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There have been numerous occasions throughout gaming history whereby critically acclaimed games have failed to convert high scores in to high sales. Similarly, there have been many poorly-received titles that sell by the bucket load though generally they have had a high-profile licence to hide behind.
Meaning Davilexs London Racer, released in 2000, is something of an unusual case. No licences; no frills and nothing but damning criticism from all corners of the gaming press and yet it shifted a huge number of units enough to spawn a direct sequel and two other Racer spin-offs set in Europe and the USA anyway. So did the public find something the journalists missed?
Well, no they were just careless with their money. Its one of the worst racing games of its generation; from a technical standpoint it commits virtually every sin a 3D game can make, it screams of bad programming at every turn and from start to finish, seems an utterly half-hearted project.
As the title alludes to, LR involves racing on motorways and streets connected to Englands capital city. Obviously Davilex felt that after Gran Turismo 2, PSOne gamers tickers couldnt take the excitement of racing souped-up Nissan Skylines around Laguna Seca, instead inviting us to drive hatchbacks along the M25.
There are so many things wrong with London Racer its hard to know where to start. The handling of the cars is unconvincing and heavy, and because they are so slow (rarely troubling 70mph) you hardly ever need to use the brakes. The greatest challenge in the races is actually getting to the end damage is counted for prangs against traffic and other racers, and by the end of many courses youll be limping home to ensure your car doesnt expire.
It also seems that all of Londons police seem to have congregated on the circuits you race on. Its a real irritation as you rarely go for more than a few seconds before a conveniently placed cop car starts what must be the most humiliatingly slow car chase in the history of games quite what they pull you over for is not clear but it sure isnt speeding! Their strange behaviour continues as after they have caught and passed your car, they simply slide to a standstill in front of you, meaning all you have to do is slow down and drive around them to continue.
Next on the list of woes is the baffling A.I. You are only pitted against three opponents, and whilst the computer cars roughly mimicking your pace kept things interesting in Gran Turismo, it is ridiculously overblown here. Race at full pelt, making no mistakes and your pursuers will remain right on your tail to the end, but if you choose to follow behind them, theyll crawl along at 40-50mph. An even bigger sin though are the blatantly false times given after races; you can be pipped across the line by barely a cars length, and the results claim that you finished four seconds behind the winner!
Elsewhere, the collision parameters are atrocious. On the one hand, getting anywhere close to oncoming traffic seems to result in a clumsy and damaging crash, whilst at the other extreme, your computer opposition drive straight through cars and even parts of the scenery at seemingly no detriment to their pace. Collision problems are further exposed as some of the tracks are absurdly narrow; resulting in some accurately simulated London traffic jams.
The seven courses are inoffensive though unadventurous in design. The streets, motorways and country lanes offer slightly different racing experiences, though its fair to say that none of the tracks will live long in the memory. The use of daytime and nighttime variants of the M25 South is another bit of laziness on the part of the developers though as the only difference between them is that the latter has a slightly darker sky.
One good idea London Racer does have going for it are race-based bonuses getting snapped by speed cameras, or even driving over them contributes to your prize money at the end of the race. This money can then be spent on some basic tuning options or to buy new car, though this isnt as elaborate as it may sound as there are only six cars in the game and theyre all a bit rubbish. This small slice of good work is sullied somewhat by the ridiculous cost of repairing damage to your vehicle, regularly exceeding the prize money earned for a win.
Graphically, it would have come off second best in a comparison with most PSOne launch games, and for a 2000 release it looks dreadful. Somehow, the developers have managed to make the M25 appear an even more sparse location than in real life, and despite the occasional, nicely-realised building or structure (Big Ben the most notable), the game is crippled by a quite staggering amount of pop-up and scenery tearing. Whilst its among the slowest racers on the PlayStation, textures still look very wobbly and indistinct, and the drab, sludgy colour schemes do little to help matters either.
Some of the music is at least passable (though something of a poor-mans Ridge Racer) and distracts the attention away from the lame engine notes and hollow crash effects. The biggest case for muting the game however is the ear-splitting shrieks of police sirens theyre almost ceaseless.
Apart from the fact its about as fun as poking yourself in the eye, there is no incentive to play London Racer through to completion even once the only difference between success and failure is an image displaying either Game Over or You Won!. In either case, youll probably be reduced to tears. Inexplicably, you can only own one car at a time, and the fact that you cant choose what track to race on at any stage (they go in a strict order) means the game feels very restrictive.
Its hard to recommend London Racer on any level, as the racing genre is so richly catered for on the PSOne format Gran Turismo makes for an infinitely more accurate simulation, whilst Ridge Racer Type 4 is a far slicker, more enjoyable arcade racer even Runabout 2, a fellow budget release, leaves this in the dust. Thus London Racer offers nothing that would deem it a worthy purchase; its just a waste of time and money.