Acclaim's XGRA takes the futuristic racing series to the next level with new races, weapons, missions and unlockable content to keep players interested for an extended period. The series' trademark racing bikes will traverse a wide variety of exotic locales that feature the most massive drops and elaborate loops that players have faced to date. However, the course designs are just the surface, go deeper and you'll find a comprehensive career mode with different missions, upgradeable bikes and, loads of unlockable content. This definitely adds more depth to the racing, making for a more satisfying game. The Laser takes a spin with this and finds out why its so much fun.
XGRA (Extreme G Racing Association) is the fourth installment in Acclaim's franchise and while the gameplay has always been exciting, its definitely time for an overhaul. Luckily, the developers have listened to players and the newest XG title offers a surprising amount of depth with extras including customizable bikes, different goals for each race and several racing modes. The most dramatic difference between XGRA and the previous titles is that this installment features elaborate storylines for each rider. Instead of playing as a generic character through the races, you can now view their backstories and progress through the race. Additionally, the other riders will now communicate with you during the race, getting you that much closer to the story. Additionally, in the career mode, you can earn a racing contract and continue up the circuit as you defeat foes and meet the requirements of each contract. Each rider brings a unique personality to XGRA and players will find that each of their bikes has a unique style of racing. Some emphasize pure speed, while other offer excellent powersliding control or more accurate weapons. Adding to the immersion, each race will be broadcast on the SiNN or Sports Interactive News Network, which will replay the drama behind each race. This definitely makes for a more evocative and immersive experience and gives XGRA's races added drama.
XGRA includes several different modes including Arcade, Time Trial and Career Mode. In the arcade mode, you race a single round against your opponents, while in the Time Trial mode, you compete against yourself for the fastest time. The real meat of the game lies in the 2080 Career Mode which emulates a real motor sports racing season. In this mode, you race through three rounds in each sub race in the three Sonic racing classes. Things start off relatively slowly, but the velocity of speed and intensity increases exponentially as you move up the ranks. After each race, players are awarded points based on their position, and the winner of each round is whoever has the most points. As you win each round, you'll unlock the next level, along with new bikes and courses. In addition, winning these races allows you to access bonus materials such as concept art and course renders. Career races aren't just straight-ahead racing have different missions and objectives that you can complete. For example, your contract may involve finishing ahead of a rival, winning with a predetermined position or destroying all the signs in a course. Completing these contracts will please your sponsors who give you money to upgrade your bike. In addition, you can tweak the bike's attributes between rounds for better performance. After winning a race, you can also use money you earn to buy implants to increase rider performance and other attributes.
As you race in the Career mode, you'll have to master several types of races including Destruction, Peace Keeper, Endurance, Speed Limited, Extreme Weather and Burn Off modes. Each of these presents a unique challenge for example, you can't use the boosts in the Speed Limited mode, while the Endurance and Burn Off modes offer longer and shorter races. Mixing up these different race types adds a lot of variety to the game, keeping your interest level high throughout. The different challenges they face means you have to use different tactics in each race, sometimes going for pure speed, other times just trying to knock as many opponents out as possible. Additionally, you're not just limited to destroying opponents, but now you can also alter the physical layout of the courses by destroying trackside objects, such as gas pipes, bridges and even spectators.
While not all the modes require them, using weapons is a key part of the strategy and seem much easier to control and better integrated into the races. The weapons system are much more elaborate and sophisticated than in previous games with two main weapons classes, Primary and Secondary that players can use to damage and destroy their opponents. The standard Primary weapons will be the default arsenal that comes with the vehicle, while the secondary weapons can only be loaded onto the bike by running over the power-ups on the screen. Primary weapons include Rockets, Mortars, Ion Electrical, Particle and Vulcan Cannons. These have different functions and the level of damage they cause depends on your aiming accuracy and what class they are. Each Primary weapons type consists of three sub-classes (Mark I, II & III.) These give players an increasing amount of firepower and special effects as they are earned. For example, firing the Mark I Patriot Arc releases an electrical ion charge that will shut down the rival bike's electrical system and causes minor damage, while using the Mark III does all that but inflicts more damage while decreasing the vehicle's arc and all those within a close range of the blast. These can be quite effective and their launches are accompanied by bursts of colorful energy.
In addition to the standard weapons systems, players can pick up a variety of powerful secondary class weapons by running over the power-up orbs on each track. Which weapons you can select depends on how many of these you have collected. These secondary weapons include the Patriot Vampire, which sucks the weapons and shield energy from opponents, a Rail Accelerator which increases your top speed for a short burst, Rapiers which unleash a horizontal energy beam that rips through anything in its path and the Overlord weapon. The Overlord launches a mini-nuclear explosion behind the player that will damage anything that passes through it. Other secondary weapons give players increased shields, weapons firing rates, plus mines and a Deathstrike, which uses a satellite to destroy anything in its path. This just scratches the surface, because XGRA will give players access to a massive arsenal of potent weaponry. Players will be able to use other tactics during the race such as bumping into other riders and finding shortcuts in the race. Another strategic element comes with the destructible environments. You can fire at certain areas of the track causing damage that creates obstacles that slow other racers down significantly.
Controlling your bike is fairly simple, and you can use either the d-pad or analog controller for movement. Either method is fine, but even the best players will find themselves bumping along the sides or colliding with other vehicles frequently at first. Using the Air-brake to slow down is usually a good idea in tight turns, but the loss of speed can be quite critical. The PS2's face buttons are used to select and deploy weapons which makes the game simple enough. Players can also select different viewpoints using the select button for their ideal camera angle. Compared to other PS2 racers, the controls are a little touchy and a bit over-responsive which can be frustrating at points, when even small mistakes cause you to careen out of control. You can mitigate this with practice and by mastering the course designs which should give you a smoother ride. However, the narrow course designs make it very difficult to avoid crashing, so keep that in mind. It's not a big problem in the early levels which are much more forgiving, but becomes more obtrusive later on when a small error can cost you the race.
XGRA's visuals are decent for the PS2 with impressive level designs that create a believable futuristic world. However, there are a lot of jaggies in the game, which makes for a choppy appearance. Some of the levels also appear a bit murky and dark, making it hard to see where the next turn is. Additionally, some of the viewpoints and camera angles severely limit your field of vision, which can be quite annoying. Compensating for these problems, XGRA offers gamers speed. While the early levels go by at a fast rate, later levels absolutely scream by, leaving you with little time to react. XGRA's incredibly fast frame-rate is impressive on the console and makes for some intense battles.
The varied racing environments encompass 16 different tracks, with many locales reappearing with different paths. These range from Martain landscapes, vast urban megapolis, space stations and more. Each track includes massive jumps, huge drops with multiple branches and corkscrews that lend the game a high degree of unpredictability. These layouts are complimented with impressive sci-fi designs featuring trackside objects such as massive skyscrapers. This is brought to life with natural weather effects, such as rain and snow. While the behind-the-racer perspective is impressive, racing in the first person mode makes for a very cool experience. During the race, players will be able to see all their vehicle's information such as speed, shield damage and weapons systems by looking at the transparent HUD which can also be changed during the race in real-time. Despite these problems, XGRA's visuals are still fairly excellent but they are complimented by the music and voice-overs. Unlike many other racing titles, players can choose what style of music they want, rock or techno, which is pretty cool. The game's voice-over acting brings rivals to life as they taunt you during the race with trash talk, which is definitely a cool feature that makes you feel more involved in the race. So despite a few glitchy jaggies here and there, XGRA showcases excellent production values on the PS2 is one of the console's best looking racers to date.
XGRA is a solid title with some interesting modes of play that keep things fresh. The biggest addition is obviously the career mode, which adds a lot of depth to the game. With its different missions, varied race types and customization options, XGRA allows players to go deeper into the action than in any previous Extreme-G title. The graphics are little rough in spots and controls are a little touchy, but the sense of speed and intensity of the races is still very impressive. The designs of the ships, environments and characters are excellent as well. On the track, players will find the familiar looping, twisting and branching courses that made the first three games so much fun. However, emphasizing the rivalries between characters and their personalities makes each race more exciting. With it's lower-than-average price tag and seemingly unevolved gameplay, many casual gamers are probably going to see XGRA as more of the same, players who dig deeper will find some significant upgrades that make for a deeper, more satisfying experience. XGRA is highly recommended for PS2 racing fans because the fast racing action is quite intense and the new career mode is a solid addition that adds plenty of substance to XGRA's undeniable style.