Monaco Grand Prix

Does realism work without a license?

Dreamcast Developer:UbisoftPublisher:Ubisoft There aren't really that many racing games available on the Dreamcast yet. Not that many really good ones, anyway. Thankfully, Monaco Racing Simulation ups the ante a bit, providing genuinely realistic Formula 1 racing. Monaco is unlike the majority of arcade-style racers that frequent the shelves of your local games shop, although it does feature an "Arcade" mode. You can't simply keep your finger on the accelerator and swing into every corner at 200mph. This isn't just Ridge Racer style liberal use of the brake either, you have to really anticipate the turns and learn the circuits to succeed. But realism isn't everything, how does it bear up across the board?

Burnout

The teary-eyed opening scene depicts a driver sitting in his cockpit, remembering his childhood dreams of becoming an F1 driver. I suppose this is an indication of the depth within. The good thing is that if you're not that much of a racing buff you can start off with the Arcade mode, which while still very hard to master, doesn't require all the engine tweaking and forethought about corners. Slamming the brakes on and gently accelerating out of the corners generally does the trick. Once you've got the hang of the Arcade mode, the best thing to do is jump right in at the deep end with the larger Simulation mode. The simulation mode offers you the chance to pick one team and fight through anything from a couple of races to a whole Grand Prix season to even further, thanks to the advent of the Career mode, with everything from practice sessions and qualifying to engine tweaking and parts selection. The interface for these areas is fairly simple to navigate and the two key navigation buttons are labelled clearly in the bottom right of the screen at all times in the menus. The in-game racing is tough and affected significantly by your choices and tweaks in the garage section prior to the race. Once in there, the computer AI provides enough of a challenge on its own with the inexperienced driver finding himself well behind the bulk of the pack after only a few laps. As far as AI goes in racing games, Monaco's is surprisingly consistent. It's tough to beat, but if you fall behind there's still every chance that you'll manage to catch up, if you've got the skill. The final mode of play is called Retro and allows you to pick a 1950s Formula 1 car and race it through several lovely countryside race tracks. It's a nice touch and one of the only light-hearted parts of the game. If you've ever played Grand Prix Legends, you'll know what to expect; tinny cars and tricky cornering. But it does provide some much welcomed variety to the game and lots of scope for replay.

PC DC?

You won't find too many differences between the PC version of Monaco and this Dreamcast incarnation, aside from the aforementioned Dreamcast-specific button labels found in the menus. As with the PC version, the Dreamcast's is predominantly single player based, but features a two-player split screen mode into the bargain. Although there is no official FIA license involved, the game still manages the 17 main world-wide circuits (from Silverstone to Monaco et al) and 11 made-up teams sporting 22 made-up drivers. Bizarrely, the French developers did manage to get sponsorship from the likes of Castrol and Bridgestone, and of course the Monaco Grand Prix circuit, but despite their best efforts, the lack of an official tag does thwart the fun somewhat. It's amazing, the ability to ram Michael Schumacher up the backside with your nose-cone makes such a difference when playing games like F1 World Grand Prix on the N64; the official names and colours are sorely missed.

The Engine Stutters

For a game that relies on taking corners with precision, it's quite surprising that thanks to slightly grainy graphics in the distance, corners come up on you too quickly and as such, a very carefully driven race can be ruined in a couple of seconds. I suppose that's pretty realistic for a Formula 1 race, but it frustrates and its one problem that you'd think the Dreamcast's superior graphical power could overcome. The one criticism you can probably consistently level at Monaco Grand Prix is that it is such a blind conversion from the PC. There's nothing really new here at all and certainly nothing to persuade owners of the PC version to purchase it as well. Problems with graphics in the distance and the lack of official names and numbers lessen the experience considerably, after all, how can a game that trades off its own realism afford to lack the official names?

Conclusion

A mixed bag. As an arcade racer, Monaco's heart really isn't in it and as a Simulation, it lacks the official names and numbers. However, the Retro mode adds some light relief, the Simulation mode is very deep and takes a lot of effort to beat, in spite of the fictitious nature of the game's occupants and problems with cornering at times. If you are waiting for a chance to race around Monza at 200MPH as Damon Hill, you're not going to get any satisfaction here, but if the lack of an official license doesn't bother you and the authenticity of the experience is what you're after, look no further.

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