Earlier this year, developer Creat Studios released an RC racing game for the PlayStation 2 called Smash Cars. It was a pleasant surprise, featuring some simple yet effective racing mechanics, a nice selection of game modes, pretty impressive graphics, and an always-pleasing budget price tag. Now, a few months after Smash Cars' release, Creat has another RC racing game to its name in RC Cars for the PC. Despite the name change and a switch from previous publisher Metro3D to Whiptail Interactive, RC Cars is an almost exact duplicate of Smash Cars, though with a number of the PS2 game's previous modes and features stripped-out in favor of a more streamlined, PC-centric interface and an online multiplayer mode. Whatever Creat's reasoning may be for the changes made in bringing RC Cars to the PC, the unfortunate truth is that much of what made its original RC racing game so much fun has sadly been lost in translation.
RC Cars features three different RC car types and 10 total tracks. Cars start out fairly simplistic, but you can upgrade them by playing the game's championship mode. Championship is essentially a progressive mode through every track in the game. Winning races earns you cash prizes, which you can use to upgrade your car's engine, speed boost, and tires. Each track also has a required buy-in fee, so you'll have to keep your funds at a certain level to be able to progress through the mode. Furthermore, the game features a basic quick race mode where you can play a single race with any of the available cars or tracks. The ghost race mode pits you up against ghost versions of yourself in previous races. Additionally, there's a multiplayer mode with two-player split-screen for a single computer and an online offering for up to six racers. Presumably, the online mode involves a lobby that you can create or join--if started by another player. Unfortunately, during our weeklong efforts to find some online competition in RC Cars, no one ever popped up to race against. Though we'd like to assume the online play works properly, the fact that nobody showed up online in the week following the game's release, coupled with a number of mode omissions made to RC Cars (which further separate it from its PS2 counterpart), like the highly entertaining "stunt" and "dark horse" race modes, really limits the game's appeal.
Despite the lack of available play modes, RC Cars is still pretty fun from a gameplay standpoint. One of RC Cars' best aspects is simply how intuitively it plays and handles. Your basic controls involve an accelerator, brake, hand brake, jump button, and turbo button. The jump button is useful for jumping over various gaps and objects that you will frequently encounter in each level, while the turbo button, as you might expect, gives you a temporary speed burst as you hold it down. How long your turbo boost lasts depends on how often you use it, as a meter near your speedometer drops progressively the longer you hold down the button. The turbo boost does recharge when you're not using it. The game itself handles very well, and the car physics are surprisingly well done, though they're not always terribly realistic. Furthermore, we found that both a controller and a standard keyboard control scheme are equally playable, so regardless of what style of play you're accustomed to, you'll be able to pick up RC Cars pretty easily.
RC Cars' other most appealing aspect is its tracks. The tracks in the game are modeled after real-world environments, though they're not the sort of places where you'd typically race RC cars. You'll find yourself in a number of different locales, such as an abandoned mine, a tropical beach in some sort of third-world country, and even a military base. Every environment has its own roster of interactive elements that will attempt to screw you up as you race. For instance, the military base features soldiers who wander around while guarding the facility. If you get too close, they'll start shooting at you, and if you're hit, you'll crash. You'll also encounter dogs that will try to eat you, beachgoers who will kick you, and even cars and trucks that you'll have to drive underneath and around to avoid being crushed.
Aside from the assorted interactive elements, all of the different tracks look pretty good too. They don't sport a ton of polygons or bump-mapped textures, but the art and design for each track properly capture the atmosphere of the representative environments. All of the different cars also look very nice and show a lot more detail than the game's PS2 counterpart, which includes such minor PC touches as more light-reflective car bodies in addition to how the cars will become progressively dirtier depending on how many times you end up rolling your car. The game runs consistently, with only minimal slowdown and a few apparent clipping issues. Unfortunately, we did take note of some apparent compatibility issues in terms of graphics cards. On a PC running a Radeon 9800 card, with the most up-to-date DirectX and video drivers, we would frequently have trouble starting the game up and wouldn't even receive an error message. Oftentimes, we would have to restart our computer before the game would start up at all. This may have something to do with the fact that the game does come packaged with DirectX 8.1, and, as such, there may be compatibility issues with more recent versions of DirectX. Once you get the game running, however, you shouldn't notice any problems at all.
There isn't a whole lot to RC Cars' audio presentation, but it gets the job done. Most of the game's soundtrack is composed of generic techno music that isn't all that bad but is fairly repetitive. In-game effects are all quite standard, with the buzzing sounds of the RC engines and the usual catalog of crash and smash effects. There are a few cool effects that present themselves from time to time, such as the retro-sounding gunshot effect that shows up on the military base track, but for the most part, the sound effects are pretty standard.
For what it is, RC Cars isn't a bad game. However, the distinct lack of features, compared to Creat's previous RC racing title, is a pretty big disappointment. There's just not much here beyond the scant few single- and two-player modes and the currently vacant online mode. While the game is still certainly fun to play, these modes aren't enough to keep you entertained for very long. If you've got a serious itch to race some RC Cars on your PC, then the game is worth checking out, but barring any serious itches, you're likely better off looking elsewhere.