|System: PC||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Hammerware||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: DreamCatcher / Arcade Moon||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Feb. 29, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-9 (LAN)||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Nathan Meunier
When it comes to realistic racing games, devotees of NASCAR or illicit street racing have plenty of options for getting their gas-guzzling, rubber-burning fix. Good boat racing titles, on the other hand, are few and far between, and there are slim pickings on the water sports gaming front in general. Developers Hammerware has apparently taken notice and set out to make things right with a racing game aimed squarely at players who have a greater affinity for H2O than terra firma.
Powerboat GT lets you hit the waves at high speeds in intensely competitive races rounded out by open-ended challenges and off jobs. You'll travel to hot racing spots around the world as you work your way up the ranks among the boating elite. Thematically, the game's not much different from its earthbound counterparts. As a new member of the Powerboat GT league, your aim is to gain money, earn a reputation at the races, pick up sponsors, upgrade your gear, and work your way to the top of the racing food chain to bask in the glory reserved for the best of the best in the powerboat league. The gameplay isn't convoluted with an over-blown story; it's primarily about speed and cut-throat racing. Even without a plot, the presentation is suitably engaging and goes slightly beyond what you might expect from a lesser-known racing title.
You'll start out racing in the quiet quasi-rural waterways of Russia where some shoreline areas are scattered with rustic cottages set amongst the trees and others house large, smog-spewing industrial factories. In addition to multiple locations in Russia (including a flooded village that allows you utilize protruding rooftops to catch some air), you'll travel to different areas of Greece and the Caribbean, which offer unique, scenic racing environments. Each location features a free-roam map much like the Grand Theft Auto series (sans hookers and the mindless capping of innocents). You can ride your boat around to enjoy the pleasant views and visit various hotspots that allow you to take on jobs, purchase new boats and upgrades, earn extra dough, and try your luck in races, among other activities.
A few minor distractions aside, the racing component of Powerboat GT is the focus and highlight of the game. Initial races are short and only run simple laps around an island or two against a handful of opponents. More advanced races in each location will weave through winding turns and obstacles on longer courses featuring a greater number of tougher opponents. Coming in first place in enough races will unlock new levels for you to explore. Placing in the top three in any race will earn you extra money and popularity points - the amount of both will go up significantly as the races get harder. Your popularity score will determine your overall game rank and whether or not various companies will be interested in sponsoring you. Catching the attention of sponsors is crucial, since sponsorships bring multipliers, which allow you to quickly rack up serious cash and notoriety.
Simple racing along the waterfront course is fun enough, but the addition of weaponry to take out competing vessels and ramp up the chaos makes the prospect far more enticing. Other than basic speed boost pickups, which are plentiful and helpful for gaining a slight temporary advantage (or more like attempt to fall less behind), the game throws an unusual arsenal into the mix. Depth charges, hot hair balloons that drop grenades from the sky, mines disguised as crates, dragnets that slow you down, E.M.P. blasts that disable all vessels temporarily, standard rockets and torpedoes, and even explosive jumping frogs are all available for massive water-borne destruction. Being able to slow down and occasionally overturn your opponents is handy. Of course, when you're only one of eight racers on the course and everyone behind you happens to conveniently pick up weapons at the same time, you can bet your ass is toast. A direct hit at a crucial high-speed moment from any of the aforementioned gadgets is likely to send your boat flying in the air end-over-end, at which point it's simply easier to restart rather than attempt to make up lost ground.