Cross Racing Championship 2005
East European countries seem to take a liking to rally games, maybe along the lines of the Eristoff-principle: ‘this is a rally car, this is a rally game – the game you can buy’. All kidding aside, there are a lot of small companies in those regions that make up for the limited resources with passion and dedication.
Last year, Polish developer Techland wowed the masses with Xpand Rally and now the Hungarian Invictus brings us Cross Racing Championship 2005 (CRC). Invictus has earned its spurs with the outrageous racer 1nsane and you could already have a taste of their new engine in January with the free mini-game Santa Ride, in which you race Santa’s sled with a pack of reindeer through a rural town, using rally-like physics.
Strictly speaking, CRC is more than just a rally game, as it offers a set of very different tracks with fitting vehicles. One moment, you are cruising a buggy on a sunny beach, and the next, you are sliding with a Quadro AD through Finish snow. The principal part is the career mode, in which you create a character and participate in different races with increasing difficulty. Fortunately, Invictus goes beyond the traditional struggle of reaching the finish line first, as there are additional challenges. Fast laps draw attention, make you gain prestige and attract sponsors. The wealthy suits will shower you with new cars, skins and spare parts that can be used to increase speed and performance. Those challenges are not obligatory, but presented as a bonus at the beginning of the race. If you are one of those people who want to squeeze every drop out of a game, hunting Chocobo’s in Final Fantasy for fifty hours just to make sure there is no additional reward, you will also need to face the highest difficulty levels to unlock all the extras. It is a fair game, as the opposition does not magically acquire increased speed. Instead, certain camera angles are disabled (no chase cam), the opponents become more aggressive and the damage model is vastly expanded. This makes it a motivated, technical challenge, rather than a frustrating way to keep you glued to your computer as long as possible.
Arcade gamers can hop right in, but it is possible to change different settings of the car according to the surroundings and the track design. The vehicles do not only differ through the large amount of skins and fancy additions, but especially the choice of wheels is important. Most tracks combine off-road with regular circuit racing, so you will need to decide beforehand where you want to get the edge. Your opponents are not to be mocked. Contrary to popular trends in rally games, it is not just a battle between one car and the long and winding road. If you have played the Screamer games some years ago, you know that nothing beats the sense of racing as the occasional nudge that slams your opponent in a crash barrier. You will get the perfect opportunity in CRC. In the career mode, you always race against four or five cars with intelligent AI that stops you off and gives nifty pushes in the corners.
The surroundings look amazing. On multiple occasions, I was just gazing at the palm trees, the dust clouds and the splattering mud that clears your vision, only to notice I had been lapped two times in the meantime. There are 60 tracks in total, based on six distinct themes: muddy race tracks in Hungary, snow in Finland, sunny beach races in the US… Similar tracks are varied using different sections and roads, making it 60 unique tracks without the feeling of having raced them before. Most circuits have dynamic elements: traffic signs can be shoved around and you are bound by natural barriers, rather than an invisible wall. There are no real shortcuts, but there is plenty of freedom to cut through certain parts of the scenery at will, as long as you do not miss the checkpoints. The detail on the vehicles is astonishing, with a realistic damage model. Small hits cause annoyances such as flat tires and inaccurate handling, while crashing into a tree will bring you to a complete standstill. When racing using the dashboard-view, the engine’s smoke will even enter the cockpit to cloud your vision. The driver reacts to the bumps in the road and actions such as steering and shifting are shown in a realistic manner. With a low difficulty level, you can repair the damage during the race, at the cost of some time. If you are into ravine diving, there is also a key to get back on the road.
In racing games, it is all about handling and the sense of speed. Nothing but flying colours for CRC in this area. Distinct surfaces require different driving styles, the choice of tires can make you lose a race and every vehicle has its own acceleration, suspension and handling. It is not just numbers, you can actually feel your car drift on the terrain and it takes some practice to be natural at the driving. You cannot finish the races with your foot glued to the pedal. Only braking strategically, especially at the bumps, cutting corners and searching the ideal racing line will get you first. The handling reminded me of FlatOut. Both games need short, gentle touches to keep your car on the road. This is initially a bit frustrating, but contrary to FlatOut, you will get the feeling you win a race by driving smart and technically, rather than relying on luck and chaos.
Aside from the career mode, there are also time trials with ghost cars and free rides to practise the tracks. In the career mode, you are bound by a limited choice of cars per track, but during free rides, there are no restrictions, even when the vehicles do not fit the terrain. Multiplayer options are available through LAN and TCP/IP. There is even a hot-seat mode, in which you can challenge friends to get the fastest time on one pc, by taking turns. A game like CRC, developed for a small market, also need some extras to draw the audience. The developers have gone through great lengths to add customizability. You can design and import your own skins or write your own multiplayer mode in JAVA. Invictus has also announced to release dev kits to create new cars and tracks.
Nothing but a positive vibe up to here. CRC has everything to make a racing enthusiast’s heart beat faster. The only slight irritation is the in-game music, provided by SZEG. The menu track is fine, but the others remind of Fear Factory. Heavy metal is simply too chaotic when concentrating on the driving. I would have preferred minimal electronic tracks. Fortunately, you can import your own mp3’s in the game, making it only a temporary nuisance. The engine sounds are satisfying, but not overly impressive. Also, it usually takes too much time to reverse and accelerate when you crash into a tree, often up to fifteen seconds. This means that winning or losing can depend on one simple mistake, leading to some frustration when it occurs in one of the final laps. Those are only small irritations that do not cast a slur on the game’s otherwise excellent reputation.
CRC is a pleasant surprise that fulfils all the promises. The graphics are up to par with big-budget games and after some practice, the car handling is perfect. Due to the many challenges and the large amount of vehicles and tracks, CRC offers lots of replay value, and not only in the multiplayer mode. Also, with the release of the dev kits, new tracks are bound to appear soon. Gentlemen, speed off to the nearest game store!