Tokyo Xtreme Racer Zero Hands-On

We got our hands on a near-final build of the PS2 version of Genki's illegal street-racing game to see how it compares with the Dreamcast version.

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Tokyo Xtreme Racer for the Dreamcast took the amazingly popular after-dark illegal street-racing scene in Japan and based a video game on it. In the game, you were a driver who took to the highways of Japan, challenging other drivers to quick races to earn money and prove that you were the best Xtreme Racer in Tokyo. The PS2 version of the game, Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero, promises to spice up the action of the Dreamcast game with PS2-enhanced visuals and more goodies than ever.

Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero has all the modes of the Dreamcast version. The quest mode is the main mode of the game. In it, you purchase and modify your car, then take to the highways of Tokyo night after night in your quest to challenge rival drivers, earn money, and improve your racing record. The game also sports a quick race mode, where you simply drive one race against a randomly chosen rival, and a time trial mode, where you race a portion of the track against the clock. Tokyo Xtreme Racer takes an amazingly different approach to the standard racing game. Instead of having several tracks available to you, Tokyo Xtreme Racer has only one highway loop, with only a few alternate paths. This loop can be played in either direction, and both directions actually take different paths, instead of simply being mirrored versions of each other. As you make your way around the giant highway, you'll run into rival racers. You'll be able to challenge these rivals to races, and you'll gain or lose money depending on the outcome. The races don't have a predetermined start or finish, and a rival can be challenged to a race at any point on the highway. The outcome of the race is determined by the results of the SP meter during the race. Both you and your opponent have an SP meter, and the meter will be depleted while your car is in second place or whenever your car hits an obstacle. How quickly the meter is depleted depends on the size of the lead between the two cars--a close race could last for several minutes, while a blow-out could end in moments. After racing, you can either continue cruising for action or retire to your garage, where you can spend your winnings on car upgrades or an entirely new ride altogether.

The game has plenty of good stuff to spend your in-game cash on. While Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero has no actual car licenses, the game sports an amazing lineup of more than 150 cars. Most of these cars are locked at the start of the game, but they can be unlock by racing special rival drivers or by throwing down a huge amount of cash in the quest mode. The cars in the game are all modeled after popular Japanese cars, though the lack of licensing has forced the game to come up with some ridiculous mock names for the cars featured in the game. Still, it's easy to identify popular models from Japanese manufacturers such as Toyota, Acura, Nissan, and Mitsubishi and imported models from manufacturers such as BMW and Porsche. Additionally, each car has a huge amount of aftermarket parts that can be purchased and added to the car to tweak its performance or look. You'll be able to buy upgrades for your car's engine, suspension, transmission, aerodynamics, wheels, and body. Each of these categories has several subcategories, and each subcategory has a few purchasing options. You'll be able to choose from a selection of parts that ranges from mufflers, air filters, and tweakable gearboxes to bumper kits and obnoxious spoilers. Altogether, the game boasts 17 different parts categories and more than 70 individual parts upgrades. Additionally, the developers have spent an enormous amount of time adding a whole catalog of aftermarket wheels and rims to the game, and you'll be able to pick from more than 100 different wheels, each one with different plate or color options.

The basic gameplay of Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero is certainly interesting, but the lack of any real variety can make playing the game a bit tedious. You spend most of your time in the quest mode, circling the one highway loop contained in the game. And while there is never a shortage of challengers, the track gets tiresome rather quickly. Also, the different racers simply aren't compelling enough to warrant tracking them down and challenging them, and the rewards for beating them are often pretty skimpy. Until you start accepting challenges from boss characters and winning, the money is pretty thin. While you can take into consideration that Genki wanted to make the game as faithful to the underground Japanese highway-racing scene as possible, the game would have surely benefited from a little more track variation. Additionally, Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero is primarily a single-player game. The developers threw in a quick multiplayer aspect after receiving complaints about the missing multiplayer modes in the Dreamcast versions, but the multiplayer mode in TXR: Zero is an extremely disappointing two-player version of the time trial mode.

The graphics in the game are about on par with those of other PS2 racing games. While the game has nowhere near the detail of games like Gran Turismo 3, the car models look good enough, and the track is passable. The game always takes place at night, though, and the dark atmosphere really helps hide some of the lackluster graphical elements of the game. The track really isn't that much to look at, and several parts of the highway are redundant and bleak. While the track itself may have been modeled after real-life sections of highway in Tokyo, it's hardly glamorous, and Genki should have taken a little artistic license to help break up the monotony of the course. The non-track backgrounds are mediocre at best, and they usually consist of large square buildings with lots of little rectangular lights. The cars themselves look pretty good, but they do have some jagged lines. Crave has cleaned up some of the jagged lines found in the track of the previous build of the game, and things are definitely looking better. Still, the car models from Gran Turismo 3 couldn't counterbalance the boring and very limited track of the game.

Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero has plenty of music to help you get into the car-racing mood. Unfortunately, most of the music is Japanese rock, and it has plenty of wailing guitars and screeching power-chord riffs. The game does have a few tracks that are passable, and thankfully it lets you select exactly what songs you'd like to have played during every scenario of the game. The game has plenty of engine noises and screeching tire noises, but the engine noises sound canned and the tire screeching gets old pretty fast. Additionally, the engine noises don't seem to change when you add a different muffler or upgrade your engine altogether.

The PS2 version of Tokyo Xtreme Racer has an all-new interface, but it isn't really any better than that of the Dreamcast version. The text is fairly small and hard to read, and some of the important stats, such as how fast your car accelerates or its top speed, are represented in difficult-to-understand numerical statistics and charts. While it's obvious that Genki probably targeted the interface toward enthusiasts, an easier-to-understand interface would have made customizing and tweaking your cars a little more enjoyable. The PS2 version of the game also features two DVD-exclusive extras, the first being the full trailer of the upcoming film The Fast and the Furious. The second extra is actually a very entertaining behind-the-scenes look at the actual Japanese street scene the game is based on.

With a fairly interesting and different approach to the racing genre, Tokyo Xtreme Racer: Zero manages to be a fun departure from the norm. Still, a lack of variety where it counts could really make this game a difficult sell for anyone but the hard-core fan of the import racing scene. TXR: Zero races to shelves this May.

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