Get Your Wings
The World of Outlaws racing franchise has been on hiatus for a while. We haven’t heard much about it since its well-reviewed outings on PS2 and PC in 2002 and 2003. Its return on Xbox 360 this month is hardly a stunning comeback, but dedicated racing fans will cherish the opportunity to learn a challenging new driving style. In the current recession, the $20 price point doesn’t hurt, either.
Let’s get an important point out of the way: Despite its cartoonish-sounding title, this is not an arcade racer. In fact, World of Outlaws is the name of a real-life racing organization that specializes in sprint cars, which are small, light, four-wheeled vehicles with wings on their backs. They race on mud tracks and are hard to turn. The adjustable wings push them into the ground for traction, but this traction comes at the cost of speed. In the game, you can race as some of the sport’s top performers, including Donny Schatz, Steve Kinser, Jason Meyers, and Joey Saldana, on twelve real-life tracks.
Because the cars are so unusual, and because the developers did a good job of making the physics feel real, there’s a pretty steep learning curve here. At first, it feels nearly impossible to slide your car around the tight curves without smacking into the wall, and the A.I. cars aren’t particularly forgiving when you make mistakes. For the first several hours, plan on having a mixed record. You’ll spend a lot of time getting passed, and even more time trying desperately to hold on to your position.
The races are long, there doesn’t seem to be much rubber-banding, and there are no bells and whistles such as speed boosts, stunts, or weapons. You can drive for quite some time without passing or being passed. There’s a reasonable sense of speed on some of the straight-aways, but for the most part, this game is about concentrating hard, taking the corners quickly and efficiently, passing carefully, and eking every inch of performance you can out of your car. Between races, you can spend any money you’ve earned on tune-ups, and then it’s on to another white-knuckle racing experience.
Fortunately, the controls are intuitive. All you can do is accelerate, break, adjust your wings, clean the mud off your windshield with a “tear-off,” and steer. This makes the game considerably more accessible than a true racing sim; there’s no need for a racing line, and once you learn to handle the curves, everything else seems to fall into place. These features won’t keep the game from seeming boring to an arcade-racing fan, but they do make World of Outlaws a bit more accessible to racing-sim newcomers.
World of Outlaws features arcade, career, and multiplayer modes. The arcade mode isn’t useful for much beyond learning the ropes and showing the game to friends, but the career mode is suitably deep and rewarding. As the tracks and opponents become tougher, your car becomes ever so slightly easier to drive, and it’s impressive how such a simple game can command your full attention.
The multiplayer is exactly what it should be: simple. There are few gimmicks, and from our experience, everything seems to run smoothly. It takes a certain kind of gamer to get into a realistic racer, and that kind of gamer will feel right at home with these five modes. If anything, the game is more fun against human beings than against the difficult A.I. cars. A fair number of people are playing this game online, so Xbox Live addicts don’t have to arrange to play with friends.
For a $20 game, World of Outlaws features a surprisingly strong presentation. The graphics are up to par for the current generation (though they’re far from spectacular; were this a $60 game, we’d complain about the lack of detail and the long loading times). The sounds make you feel almost like you’re at the racetrack. As each race wears on, the track takes damage and becomes harder to drive on. Our only real complaint about the presentation involves the cheesy “tear-off” gimmick, which only draws attention to the fact that the glops of mud on your screen aren’t that convincing-looking.
There are a few important gameplay problems here, unfortunately. While there’s little rubber banding per se, the A.I. cars’ speed does seem to vary depending on where you are. If you’re significantly behind the closest car, it can take many laps to catch up, but then it might only take one lap to pass a whole cluster of cars.
If you can manage to do so without bumping into any of them, that is. The A.I. cars seem to cluster a little too closely together, even toward the ends of the long races. This problem comes into play as soon as you catch up to the group, and until you master all the intricacies of driving and passing, you’ll fall into a pattern: you’ll go through a long boring stretch to catch up, briefly attempt to pass, and then make a minor mistake that puts you right back where you started. There’s nothing wrong with a realistic racing game being tough this way, but here it feels a bit excessive. A lot of casual players will probably put the game aside in favor of something a little less demanding. We hear Sonic & SEGA All-Stars Racing comes out soon.
All told, World of Outlaws is a decent buy for fans of unforgiving racing games. It’s not as exciting as an arcade racer, but it does a good job of mixing accessibility with realism and challenge. For $20, that’s a pretty good deal.
RATING OUT OF 5 RATING DESCRIPTION 3.1 Graphics
Surprisingly good for a $20 game, but there’s not a lot of detail. 3.8 Control
They’re simple, but by design, the cars are hard to control. 4.1 Music / Sound FX / Voice Acting
The sound effects are good, though there isn’t a whole lot of music to speak of. 2.8 Play Value
The career and multiplayer modes provide hours of entertainment, but only if you’re willing to master a challenging steering system. 3.2 Overall Rating – Fair
Not an average. See Rating legend above for a final score breakdown.