Ultim@te Race Pro
Windows - 1998
Description of Ultim@te Race Pro
The original Ultim@te Race was developed exclusively for the PowerVR graphics accelerator, and was distributed only as part of the card's OEM game bundle. Consequently, the game never saw mainstream saturation and disappeared quietly into the nethers of computer gaming. However, those gamers that did see the game in action were treated to a graphically-stunning racing game that really deserved more hoopla than it received.
Targeting the Masses
Allow me to introduce Ultim@te Race Pro --a souped-up reincarnation of Kalisto's original creation. The game now natively supports 3Dfx in addition to PowerVR, and offers generic 3D accelerator support via Direct3D. As you would expect, the accelerated graphics are even better this time around, providing more eye-candy than you can safely blink at. The physics engine is solid, and the game's gut-wrenchingly realistic road races set a new standard of quality among arcade racers.
The gameplay is pretty standard fare, and as a arcade racing game there are few surprises. Don't get me wrong though, this isn't a complaint. It simply means that when you load up a game, you'll be treated to exactly what you're looking for. There are 16 different cars to choose from, each with a different set of performance attributes in terms of top speed, acceleration, road grip, and vehicle armor. The game also allows you to customize these attributes to your own tastes. For example, you may decide to sacrifice speed for better road grip on a track with a lot of winding turns. Unlike what we have seen in the past in games with similar systems, these tweaks really do have a profound affect on the play of the game. Different vehicle configurations offer different challenges on each of the tracks, and you'll have plenty of opportunity to test out your choices.
The box advertises 18 different tracks, but this is rather false. In reality there are only 4 unique tracks, each of which you can race in 4 different weather conditions. While Kalisto's math might differ from mine, it's a stretch of my imagination to reach 18, even after including the one training track and the one multiplayer track in the count. The person in marketing and sales who decided to pull this one by gamers certainly deserves a couple of whacks in the noggin. In any case, it is this shear lack of racing grounds that hampers Ultim@te Race Pro as a game. The four tracks present are well designed and the varying weather conditions do diversity the gameplay somewhat (more on this later), but even so, your mileage will be quite limited.
The racing itself is quite satisfying. You may choose between automatic and manual transmission modes, but either way the action is fast and good for immediate gratification. You may warm up on the training track, or race against a previous recorded image of yourself in the ghost mode. Getting a hang of the game's controls is a cinch if you've played racing games much, but it'll take some practice to get acquainted with all of the nuances of the game. You'll have to be very comfortable with making hand-brake turns, since the tracks feature sharp turns in plentiful amounts. The computer opponents, of course, are all very adept in their driving, and with 3 difficulty levels to choose from, can offer just the right challenge for players over a range of skill levels. On hard, winning can be quite challenging, with aggressive CPU drivers tenaciously maneuvering around turns and skillfully encouraging you off the road. There will be times when you'll be happy just to get out of their way.
Ultim@te Race Pro 's graphics likely represent the best of what's available now among all PC racing games. Granted, the software mode is about as fun to look at as your parents' wallpaper, but the game really roars to life with the help of a decent 3D card. Racing game staples such as fog, smoke and sparks are used to good effect, while more exotic effects such as lens flares and textured reflections are good enough to inspire their fair share of awe. I especially enjoyed the game's admirable use of weather effects. The game simulates a variety of race conditions, from a bright and sunny day, to a dark thunderstorm, and several phases in between. The illusion of rain is believably created, especially during night races. You really haven't experienced driving in foul weather until you learn to value the illumination offered by briefs flashes of lightning or the headlights of an opponent's car hugging your rear. The game's transitions sequences such as that of dusk between day and night, or the onset rain from once-clear skies are also quite well done, and smoothly integrate different driving conditions. Ultim@te Race Pro truly raises the bar of excellence in terms of graphics, providing beautiful visuals with little sacrifice to performance. The graphics are also completely customizable, with toggles and detail settings for a multitude of options, allowing the game to be customized for optimal frame-rates on a variety of systems.
In the audio department, the game also does not disappoint, although there little to truly impress either. The expected sound effects are present without exception, with the appropriate screeching of tires and roar of engines. A little more ambitious use of environmental sound effects would have made a difference though. When driving through a puddle of water, some splashing would have been nice, and when passing under a train bridge, it would have been great for the train to have made a bigger fuss of its presence. Nit-picking aside, there is little to complain about the sound effects. The music is good, but not memorable. It's spooled directly off of the CD, so the quality is quite good, and there is an ample supply of it to keep things lively throughout the races. It just lacks that extra flair to make a lasting impression, and consequently escapes being categorized as a superior soundtrack.
Ultim@te Race Pro has been touted as the ultimate multiplayer racing experience, but this is, gently put, somewhat of a hyperbole. The box carries a Mplayer label promising free Internet play, but as I quickly discovered to my dismay, the online gaming service does not yet support the game. Choosing the game's Mplayer option simply launches your web browser which calls up a page with a brief apology and a promise that game will be playable sometime in the future. The game also supports direct TCP/IP connections but finding an opponent is quite tricky without a matchmaking service. The official Ultim@te Race Pro website offers a crude web-based, bulletin board-style system that acts as a liaison between potential Internet opponents, but this is more of a head-ache than a solution. Your best bet for a multiplayer game is with a friend over a modem/serial connection or with a group of friends over a LAN's IPX protocol. Keep in mind, however, that although the game supports up to 16 players, each player will need to own a copy of the game.
In multiplayer mode, you can race on any of the standard tracks, or engage opponents in the Ultim@te Arena, an experience that can be best described as a game of vehicle deathmatch, reminiscent of multiplayer Carmageddon. A special map is used for this mode, and a damage system is introduced which facilitates the destruction of your opponent's cars. The final multiplayer option is the Rabbit Mode, and is played just as you would expect, in which one car is the rabbit and the others are the hunters. This can be a lot of fun if you manage to find half a dozen people to play against.
Quality Over Quantity?
Ultim@te Race Pro has a lot of positives going for it, and as a racing fan, it's very easy to fall in love with this game at first sight. However, once the game reaches top speed, the grinding halt to boredom is a bone-jarringly swift and painful one. There simply aren't enough tracks to provide satisfactory longevity, and the lack of any element of linear progression through the races accentuates the problem. Even something as superficial as a tournament option would have helped prolong the game's woeful lifespan. The not-so-gracious multiplayer support is also a turn-off, at least until the Mplayer situation is remedied. This is a case in which all of the right ingredients for a fantastic game are present. The game shows some flashes of brilliance, and the great graphics are hard to turn aside, but the end package is definitely lacking. Ultim@te Race Pro captured my attention, ran with it, but then ran out of fuel.
Review By GamesDomain
Captures and Snapshots
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