XGRA: Extreme-G Racing Association is the latest game in the underrated, futuristic racing series from Acclaim. The last title was well received, but developer Acclaim made several drastic changes to the sequel with varying levels of success. It's a solid game, but some of the changes didn't seem to have a positive effect on the game, making XGRA a step sideways for the series rather than a step forward.
If you've ever played a futuristic racing game, you'll have a pretty darn good idea of what to expect from XGRA. It's got super-fast bikes, tracks in a wide variety of interesting locations, and courses with all sorts of twists, turns, corkscrews, loops, and shortcuts. The meat of the gameplay is in the career mode, where you will compete in various circuits, and based on your success, earn offers to drive for more prestigious and successful teams. Technically this mode is supposed to have a story behind it, but the storytelling is done during the pre-race flyovers, and it's rather insignificant.
After you win a circuit, you will be offered a position with a new team, and you'll get yourself a new and improved ride. It would have been nice to earn some cash towards purchasing upgrades, but you don't. The whole mode ends up feeling really shallow, and giving you more control over your racer and bike would have been a nice way of adding some depth.
Other than the absence of a sliding button, the game feels much like a standard high-speed racing game. There are arrows on the track that give you a boost, but there is no boost button to speak of. The lack of a boost button isn't normally an issue, but it doesn't leave you craving more speed on any straightaway that doesn't have a speed boost on it. The default controls are a bit uncomfortable, as the accelerator is mapped to the R1 button, but the second control option, which is more conventional with accelerate as the X button is more comfortable.
The game's controls are very loose and take quite a bit of time to get used to. When taking long sweeping turns, it's not a big issue, but when going through sharp, quick turns they just don't get the job done. You'll find yourself slamming into walls, losing speed as well as your valuable shields.
Before each race you will be given a secondary objective to spice things up. This task ranges from simply finishing ahead of someone to blowing up a rival. The game's weapon system, while improved, just doesn't add much to the game. The weapons are too unbalanced, and there's generally too much going on during a race to really worry about what weapon you have and who you need to hit, while you're focused on winning the race.
XGRA's tracks are huge, but not any different from any other game in the genre. They're not that bad, but they just aren't that interesting either. Mars, underwater, and a power-plant in the Amazon are just a few of the tracks on which you'll race. The same goes for the game's vehicles - they look ok, but they aren't cool enough that you're going to spend any time admiring them.
The frame rate is generally solid, though it does slow down when the action gets really hectic. The game is all about speed, but the vehicles never seem to be going as fast as they are supposed to be. You can break the sound barrier, which produces a cool blurring effect, but sometimes when you're cruising alone along a straightaway, you just can't get a good sense of speed.
Not to sound like a broken record, but from an audio standpoint, XGRA doesn't do anything to separate itself from the pack. You are able to choose from either a dance soundtrack or a selection of rock tunes. If you're feeling really saucy, you can choose both and then, well then you get to hear both rock and dance! It's zany! During the race, the drivers will blab back and forth to one another, and it's just lame. The voices and phrases sound so ridiculous that you can't take them seriously, so there's really no point.
As hard as I've been on the game, it does manage to be fun to play, at least for a weekend. There are tons of tracks to choose from, and once you get a handle on the controls, the racing is fun, and the races are generally close. That said, there's no reason to go out and buy this if you've had your fill of Wipeout or the Gamecube's F-Zero. It's worth a rental, but not a purchase, unless you're really a futuristic racing fan.
10/27/2003 Aaron Thomas