PAX 2007: Indianapolis 500 Legends hands on

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Like Nex, I ventured to our meeting with Destineer with a bit of trepidation. A game about stock car racing? That’s more or less the human equivalent of running in a hamster wheel, isn’t it? As someone who thinks that Forza Motorsport‘s most important contribution is antiquated racism, I’m not exactly a good candidate to give Destineer’s Indy 500 Legends it’s fair shake.

Also, like Nex, I was happily surprised by what might be the sleeper hit of the Wii racing scene. 

Indianapolis 500 Legends is, in many regards, a standard racing game; however, the context in which it’s presented fundamentally changes the game is played. For example, when one plays Motorstorm, one finds himself in any ol’ desert, with a group of relatively similar vehicles from which to choose. Players run the race, pick a different vehicle, and run another one, ad infinitum, until next year’s iteration is released. If you’re feeling zesty, you can even play with friend. Over and over.

Indy 500 Legends, on the other hand, follows a group of renowned stock car drivers through out the 10 glory years between 1961 and 1971. You see, during this time, men were real men, stock cars were built from the ground up without regard to trivialities like “safety” and were rolled up-hill (both ways) to the race track, only to explode shortly after.

In any case, the gameplay consists on a variety of missions based on real events. For example, as A.J. Foyt, a mission might include having to pass your arch-nemesis Eddie Sachs in two laps in order to win the 1961 Indy 500 or successfully navigate the pile-up that claimed the lives of a number of drivers in 1964.

The Wii remote acts as a steering wheel and is surprisingly tight. Finding just the right sensitivity can take several minutes, but once I found it, I was cruising with ease. I wasn’t, however, winning with ease. While I wouldn’t say that Indy 500 Legends is hard, per se, it’s certainly unforgiving. If you crash into a wall and fall into last place, you’ll be hard-pressed to catch up. It doesn’t punish bad drivers as much as it rewards good ones.

There are also pit-stop mini-games, in which players must successfully complete a series of tasks within a certain amount of time. I also failed at these — instead of filling my gas tank, I set my driver on fire. He didn’t seem to mind though, as the “agonizing death” animations aren’t finished yet.

That being said, Destineer are very much in polish mode — the textures and renders could use some work, and the game really doesn’t like it when players crash into the pit area (like Nex did). It actually packs itself up and goes home to pout. The game should be available in the fall, so Destineer has plenty of time to add some pizazz to “The Greatest Spectacle in Racing.”

While I doubt Indianapolis 500 Legends turn me into a fan of the genre, it is shaping up to be a very solid title with a suprising amount of depth. If you’re into racing and have a Wii, give it a look. If not, give it at least a rental — the tight controls and variety of missions will definitely keep you entertained for a weekend.

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