Last year, Acclaim released F355 Challenge for the Sega Dreamcast. It was a superb racing game that featured one of the most respected vehicle manufacturers in automotive racing: Ferrari. With the release of Ducati World Racing Challenge, Acclaim was undoubtedly hoping to capture that same essence using yet another revered name in Italian racing. Unfortunately, while the game boasts about 40 different Ducati motorcycles that span the length of the company's storied existence since World War II, Ducati World Racing Challenge is severely hampered by its poor control, obsolete graphics, and bad sound.
Ducati World Racing Challenge is split up into two distinct gameplay modes--quick race and Ducati life--the latter of which makes up the majority of the game. Similar to the Gran Turismo games for the PlayStation and the evolution mode in EA's Need for Speed: Porsche Unleashed, this open-ended mode lets you choose from a number of racing events throughout the history of Ducati's 50-year product line. You start Ducati life with $10,000 with which to buy a bike, helmet, and leathers. You'll only be able to afford a cheap bike initially, but you can gain more money by competing in the many racing events available. Most of these events have some sort of prerequisite that you need to meet before being allowed to compete--such as possessing a certain class of license or bike--and by successfully completing the events, you'll be rewarded with new bikes, hidden tracks, and prize money. You can use prize money to stock your garage full of Ducatis that range from classics from the '50s and '60s to modern-day beasts like the 996SPS and 748. The game lets you squeeze more performance from your bike by letting you upgrade various parts like the gearbox, exhaust, brakes, wheels, tires, and clutch.
The quick-race mode is similar to Ducati life, but access to some of the more exotic Ducatis and racetracks isn't as restricted, as there isn't any kind of resource model to keep the high-end bikes out of your reach. But as in Ducati life, the various races in this mode include vintage class, modern class, and special events, and you can compete against the clock in addition to the computer-controlled opponents.
However, despite the breadth of racing options available in the game, Ducati World Racing Challenge suffers from serious problems. The first of these that you'll notice is the game's outdated graphics. The tracks are all very sparse--course objects like bridges and grandstands are lacking in detail, and 2D sprites are used liberally to represent peripheral objects like trees. The bike and rider models are also disappointing. The textures are washed out and fuzzy, and the bikes themselves are so rough-hewn that they practically look like they've been mangled in an accident. The game lets you play from three different camera views--one third-person view and two first-person angles--but the first-person views really limit your peripheral vision, making it impossible to see any bikers who aren't directly in front of you.
The game's sound is unacceptable. While the fast-paced tune that plays through the various menus in Ducati World Racing Challenge is rather catchy, the bikes' sound effects are poor. Ducatis are known for their signature growling engines and throaty exhaust notes, but some of the bikes in the game sound like blast furnaces instead. The effects of driving over different surfaces and of crashing are generic, and the incessant squealing of the tires becomes annoying almost immediately.
Yet the most glaring problem in the game is the control. The game has a number of driving tests--designed to familiarize you with maneuvering your bike, finding the best racing line, cornering, and so on--that you must pass within a set time limit, but you'll hardly put these skills to use while racing on the tracks. In fact, with a little practice, you can lap certain courses over and over without ever braking. It's a shame that the physics in the game are so simplistic, because Ducati World Racing Challenge is one of the few PC bike games to actually feature separate inputs for front and rear brakes. However, the only difference between the two is that the front brakes are slightly more powerful than the rear brakes. There are no penalties for staying on the front brake too long while entering a turn, nor will you encounter problems applying the rear brake while coming out of a corner--both of which would send you onto the asphalt in real life. Additionally, all the tracks in the game are variations of five core designs, and all five designs are forgettable. There's also no online multiplayer mode available, though there is a horizontal split-screen option for two players on one computer.
The potential of Ducati World Racing Challenge is clearly evident, and it could have been the Porsche Unleashed of motorcycle games. But while it does have some appeal for die-hard Ducati fans, Ducati World Racing Challenge is ultimately hamstrung by its many problems. In the end, Ducati World Racing Challenge proves that it takes more than a recognizable license to make a high-quality racing game.