A Look Back: World Driver Championship
By now I have been hopelessly consumed by gaming, and specifically the N64 for almost three years. I was also full swing into the internet and considered myself “well informed” on all things gaming, and an aficionado on all things Nintendo. Yup, that’s right, I was a Nintendo fanboy in every sense of the term. I mention this because at the time (as a fan of racing games) the best racing game was Gran Turismo. Unfortunately for me Gran Turismo was exclusive to the PlayStation gaming console.
Could I have bought a PlayStation? … let me re-phrase that. Could I have afforded a PlayStation? Sure I had a part time job, I could have saved up the money in a month or two. But could I have bought a PlayStation? Resoundingly NO! As dedicated to Nintendo as I was at the time, the thought of giving Sony a single dollar was almost repulsive. My allegiance to “the Big N” was unwaivering. Even Nintendo’s slogan for the late 90’s was “Get ‘N’ or get out!” And if I couldn’t have Gran Turismo, fine, I’ll just spend my time playing stellar triple-A titles like Ocarina of Time, GoldenEye, Mario Kart… and I would be JUST fine.
However… as a fan I the racing genre I followed the devopment and release of this game probably closer than most would. It has it’s similarities to Gran Turismo: realistic physics, great graphics, detailed environments, etc. It didn’t have the licensed cars though, so what was obviously a Mustang in the game was named a “Stallion”. No sweat though. It was a driving game coming from Boss Studios. I had complete faith in the final product.
While at times my favorite developers don’t live up to expectations, Boss Studios truly came through for me with World Driver Championship. As you (probably don’t) remember, they released another favorite game of mine: Top Gear Rally. This game was every bit as fun, while still being a completely different kind of driving game.
I’ve looked forward to this re-review for a while as I loved the game so much back when it was new. I picked it up recently to discover that the game has actually aged fairly well compared to some of these titles that just are painful to look at. Fun to play and bearable to look at. Looks to be a fun game to re-experience indeed.
In all honestly the graphics are pretty darn good. Certainly pushing the limits of the N64. To up the ante even a bit further there is the normal full screen mode, but also a Hi-Res Letterbox mode that you could select. This offers a sharper picture at the expense of the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen. There’s no other performance hit that I could tell so I prefer the hi-res mode.
The game has a very loose character progression, in that you win more races, move up in the ranking and get offered better jobs. For the most part you could end up driving whatever you want as you move on, but there’s a few moments in the game that if you choose to drive for a certain team, you’ll block off a path for ever driving for that team’s arch rival. It’s a nice subtle change from just moving from one car to the next faster car mindlessly.
But what makes all good driving games? Good driving! I use the term “driving game” because really it is more that than racing. The computer cars do offer a nice challenge, but for the most part they are just part of a glorified time trial. The don’t really race against you as much as they run around the track at a certain pace. Still on the tougher courses they can be breathing down your neck, or be the difference between gold or silver.
The cars felt like real cars. They felt heavy and carried some momentum, not only around corners but over hills as well. What looks like a small bend on the map can actually be a tricky corner if set over the crest of a hill. The upwards momentum of your car can kill your downforce for a moment, long enough to slide you off the track if you’re not careful. The more you play the tracks, the better you get at knowing how to react to the environment.
I’d forgotten most of these tracks in general, but as I played more and more I started to remember which corners you had to take it easy on, and which ones you could hammer on through and the cars would stick despite feeling like you’re going a bit too fast. I guess that’s one of the things that made the experience so enjoyable. You really felt like you had to push the cars to their limits to achieve the fastest times.
The game is plenty long too. I didn’t get as deep into it as I once had, but deep enough to be able to appreciate some of the “remixes” of the tracks. Every track had at least two variations. They were the same for the most part, but one alignment might take you through a forest chicane, while another version lead you through 90 degree turns through a small village. Track memorization is still key, but changes enough that you aren’t a mindless zombie after just a few hours with the game.
As realistic racers go, this was the cream of the crop on the N64. And in my opinion STILL one of the better ones today. I had no problem getting into this game again and enjoying it all over again. In fact this re-review has lead me to appreciate some of its qualities even more and hope I don’t hesitate another 5 years to pick it up and do it all again!