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XGRA [game information]
   Version Tested: PAL
   Genre: Racing
   Publisher: Acclaim
   Developer: Acclaim

They stand for Extreme-G Racing Association, if you didn’t know already. Acclaim’s disregard for grammar is matched only by the disregard for your senses, as the fourth installment of the futuristic racer maintains the visual flair established by its forbearers. In succinct, soundbitten terms: This is the most disorientating games series in the world... ever!

And possibly the murkiest game ever, though there is plenty of competition for that heralded gaming position. The bikes are murky, the tracks are murky and the environment is incredibly murky. Either Acclaim’s monitors are all tuned too high, or someone borrowed the yellow crayons from the designer’s desk and didn’t give them back.

Gamestyle remembers previous EG’s somewhat fondly. The speed was impressive, the track design vivid and the N64 controls were unique, the lightbike (light as in future, as in Tron, not the weight of the vehicle). For XGRA, the gameplay has not been so much evolved, the best word would be streamlined. The racing association provides the structure for a career mode. After qualifying and choosing a team, you have a list of races with specific objectives to complete to unlock bonus weapons and designs.

It’s nicely presented, in a low key way. Less is more, so the sparse text can be forgiven. The pre-race voiceovers are interesting. The first is a faintly robotic female, who announces the track name, the race type and the weather (which affects racing lightbikes in the year 2080) Enter a cut scene around the track complete with commentators at the Sinn (sports interactive news) network. Amusingly, they discuss the history and the geography of the track, and banter about the track history and the upcoming race. They have an old ex-pro matched with cocky young thing dynamic, and their presence is welcome. Sadly, most of the time there is just one commentator reading a laborious voiceover. As what they are talking about is completely fictitious, the temptation to skip it and get on with the racing is high. No maps are shown or the track, leaving you to discover which of the multiple pathways are the best to take.

The weapons system has been markedly overhauled. To choose a weapon or power-up, pickups scattered around the track must be collected. There is a hierarchy to the power-ups. Three will get you an acceleration boost, whilst six will get a Darth Maul-esque double-edged ‘rapier’. You can put your selection on hold before you use it and wait for an opportune moment to use them. Decisions have to be made- take the boost now, or store up for a big kill later?

In certain races, the objective is to kill another rider. This is made difficult by the tiny gauge that you have to work out where you are and where the other rider is. There is no information telling you the state of their health, as per Quantum Redshift. Which is ironic, as too much information is flagged up on the screen. The HUD in XGRA is one of the least helpful in existence. There are bars in the corner for you shields and weapons- and for their existence to serve any true purpose, you need them to be clear at a glance, and sadly they are not.

The racing is pretty good. The speeds that you can reach are excellent, so this provides the crux of a decent racer. The controls can be tinkered with to increase the braking power or downforce. Crashing into walls is usually to be avoided but doesn’t really hit either your speed or your shield to deter you from this tactic. This is possibly for the best, as sometimes you can help but get taken in by the track twisting and turning below a hill that you’ve just embarked upon. At top speeds, everything blurs, and your bike gets careered around like a ball bearing on a pinboard table.

A lot of the game is murky so things are hard to see, like turns, forks and obstacles. Even if you turn up the brightness on your TV you’ll hit something. The track design is imaginative- a point always worthy of praise from Gamestyle - yet unmemorable. The track names of F-Zero and Quantum Redshift mean more than they do here. It is quite possible to race the same track twice and cover about a third different space. While this freedom is appreciated, the rewards are not in the same league as the best of the genre. How often would you want to play something where you go very fast what can’t quite see what, and bounce of things while you do so? The desire to play on sadly descends rapidly.

XGRA isn’t great. The playability is higher than the disappointing last installment of Wipeout, thanks to the sheer speed, though there’s nothing really new here. Using different rules for races in career mode adds an extra dimension to the gameplay, yet the whole experience suffers from murky environment syndrome. The overall package is distinctly ‘vanilla’, to borrow from DVD jargon as the only extra features being a gallery and a time attack mode.. It’s got speed, yeah, yeah, and the tracks are wild, but it won’t last you until Christmas.

Reviewed By: Chris Faires


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