reviews\ Apr 6, 2003 at 8:00 pm

Auto Modellista - PS2 - Review

Aerodynamic design.  Highly impressive interior.  Incredible sensation of speed.   And really cool cel-shaded graphics.  No, it's not the new PT Cruiser -- it's Auto Modellista, Capcom's first online racing game for PlayStation 2.

Packed with exciting, memorable races, Auto Modellista is more than just a pretty face.  Sure, it's got the gorgeous looks of a supermodel, and enough cool effects to keep your eyes entertained for hours.  But underneath all that makeup is a deep, less-realistic simulation racer that will have you sitting on the edge of your seat.

Starting the game off right, Capcom began Auto Modellista's development by obtaining licenses from most of the major car manufacturers: Dodge, Ford, Chevrolet, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Subaru, and one of my personal favorites, Mitsubishi.  Capcom also licensed a couple of smaller companies (like Daihatsu), most of which should be familiar to fans of the Gran Turismo series.

The cars were then placed inside an extremely entertaining game.  Everything was developed with great attention to detail, not just the graphics.  The track designs are quite surprising.  Most of them have two laps or less, and some of them are shaped more like the tracks of an off-road racer than a simulator.  (The starting line does not intersect with the finish line -- it's just one jagged, twist-and-turn-filled path.)  This may lead you to believe that the game is short.  By Gran Turismo 3 standards, it is.  Very few games last that long!  But by the standards of every other racing game, Auto Modellista is fairly long.

Cruising around in a Mazda Miata is not as smooth as you might expect.  The controls are good, but a lot less realistic than other simulation racers.  The brake and acceleration buttons are the ones to blame -- both of them have pressure-sensitive capabilities, but Auto Modellista didn't bother to take advantage of that.  Years ago, this wouldn't have garnered a second thought.  Today, however, it will catch the attention of many gamers.

To make a turn, it is actually easier to take your foot of the gas and steer carefully than it is to brake.  Braking in a turn will result in a realistic spin-out, but it just doesn't feel right to be able to turn easily just by not accelerating.  Being able to decelerate would have made the cars' handling seem so much more realistic, but to have that you need to have button pressure sensitivity.

This minor setback is quickly forgotten after about 20 minutes of play.  By that time, you will have gotten used to how a car should be handled in this game, and you'll begin to figure out ways to use the track barriers (and your opponents) to your advantage.  Opponents, for example, can make great cushioners when trying to take a sharp corner too quickly.  No body damage is received from collissions; the only penalty is a loss in speed.  That "penalty" can help you make it to the finish line before your opponents.

Auto Modellista's great gameplay was enhanced even further by the cel-shaded graphics.  Although somewhat of a gimmick early on in the technology's life, cel-shading has turned out to be a helpful tool that allows game developers to express their creativity in a whole new way.  In this game, it's almost as if Speed Racer has come to life, became fully interactive and is a thousand times more exciting.

The game is almost entirely made up of 3D models, which were then covered in cartoony textures to give them the unique look that we now have the privilege of seeing.  At top speeds, white lines appear away from your car, helping to simulate the effect of driving fast.

As the second most beautiful cel-shaded game out there (Zelda being first), it's no surprise that Auto Modellista was developed with the power of Maya.  Best known for its use in movies like Star Wars (the first two prequels), Maya has begun to make a huge name for itself in gaming.  Prior to Auto Modellista, Polyphony Digital used Maya to make Gran Turismo 3 as realistic-looking asp possible.

More important than graphics, however, is the game's replay value.  Auto Modellista packs lots and lots of replay, especially if you have a broadband Internet connection.  Broadband (cable, DSL, etc.) users can log onto Sony's online gaming network and enter races with up to seven other racers.  You must have Sony's Network Adaptor in order to play online, but that pretty much goes without saying for broadband owners.

Sadly, narrowband (dial-up) users cannot play Auto Modellista online.  The game's speedy, graphic-intensive gameplay cannot be processed fast enough for those who go online using a standard 56k modem.  This makes Auto Modellista another reason why gamers will want a Network Adaptor, and yet another reason for dial-up users to get DSL.

Reviewer's Scoring Details

Gameplay: 8.9
They say that history repeats itself.  You know what?  I think "they" were right.  In the spring of 2002, Microsoft released a racer that turned out to be one of the best of the year.  Now spring 2003 is here, and Capcom has released Auto Modellista, one of the best racing games I've played in months.  It's not just one thing that I love about this game; it's the whole package.  The track design deserves more than one note; the reward system is a nice; and while I hate to continually bring it up, the graphics are really awesome.

Graphics: 9 
Wow!  First Zelda, now Auto Modellista.  It's a shame more cel-shaded games don't look this good.  Not only does cel-shading help to set Auto Modellista apart from the crowd (most of which try to compete directly with Gran Turismo 3's realistic graphics), but it also enhances the gameplay experience.

As crazy as it sounds, I'm curious to know what a cel-shaded version of Resident Evil would look like...

Sound: 8
Auto Modellista's music is comprised of the usual instrumental rock and techno jingles, but they're much better (and less repetitive) than the music found in other racers.  The sound effects are also quite good -- just listen to those engines from the inside-the-car view!  However, the announcer's voice is annoyingly energetic, and he repeats himself far too often.

Difficulty: Medium
Auto Modellista's learning curve isn't steep enough to turn off real racing fans.  Most gamers will be challenged by the game, but it's unlikely that you'll lose any hairs over it.

Concept: 8 
Unique graphics aren't the only thing Auto Modellista can brag about.  It has excellent track design, great speed and a nice way of making the player work to obtain cars and upgrades.  Instead of racing the same cup over and over again to win money, players must win them directly by winning specific races.

Multiplayer: 8.5
I don't have broadband Internet access, but based on the two-player split-screen mode, I think it's safe to say that the online multiplayer games are loads of fun.

Overall: 8.9
Auto Modellista should automatically be on every racing fan's wish list.  It's got everything a great racing game should have (good tracks, cars, etc.), and plenty of cool cel-shaded effects to impress your bored eyes.

Want to know more about Maya and its use in games like Auto Modellista and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker?  Then check out GameZone Online’s interview with Alias|Wavefront’s industry marketing manager, Geoff Foulds.


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