reviews\ Dec 7, 2002 at 7:00 pm

Total Immersion Racing - PS2 - Review

Regardless of what system that you happen to be more partial to, you certainly can’t deny that Gran Turismo 3 is one of the best driving games in the areas of gameplay, graphics, and sound. There really hasn’t been a road / LeMans style racing game to top it since it came out, but Empire Interactive and Razorworks has looked to do just that with Total Immersion Racing. While it doesn’t quite get the best of GT3, it does offer a fun and challenging driving experience that you certainly have to give them a lot of credit for.


TIR puts you in control of some of the coolest cars found in the European road racing and LeMans circuits (watch Speedvision and you’ll catch them periodically) including BMW, Audi, and Panoz for example. You can choose to play either a challenge mode or a career style of play, each being a little different. The challenge modes have you race through a varied number of tracks and races through things like endurance or manufacturer events, and winning unlocks a new car or track. The career mode, as its name implies, allows you to actually build a career in racing which includes signing contracts. After a season is over, you can elect to stay with the same team or switch which may move you up from GT (beginner) class to GTS or Pro.


Let’s talk about the career mode for a moment, since it really impressed me and had a lot going on. The concept pf signing onto a team isn’t anything new obviously, but being able to select from multiple teams and managers, each with their own attitude and vehicles, was pretty neat. The managers will also come out before and after races to tell you how well or how poorly you did, and will also give you some tips and hints before a race to help you prepare accordingly.


The other thing that managers are responsible for, which leads into my next point, is telling you about your rivals and who you’ve got to watch out for. TIR has implemented an emotion engine into the game which will cause AI drivers to be more on the defensive, more aggressive, more confident, or even who has it out for you. If you knock an opponent off the road for example, you can bet that they will carry a grudge and will come up to get some revenge. Maybe it won’t be in that race, but the next one. If you block out an opponent at the finish line so they can’t pass, they can get more aggressive. However, if they happen to pull off some good moves during the race, they can get really confident and not careful enough which leads to mistakes. The engine worked surprisingly well, and added some additional things to look out for.


The difficulty in TIR was pretty good as well, and each race option will have you select amateur, professional, or legend difficulty, and each one reflects pretty accurately. The harder modes make the AI drivers a little smarter and less prone to mistakes, while the amateur difficulty provides a good challenge that doesn’t allow you to be sloppy, but doesn’t force you to drive perfectly. Spinning into the grass won’t knock you out for good, for example, but if you knock an AI opponent into the dirt don’t think that he is gone and forgotten, since he will be right back at you within a half a lap or so.


There were only a couple of gameplay gripes that I had with TIR overall, one of which being the control. The steering on the cars isn’t horrendous or anything, but it does seem to be a lot looser than some games I have played. A slight touch on the control stick will cause you to turn pretty heavily when you first start playing it, so some replays are pretty funny to watch as you swerve around periodically to get it together.


The other gripe that I had comes in the overall demolition derby gameplay that can ensue with a rival or the teammate of one. Sometimes you will find yourself playing “let’s see who can push the other off the road first” rather than focusing on racing and since this isn’t the goal of the game it just seemed like a little much at times. It got bad enough during one race that I think the AI driver of the BMW team was only looking to broadside me around a corner … which he did a few times. Some cars that you’re not rivals with will also be unforgiving if you get into their turning path, and the same pushing matches may break out randomly a few times during the race.


Graphically, TIR makes good use of the PS2’s capabilities. The cars will reflect light and dark changes as they drive around the track and pass into tree covering or darker areas, and the replays show the same thing. It’s not quite the GT3 level of detail, but the cars look nice and there is a nice blurring effect in the distance. Some darker races, like in the evening, can cause the track and background to seemingly fuse together in some places and make it harder to see, but the developers threw in a nifty little direction arrow which not only tells you what turn is coming up, but will also color code itself to tell you how sharp or gradual it is.


The sound was also very impressive as well, and the sounds of the rumbling or whirring car engines were accompanied by the vacuum sounds of turbo chargers kicking on at high speed. The tires will screech, not too excessively, and the music for both the selection screens and the race itself was a nice blend of jazzy or techno sounds which sometimes seemed more in line with Wipeout … but never got annoying or seemed really out of place.


Overall, this definitely won’t make it to the throne of PS2 racing titles, but it provides enough replayability, unlockable extras, and fun to last for a while … despite the looser controls and some bump and drive gameplay which seems more in line for your local arcade. If you have GT3 and are looking for another racing title for the $19.99 range that won’t disappoint, look no further than this. Great job to Empire Interactive and Razorworks. 


Gameplay: 7.9
Lots of tracks, a good selection of cars to unlock, and some cool race modes make up the bulk of this game. The tracks have some good variations in looks and include some sharp turns and hills here and there. The overall feeling can seem a little arcadey to the die hard realism fan, and the loose controls don’t seem to accurate from a physics perspective, but the customization of the cars and handling along with the actual models from the GT circuit look great. There is a lot of replayability and this game won’t get beat for a while.  


Graphics: 7.8
The graphics and track models looked awesome, and the cars and lighting effects … while not the best … looked really good next to most other things I’ve seen. There were some issues in darker track areas with some scenery blending, there was some pop up in the replays, and some minor slowdown issues occasionally … but ultimately nothing that will take away from the overall enjoyment of the game since these weren’t constant problems.


Sound: 8.0
The music has a good mix to it, even if some tracks seem a little too futuristic for this type of game. The car engine sounds and the collisions were decent as well, and nothing which felt out of place or will disappoint.


Difficulty: Medium
There are three difficulty settings, all of which seemed pretty accurate to me. There is a challenge on any level that you play on, and there are a bunch of things to help you get used to the game which can be turned on and off like driver and braking assistance or anti lock brakes.  


Concept: 8.0
While this isn’t going to grab the #1 spot, it’s a darned good racing game that did a lot of things right. Some minor tweaking in a sequel may just move it up the ladder …


Multiplayer: 7.7
Two players can go head to head in single race mode, but adding in some extras like maybe team racing through a season or mission based modes (pick up the most “whatevers” first) would have been really neat.


Overall: 7.9
It’s not perfect, but it’s a lot better and a lot less glitchy than a ton of other racers out there that I have played. After you get used to the controls it’s a lot of fun, and fans of racing games should pick it up especially for the $19.99 price tag. Here’s great gift idea for the little Mario Andredi Jr. on your list this year.   


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