As the person who put the Nintendo 64 version of Monaco Grand Prix through its paces, this reviewer wasn't expecting too much from the PlayStation port. All too often, games get "watered down" as they get translated from one system to another. Fortunately, that wasn't the case with Monaco Grand Prix. Whatever limitations the 32-bit system may have imposed on the developer, Ubi Soft has overcome them without sacrificing this game's strongest points: realism and graphics.
In terms of realism, Monaco Grand Prix provides 16 true-to-life tracks, each of which is rendered convincingly well. In addition to single race and time trial (the latter offers a "ghost" mode so you can race against your best lap), the game has arcade and full-season simulation. The arcade mode is reminiscent of Pole Position, in which racers must get to first place before time or laps run out. Since winning races unlocks additional tracks, it offers incentive to keep playing.
The game's main focus, however, is its championship simulation. This game succeeds thanks to a highly realistic physics system that effectively responds to car modifications (there are nine total, covering tires, gear boxes, and wing angles, just to name a few). Take for example a car that has too much understeer as it makes a turn. When you go back to the garage and make minute adjustments, you can see and feel the improvements when controlling the car in that same turn later on.
If that weren't enough, the physics engine makes car collisions more realistic and a bit more exciting as a result. In other games collisions are usually handled in a generic manner. In this game (aside from its arcade mode), collisions can vary depending on speed and impact. In some cases, a car will catch air and get up on two wheels. In other cases, a car will spin out. And unlike in some racing titles, skidding and spinning out isn't automatic once it begins. Imagine this reviewer's satisfaction at being caught in a skid, then correcting it halfway through and keeping control of the car without spinning out. This variety adds depth to the game's realism while forcing you to treat your car a lot nicer. Adding to that realism is an option to race between ten to 100 percent of an actual race's laps, depending on how much free time you have on your hands. Details like the ones mentioned above help boost this racing game's credentials.
The graphics also do not disappoint, mainly because of a smooth frame rate and decently rendered tracks. Although the PlayStation's limitations invariably force cases of background pop-up, they're hidden rather well by the game's designers. More importantly, at no point does the game slow down or get choppy, regardless of how many cars are onscreen. The decent graphics are augmented by nice details, including extras such as real-life ads, grass or sand coming off tires, and track marks showing the best line. Another plus in the graphics department is the game's many racing views that can be changed on the fly, including an in-cockpit view with a built-in dashboard.
As in the Nintendo 64 version, the computer AI tends to drive defensively. In the simulation mode, this works well. If you try silly moves on other drivers, chances are good that you'll spin out and wreck instead. However, in arcade races that AI profile works less effectively. You can just muscle your way through the field by outbreaking opponents or sometimes just by pushing other cars onto the grass. Although fun in a "road rage" sort of way, it dampens the skill level a bit.
If this game has one major flaw, it's that its interface lacks polish. While other titles in this genre have full commentary and in-game graphics comparable to television broadcasts, this game suffers with a clunky interface that looks imported from a first-generation racing title. The music isn't much to get fired up about either, although the game has a nice multiple-motor sound effect that's great to hear when a competitor's catching up. Finally, although there's a button that toggles a rear view, it doesn't work as well as having a smaller built-in rear-view inset - a feature other PlayStation titles have been able to incorporate.
Still, these shortcomings are a small price to pay for an otherwise solid title that is as good as - if not better than - anything else on the market in terms of pure racing simulation. Don't buy an F-1 title before first taking this game out for a spin.