Tom tackles the Benz in Synetic's curvy racer
Racing games are hardly uncommon, now, are they? With each passing year, we all watch the endless procession of increasingly beautiful and expansive racers pass us by, like little blurs of metallic lightning. Some are crap and some are good, but the truly excellent ones have uniform stunning visuals, all manner of vehicles to toy with, and varied, authentic tracks. The top one or two per cent will play better than Ridge Racer Type 4. If you only buy a couple every year, the chances are that any given driver has to have Heidi Klum's looks, Michael Schumacher's skill behind the wheel and Jay-K's fleet of sports cars to even come close. Unfortunately for WorldRacing, at first glance it doesn't seem to check all the right boxes.
Mercedes-Benz WorldRacing, to give it the title TDK dropped but the world retained, is centred entirely around one brand of car, and surely that's a problem to start with? However much effort German developer Synetic put into WR, it's always going to be limited in one key area. However, as you gallivant around the globe competing in races, completing the odd mission-based level and free-riding over oodles of scenery, you'll actually unlock as many as 109 cars, both old and new and from every class imaginable.
You see, Mercedes make nice cars, and lots of them. I've driven one in real-life (although I forget which), and they do handle very nicely, they obviously look very swish, and they come in all sorts of reasonably affordable models. There are even off-roaders for goodness sake. So I guess that's one box checked.
And we can tick off awe-inspiring visuals too, because WorldRacing makes huge gains thanks to its amazingly detailed landscapes, which stretch as far as the eye can see and rarely drag the frame rate anywhere south of optimal, except in split-screen multi-player. We've been told that the game can render 6km squared of level, and it's not too hard to believe when you've scrambled your car to the top of a mountain and had a glance over your shoulder…
Walk on water
Few technical compromises have been made, either. Cars are given plenty of detail, from the three-pointed-star to the curve of the chassis and the colour of the seats. Your driver, as selected from a group of rather stern-looking men and women, can clearly be seen from front-side views churning away at the wheel as you donut someone's village green in a C-class, as can your custom number plate, helmet and so on.
The environment is also finely detailed, with massive efforts thrown at everything from Area 51 (complete with flying saucers, fighter jets and scrambling military personnel) and a sun-drenched jungle to snowy Alpine peaks and the rippling seas down in the harbour. This is no Project Gotham in terms of urban detail, but looking at the broader picture as you often are, it's hard not to be taken aback by the serene beauty of it all.
Sadly though, the game lets itself down in other technical areas. We love the look of the game, but the vehicle damage is a bit daft - if you're not going to bother doing it properly, then don't just opt for token dents. It looks mighty stupid when experimental types like myself throw an SLK off the top of a mountain only to land on all four wheels and drive off smoothly. And there's evidence of serious laziness elsewhere - you can drive through people, palm trees and other bits of scenery if you want, and most astonishing of all, you can drive on top of the sea. Despite ships bobbing up and down nearby (which you can of course drive straight through), the water acts like road and even feels like road to drive on. They couldn't even be bothered to fence it off properly - very shoddy.
On the road
Then there's the final area, which makes all the difference - the handling. Ignoring the fact that wacky UFOs, ocean-racing and granite-strength barriers are trying very hard to upset the flow of realism, Synetic has opted to try and emulate the various Mercedes cars accurately. And unlike Gotham, this means we have to deal as much with of the tedium of real driving as we do with the entertaining side. Handling improves and cars become more fun, the more of the game you unlock, but it's never as smooth and enjoyable as games like Gotham, RalliSport and Racing Evoluzione. These titles cracked the balance between realism and arcade with gusto, and were much better for it. WorldRacing just feels like a simulation of Mercedes-Benz and The National Inquirer.
And there are other niggles, too. The CPU AI is basically modelled on Michael Schumacher as best we can tell. It cheats; it drives to perfection, and losing out on any given turn generally means you won't make up the gap. Only by shunting people around did we ever make much difference. Other problems include Synetic's decision to have the obligatory "replace car on track instantly" button on White and the "rear view" button on Black. Guess how many times we hit the wrong one? It was plenty, and you can't alter the controls. Oh, and then there's the apparent lack of a proper "pick a track and race on it" option. You know, the Single Race bit, which every racing game in existence besides WorldRacing apparently has? As if that wasn't enough, the music is all courtesy of Ministry of Sound. Not for us.
In the end, WorldRacing ticks enough of the boxes to be a contender, but it doesn't have that final lap adrenaline injection to send it sailing through the finish line competitively. It's too hard, it's a bit feebly constructed in places, and it plays too much like real driving, which, for a game laden with UFOs, is a bit of a contradiction.
WorldRacing screenshots (Xbox)