E3 06: Race Driver 2006 Preshow Hands-On

We spend some quality time with a work-in-progress version of Codemasters' upcoming PSP racer.

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Currently scheduled for release in May, Race Driver 2006 is an enhanced version of the game that was released for the PlayStation Portable in Europe as TOCA Race Driver 2 last year. The European game was essentially a port of the PlayStation 2 game of the same name, but some nine months later, North American race fans are being treated to a version of the game that boasts extra vehicles (for a total of more than 50) and circuits (for a total of more than 60), additional multiplayer options, and an all-new Trans World Cup gameplay mode. We recently had an opportunity to spend some time with a work-in-progress version of the game, and we're pleased to report that the additional features implemented for the North American version look to add plenty of value to a game that already had no shortage of it.

Laguna Seca is one of over 60 circuits featured in the game.
Laguna Seca is one of over 60 circuits featured in the game.

The most significant new feature in Race Driver 2006 is the Trans World Cup mode, in which you'll compete in events all over the world en route to the title of Trans World Cup champion. Although some of the vehicles and circuits that you'll be racing in the competition are the same ones that appear in the story-driven career mode, the new mode mixes things up considerably by giving you specific objectives for each event. The Trans World Cup events in our build of the game were clearly still in development in terms of their difficulty and frame rates, but the time we spent playing them gave us a good idea of what you can expect in the finished game.

When you start a new Trans World Cup game, you'll be presented with a world map that has only three events available on it, in which you take the controls of a racing pickup, an IndyCar, and a Dodge Charger, respectively. There are a maximum of 10 ranking points available at each event, and you can play the events in any order you like--you'll unlock a new event as well as new cars and circuits for use in free race and multiplayer games every time your ranking goes up. In addition to straightforward races to the finish and mini race championships, event types that we checked out during our time with the game included no-damage races, in which we had to get a podium finish without damaging any of our car's systems; duels, in which we were tasked with overtaking a single opponent as quickly as possible; and time trials, which required us to consistently beat target lap times. Other events promised include pit-in, which are races with mandatory pit stops; bring it home, which will see you assuming control of a beat-up car halfway through a race; drive the line, which forces you to adhere to the correct racing line; and show off, which will give you a chance to have some fun with powerslides and jumps.

Every vehicle in the game handles differently, and you'll be driving them all at some point.
Every vehicle in the game handles differently, and you'll be driving them all at some point.

Although the Trans World Cup mode saw us taking the wheels of different vehicles even more frequently than the Grand Theft Auto games, we found that it rarely took us more than a few corners to adjust to the various handling styles. Driving a pickup truck or a stock car is very different from driving an IndyCar or a Formula Ford open-wheeler, of course, but Race Driver 2006 does a great job of forcing you to adapt to the characteristics of each vehicle without ever being overly punishing. One of the trickiest things about the game, in fact, is getting a good start off the line, especially since your location on the grid doesn't always afford you a great view of the starting lights.

If you're a fan of multiplayer racing, Race Driver 2006's promise of wireless support for up to 12 players (as opposed to eight in the European game) should give you plenty to get excited about, provided you have that many friends. We've had access to only one copy of the game thus far, so we haven't been able to check out the multiplayer options, unfortunately. We were especially disappointed to learn that the promised game-sharing option that will let up to six players compete using a single copy of the game hadn't been fully implemented yet, but we're very much looking forward to checking it out once we get our hands on a more complete version. We hope to bring you more information on Race Driver 2006 for the PSP in the not-too-distant future.

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