Racer Revenge could only have been conjured by hatred for me specifically
Oh, I loved Star Wars: Episode 1: Racer. I admit that it’s based on the most pointlessly ostentatious scene in a bad movie, but in video game form, it was divine. High-speed racing through dangerous tracks. Weaving through narrow passages while managing your engine temperature and damage. It was a thrilling early 3D racing game. Completely top shelf.
I had known for years that there was a sequel to it on PS2, Star Wars: Racer Revenge, but I also heard it wasn’t very good. I didn’t even try to rationalize that maybe — just maybe — the press wasn’t hot on the first game, either. It reviewed about as well as a stubbed toe, so, if I dare to dream, the reception to the sequel could just be a repeat of that. 19 years after release, I finally jumped in to find out for myself whether or not I had missed out on something special.
I did not.
I would have been happy with a new Racer that simply added additional tracks, updated graphics, and that’s it. Don’t polish what already glows. Racer’s Revenge is not that. Racer Revenge isn’t even close to that. While I hate to lay my cards down early, Racer Revenge is the most disappointed I have ever been by a sequel. It is like someone took a list of everything I liked about the first game and went out of their way to destroy it.
The concept of Racer Revenge is, at the very least, identical to the first game. Pod racing is back, go jump in your future space chariot and win races. Upgrade your parts using your winnings and aim for first place. Try not to die.
There’s certainly a lot that’s familiar here, and if you squint really hard, the two games are nearly indistinguishable. Indeed, for the first race or two, you might actually fool yourself into believing that this is just that fresh sequel we all wanted. Sure, there’s a tweak or two that may seem like a step back, but it’s still pod racing. But the more you race, the more you realize that’s not true.
The central problem of Racer Revenge is that focus has been moved to combat. Combat; something that was not really an option in the first game. That’s fine. F-Zero X and GX both allowed you to take out the competition as a legitimate strategy to climbing the ranks. It was fun! It marked the person who was trailing you, and if you killed them, they got no points and were immediately bumped down the rankings.
The problem is that Racer Revenge didn’t add a combat system. You can’t shunt other racers, you don’t have weapons that allow you to strike at them. No, the best way to wear them down is to rub paint with them or ram into them repeatedly when the opportunity presents itself. This is something that was not possible in the first game because if you tried something like that, you would explode.
Everything would make you explode in Episode I: Racer, which was part of the fun. Look at a wall the wrong way, and your engine would suddenly deconstruct itself. You were gliding on a dangerous, rickety vehicle through terrifying tracks. Your skill meant the difference between life and a twisted wreck. That has been completely stripped away here.
This has a massive impact on the game because the fragility of your pod has been stripped away. You can suddenly bump walls, scrape against them, slam into them head-on, and your damage gauge will just decrease. But you can still repair yourself! So, just shrug it off, you baby, and get back on the track.
The only interesting feature of the combat focus in Racer Revenge is that you can increase your winnings by taking out the other racers. That would be cool if any effort was spent making the combat interesting. Instead, I just ignored it in later races, because it’s hard to drive when you need to dry hump the guy next to you.
Yeah, there’s nothing to it. It’s an easy game. Sort of. To allow for combat, a very strict rubber-band AI was implemented. I don’t even remember the first game using rubber-band AI at all, but here it is prominently. Scrape a wall at the end of a course and watch your lead just disappear because someone was glued to your ass the whole time. Should have killed that guy instead, I guess. Should have scratched up his pod until he died of embarrassment.
Speaking of embarrassment, the tracks are terrible. There’s no actual variety to them. Oh, sure, they take place on different planets, the backgrounds are different, but in contrast to the rather creative death roads of the first game, they’re all just humdrum circuits. If they even did try to put more hazards on the course, they’d be more of an annoyance, since you’d just bump off them and stop dead.
But do you know what’s really humiliating? They finish the game with a remake of the Boonta Classic, amazingly recreated in the original Racer, and completely screwed up here. It’s less detailed, it’s shorter, and it’s nowhere near as challenging.
To demonstrate this, at the end of the N64 Boonta Classic, you have to roll onto your side to get through a narrow gap. In Racer Revenge, that just doesn’t exist. You can’t roll onto your side to begin with, but even if you could, missing the gap would just mean another dead stop. How thrilling.
Why would you do that? Why would you offer up such a stark comparison between the two games when you’re not even going to put up the effort to match the success of the original title? It just underlines what a disappointment it is. It’s this cherry on top, but then you realize the cherry is just a rock painted red. It’s both disappointing and causes physical pain.
Was I too gentle? Hopefully, I was able to convey why Star Wars: Racer Revenge sucks. If I was desperate to give praise, I’d say that the graphics are at least better than they were on the N64, but since the courses are so uninteresting, what use is that?
Racer Revenge is anti-fun. It took a perfectly enjoyable game and completely sucked the life out of it. The game is a laser-guided strike against my good faith. Malicious intent was key in its design; it’s the only explanation for how something so dismaying could hit the shelves. The press reaction to this, in retrospect, was too gentle. This game should have been buried. Get me my shovel, let’s get it in the ground before it manages to stink any worse.