XGRA: Extreme-G Racing Association Preview
How is the latest addition to Acclaim's futuristic racing series shaping up? Check out our latest preview to find out.
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In the realm of futuristic racing games, few franchises have withstood the test of time better than Acclaim's Extreme-G series. The first Extreme-G game made its debut in 1997 on the Nintendo 64, where it was very well received. While its N64 sequel, XG2, was a massive disappointment, 2001's Extreme-G 3 for the PlayStation 2 and GameCube proved the series still had something to offer fans of the genre. At this year's E3, we got to take a hands-on look at the Xbox and GameCube versions of the latest addition to the series, XGRA: Extreme-G Racing Association, and came away with a pretty positive outlook on how the game is coming together. More recently, we took a look at an unfinished PlayStation 2 build of the game and dug deep to get to the heart of what XGRA is all about.
The Extreme-G style of racing has always revolved around the concept of futuristic motorcycles that can achieve blazingly fast speeds, and XGRA is no different. However, unlike previous games in the series, XGRA isn't superfast from the get-go. Rather, the faster bikes and courses are unlocked as you play through the game, so as you progress, the game becomes increasingly speedier. The combat elements are also handled slightly differently. Each bike has one basic weapon that remains constant throughout the race, such as a machine gun, missiles, or an electric beam. This weapon is monitored by a weapon energy meter that diminishes as you use it and replenishes slowly if you refrain from using it. There are also a number of special weapons to be found throughout each race, including speed bursts, mines, a leech weapon that drains your opponent's shield energy and replenishes your own, a rapier that seriously damages enemies who get too close to you, and a temporary invincibility shield.
In its current state, XGRA offers three modes of play. In the arcade mode, you simply select from any of the available bikes in the game, choose a track, and then go at it in a single race by yourself or with a friend. The time trial mode is set up similarly, but the goal is rather to achieve the best lap and race times possible. While these modes are a nice distraction, the game's true depth lies in the season mode. In it, you'll begin by choosing one of the game's eight racers, each a different personality with his or her own strengths and weaknesses in the categories of agility, weight, and balance. Once you've done so, you'll be taken to what is essentially a practice circuit, where you'll play three races against anonymous computer opponents. If you place well enough in the practice circuit, you can advance to the big leagues.
Once you've hit the major circuits, you'll have more options in front of you. Advancing from circuit to circuit becomes harder, as you'll have to place well in each race to earn enough points to move on. Also, you'll be presented with a contract in each race. Contracts are essentially side missions that involve some sort of relatively easy-to-accomplish goal, like destroying a particular racer, coming in second place or higher, or turning in a record lap time. Completing these objectives and generally performing well during the season mode allows you to unlock new bikes and upgrades for existing bikes and your racer.
When it comes to visuals, XGRA is definitely an improvement on the previous entries in the series. There are eight different environments in the game, each with two tracks that have completely different layouts, are extremely large, and feature lots of paths, twists, turns, loops, and interactive elements, such as destructible gun towers that try to shoot you down as you race. When comparing the PlayStation 2 version of the game with the Xbox and GameCube versions we saw at E3, the PS2 installment lags a bit. There were a few frame rate issues, with at least one or two sections of every track spurring a noticeable drop in frame rate. Additionally, we came across a few rough collision issues in some of the tracks, where solid objects could be driven through and you'd occasionally find yourself stuck inside a wall or barrier. Hopefully, this sort of stuff will be sorted out before the game ships.
XGRA also features not one, but two distinct soundtracks in the dance and rock genres. Upon your initial startup of the game, you'll be given the option of choosing either dance or rock, and depending on which you choose, you'll get 10 different tracks in that style. Though a final list of artists was not available, we were able to recognize a fair amount of BT songs on the dance side of things. Unfortunately, an option to mix the two genres together didn't appear to be available. The rest of the game's sound presentation is about what you'd expect. The weapons all make appropriate sounds, the explosions are amply intense, and the game's engine sounds seem to have been improved to sound more bike-like. There isn't much in the way of dialogue in the game, save for taunts thrown at you by opposing racers and some words of encouragement from your racing-team leader.
XGRA is about a month away from release, and while it definitely still needs some work, the game is shaping up nicely. The racing action is fast and furious, and the newly designed combat system adds to the frenetic nature of the game. If Acclaim Studios Cheltenham can polish up the graphics and collision a bit, there's no reason why XGRA shouldn't come out a winner. XGRA: Extreme-G Racing Association is scheduled for a July 30 release on all three console platforms.