The Force is strong with Racer, which succeeds as both a racing game and a Star Wars game. There really isn't a lot of competition for Star Wars: Episode I: Racer on either front. The driving genre hasn't had a lot of hits in the past few months, and the only other Star Wars: Episode I game is the disappointing Phantom Menace. But even if Racer had to compete with a host of other good titles for your interest, you'd still want to head over to Tatooine and suit up for the Boonta Eve classic (that's Star Wars talk for getting in gear for some pod racing). Racer is a fast and fun racing game, one that evokes memories of the PlayStation hits Wipeout and Wipeout XL. It has a little Star Wars flair to add to its appeal, but the pure racing action alone is enough to make this game a rewarding experience.
Racer's best feature is its speed. The tracks streak by at a quick pace, especially in tunnels, canyons, and corridors. The illusion of zooming through circuitous levels at 500-plus miles per hour is conveyed quite successfully. It's a sensation that I haven't felt since playing Wipeout on the PlayStation, and I think it's this similar evocation of speed that made me like this game initially. Then I discovered other things about the game that reinforced my positive opinion of Racer. I like that there is an appreciable difficulty curve in the game. The beginning amateur circuit is quite easy, and you'll feel really good about yourself as you race to the number one position in race after race. However, once you move up to the semipro and then pro circuits, you'll find that the other racers are more aggressive, the tracks much more treacherous, and the races just plain harder. Take it up a notch to the invitationals, and you'll notice the racers always taking the shortcuts and really banging into you and leaving you in the dust.
I also like the upgrade and parts-buying aspect. If you continue to win races, you earn money that you can use to upgrade your pod. You can improve turning, braking, acceleration, speed, and several other areas of your vehicle. Or, if you don't have enough money, you can go to Watto's junk pile and scrounge up some parts at a heavily discounted price. You're able to choose from a handful of pod racers in the beginning of the game, and more will open up for you as you win new races. I stuck with Anakin most of the way, but there are over a dozen racers from which to choose. They all have different ratings for handling, speed, and other statistics, but I didn't notice much appreciable difference between the pods.
I was pleased to find that not only were there eight different worlds to race on, but that each world offered a different track for each circuit. Thus, you'll race on the ice world of Ando Prime three times, one per circuit, but each track will be different enough to constitute a totally new challenge. The graphics for the game are good overall, although the trails left when racing through snow, water, or dust, seem awfully blocky and unfinished. Some levels look particularly good, such as the antigrav mining tunnels on the prison planet Oovo IV and the underwater cities of Aquilaris. Others, like the ghost colony of Ord Ibanna, could have been better realized (the fact that I couldn't fly through this track's netting to plummet to my death from the floating city really bothered me).
I would have to say the sound is decent, although I hated every time the race commentators cried, "It's a new lap record!" It made even less sense when I was in tenth position. How can I make a lap record and lose the race? Anakin's "I won! I won!" exclamation was grating at times, but I liked the angry cries of the aliens when I passed them, as well as their smug taunts when they passed me. Watto humming the Mos Eisley cantina ditty and Anakin humming the Imperial March were also nice touches.
But all is not well on the pod-racing circuit. As good a game as Racer is, it suffers from a few flaws. First, the minimap is bad. The entire graphic for the track map looks like some blurry port from a console. The track is shown as a blocky dotted line, and the competing pods are so hard to discern because they are the same size and nearly the same color as the dots that make up the track. The poor map exacerbates the second problem I have with the game: confusing track layout. Like I said earlier, I like pretty much all the tracks. They are colorful and make for some exciting and windy racing action. However, some of them are also damn confusing to race. Sometimes you can't tell which way you are supposed to go, either because the path blends too closely into the surrounding terrain, or there are no markings pointing you in the right direction, or certain graphic elements look like pathways and turn out to be dead-ends. The track map hardly helps because it doesn't show enough of the track. The third issue I have with the game is a request: Give us some weapons! This game would have been excellent if we could drop some spikes, bombs, or grease trails behind us to impede opponents. I understand that rockets and missiles wouldn't work because the pod racing is based on the movie, but LucasArts could have squeezed in dynamic sabotage, such as throwing garbage behind you or casting some grease bombs or spikes on the track. Once you unlock Sebulba you can use his side-shooting flame jet, and that wasn't even in the movie, so I know the designers could have tried to squeeze in a few more sabotage weapons.
Multiplayer gameplay is fun, because the game itself is fun, but without a way to add computer players to multiplayer races, the game loses some of its appeal.
Overall, though, Racer offers good gameplay. Its sense of speed is great, especially when you are whipping past corridors and canyons at 600mph. The graphics for the most part look good; the tracks are plentiful, varied, and interesting; and the racing experience is plain fun.