Codemasters isn't the first to add career elements to a racing simulation; in fact the idea has been in the genre for as long as I can remember. However, Pro Race Driver isn't your normal racing simulation, nor does it simply have a basic career mode. Developed and published by the UK based company, Codemasters have attempted to combine a storyline based RPG element into the title, but is there a place in the genre for this type of game, and how does it perform on the track?
Players take on the role of a youthful and talented driver, Ryan McKane. Your career starts with virtually nothing, a lowly test driver cast in the shadow of a highly successful older brother. To move up the ranks, you must win races and championships, not an easy task to say the least. With rivals around every corner, not only does Pro Race Driver deal with the drivers' life on the track, it also adds personal and emotional elements outside of the track that few if any racing titles portray.
Featuring driver's careers that can surpass twenty years, Codemasters have presented a huge variety of championships in which to compete, thirteen in total. Some of these championships include the TOCA Tour, AVESCO V8 Supercars, Pacific Challenge, and many others from around the world. Along with the championships, Pro Race Driver includes thirty-eight real-to-life racetracks worldwide, from the high-banked Bristol Motor Speedway and Sears Point Raceway in the United States, to Nurburgring in Germany, and many others in between. Not only are the championships and tracks numerous in size and length, Pro Race Driver also includes forty-two different cars for use, including but not limited to the Lexus IS200, Mitsubishi Mirage, Ford Falcon, Holden Commodore SS (VX) and Chevrolet Monte Carlo with a stock car body kit. The number of vehicles available for use is simply astounding, and really offers something for any fan of the genre.
Graphically, Pro Race Driver is a beautiful title in nearly every way. Lighting and texturing are wonderfully presented, and each model is beautifully crafted. Vehicles and tracks are extremely detailed, and very close to their real-life counterparts. Although the cut-scenes are nicely developed, in some instances they come off as not overly fluent, and somewhat "blocky" in nature. As with the graphics, the audio presented in Pro Race Driver is a nice blend of realistic sound effects and an appropriate soundtrack. Featuring 5.1 Dolby Digital Surround sound and EAX, Pro Race Driver offers a scalable sound model for both low and high-end systems. Skids and accidents sound quite realistic, and the speech during the cut scenes is relatively well acted for a title of this genre.
Entertaining gameplay and a realistic physics model are easily two of the most important elements in any racing simulation, and Codemasters have long been known for developing some of the better driving models available today. The Colin McRae Rally series is a very well developed and extremely realistic representation of the real-life championships; unfortunately Pro Race Driver doesn't follow this trend. It is evident that the game has been ported from its console counterparts, and the driving model is a good example of this. It is hard to call Pro Race Driver a simulation, as handling can become quite erratic at times and simply does not have a realistic feel to it. The force feedback effects are nice, unfortunately the physics engine is simply nowhere in comparison to say a racing simulation like Sierra's NASCAR Racing 2003 Season. The gameplay itself is very arcade oriented, however Pro Race driver is still an entertaining title, although it may not live up to the standard of diehard fans of the simulation genre.
Damage is an element very important to any racing simulation, and the developers at Codemasters have taken the time to add a very versatile damage model to the title. Pro Race Driver features a very unique damage model never seen in any PC racing game to date. This new damage system is called FEM (Finite Element Modeling), and is most prominently used in crash test simulations. This engine determines and simulates the deformation of both the interior and exterior of a car during a collision; unfortunately the results are not as accurate as the technology. Initially, the damage effects are quite interesting, as a totally different approach has been taken; yet its lasting appeal is quite limited. Windows shatter, bumpers drag along the asphalt until they fall off the car, yet the results are always the same with little variation. When the developers initially announced this technology, I was expecting something similar to that of MGI's Viper Racing, released back in the mid-1990's, as it had a completely unique and extremely versatile damage model. Although the title itself wasn't a huge success, it added a whole new dimension to the genre, and damage-wise Pro Race Driver could learn a thing or two from that title.
Unfortunately, all is not well in the world of Pro Race Driver. Another element that has been obviously ported from the console version is the abysmal artificial intelligence. Extremely erratic opponents bump and bang with each other like no other cars exist on the track, it is a rarity when you do not finish a race without damage due to contact with a swerving AI controlled competitor. This poor artificial intelligence make many of the races extremely frustrating, these opponents will often not only bump you from behind but often run right over you like your car does not exist. The lackluster AI really takes away from the longevity of the title, something that definitely needs to be addressed.
Pro Race Driver is an interesting combination of both the racing and RPG genres, generally a successful title. Although the racing model isn't as realistic as diehard simulation fans may be seeking, it is a nice blend of arcade-oriented gameplay with a new approach to damage modeling. Beautiful graphics are easily the strongest element of this title, and with a massive career mode and a wide expanse of tracks and cars, Pro Race Driver should be able to offer up something to nearly any fan of the genre.