the sport but leave little for those who are just casual fans. The learning curve always presented a problem in these games as well, making it even more difficult for anyone not familiar with the sport to jump right in and start playing the game. Titus' upcoming F1 racing game, Downforce, basically removes the learning curve and adds the flash and flare of arcade-style racing to the traditional F1 racing formula. In fact, Downforce plays so differently from other F1 games that collisions actually play an integral part in your racing strategy.
You'll have four single-player modes to choose from in Downforce--trophy, championship, time attack, and free race. Unfortunately at this point, while these modes all have a different kind of structure, they're essentially the same. In the trophy mode, you'll get to take on three different tracks in succession, and in each track, you must place high enough--third place or better--to successfully complete that group of tracks. When you complete the first set of tracks, you'll move on to the next three and continue this pattern until you've gone through three variations of the six tracks in this mode.
The championship mode is only slightly different in that there's a qualification section--here, performance earns you points that you can use toward winning the championship. At the beginning of each race in the championship mode, you'll have to make a quick run around the track for qualifying purposes--the time earned in this portion of the game determines your position on the starting grid. At the end of the actual race, if you manage to place first, you'll receive a majority of the points, whereas being as low as sixth place will earn only a few points. Like in the trophy mode, when you complete the first set of tracks, you'll move on to a second set of tracks that take place in the same environments but have different layouts.
The time attack and free race modes are both pretty basic. The time attack mode is basically the game's arcade mode, requiring you to reach checkpoints to prevent time from running out. The free race lets you compete against computer opponents without worrying about performance or time, but you can't actually select the track manually, so it doesn't work quite as well as a basic practice mode. Hopefully, Titus will have enough time to add a little variation to some of these modes because as it stands, they're all too similar despite some differences in their general structure.
Downforce also includes two multiplayer modes--free race and time tag. Free race is just your basic head-to-head race in which two players can compete via a split-screen mode. However, time tag is actually an entertaining take on multiplayer racing. Essentially, when you overtake an opponent and reach a certain distance, a timer will appear in the upper right-hand corner of the opponent's screen. In the amount of time shown, the opponent must get within a certain proximity to your car, but if the opponent is unsuccessful and time runs out, he loses the race. The same is also true if an opponent overtakes you. It adds a surprising amount of tension to the basic multiplayer racing formula.
There are approximately seven tracks in Downforce, each of which appears to have three different variations. You'll drive through the streets of Sydney, Singapore, Toronto, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Singapore, and through the swamplands of Florida. These tracks are all look pretty solid, with a fair amount of detail to distract you over the course of a race. When you're racing toward the finish line in Sydney, a group of F-18s will fly directly over you and past the massive skyscrapers. In Las Vegas, you'll see all of the city's landmarks, such as Caesar's Palace and the massive pyramid and spotlight of the Luxor.
Some tracks are a little flashier than others, but in general, they all have solid design. You'll have to maneuver through plenty of chicanes and hairpin turns, which actually isn't much of a problem in Downforce. The controls in the game have been simplified to a point where you can almost go through each track with your finger constantly on the acceleration button, letting up only occasionally to accommodate the really sharp turns. In addition, the braking in the game is so incredibly powerful that even on a hairpin, you can go full speed until you're a few feet from the turn before braking and still be fine.
That's not to say that Downforce has thrown any semblance of realistic racing mechanics out the window. Your vehicle can still be damaged if it scrapes against walls or collides with other cars, and this damage can affect your car's performance to a point where you'll spin out on even the most rudimentary turn. Moreover, if you happen to clip part of a wall while going full speed, your wheel will more than likely snap right off.
Obviously, you'll want to avoid these accidents whenever possible, but at the same time, the game encourages you to be rough and cause problems for your opponents. During one race on the Hong Kong track, a gentle nudge to the back of a car caused it to spin and take out four other cars on the track, creating a spectacular-looking wreck with cars flying into the air and skidding along the ground. Needless to say, there wasn't much of a race after that particular crash.
Make no mistake--Downforce is an arcade racing game. The low learning curve coupled with the flashy graphics and collisions should make it appeal to a much wider audience than that of most other F1-style games. However, Titus really should make an effort to make the modes in the game a little more different from each other and offer some additional incentive for completing the modes, other than unlockable cars.
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