||Monaco Grand Prix
"Powerslides? Not in my neighbourhood!" - Review By Ares
There's not a lot of room on the store shelves these days. On the first day of the Dreamcast's launch in North America there were five racing games available. In order for a game to stand out above the rest, companies have to market their game to a particular audience. Because of this, we had two racing simulations, one streetcar racer, one off-road racer, and one futuristic racer. Lots of choices, sure, and it's inevitable that some games are going to get lost in the shuffle; but in the case of Monaco Grand Prix, that's not such a bad thing.
After playing CART Flag to Flag and finding out what a good racing sim should be like, it's frustrating to play a game like Monaco. Just the act of opening the jewel case and putting the disc in the system is a long, tedious, drawn out affair. Then to have to pick up the controller and press the power button all the while fearing the images that will come up on the TV. Simply getting enough courage to endure another session of Monaco is a workout in itself. It's not that Monaco is a real stinker in any one particular way; it's just that it feels like an undercooked, half-hearted attempt at a game.
This is going to be a short section. One of Monaco's strong points is the damage modelling. You really have to learn how to drive the cars because even scraping a wall gently can send your front wing flying off, which destroys the aerodynamics of your car. Unlike Monaco's rival, CART Flag to Flag, there are tons of ways to put a dent in your vehicle: banging into another car or wall will send visible shrapnel flying and seriously impede the way your car handles. You'll have to get to the pits as quickly as you can to repair the damage and get back on your way. Although a crash means the end of your day, there's something sickeningly satisfying about taking out four other cars with you in a melee of flying debris!
Retro mode is pretty fun... for a little while.
On the higher difficulty levels with all the realism settings on maximum, Monaco Grand Prix is very tough. If you're looking for an ultra-realistic racing experience, in terms of how an F1 car handles, where and when you have to break, and what special tweaks you have to do to your car, Monaco delivers. Even getting your car to turn properly can be a challenge, as even a small mistake can send you spinning out of control. You'll have to quickly learn how much gas and break to apply if you want to keep your car on the track. The hardcore gamers eat this stuff up, and although most gamers will find it frustrating, F1 buffs will love it.
Perhaps it's a little ironic that the most fun part of the game is an "extra" that Ubi Soft has added. There's a "retro" mode where you can race an F1 car from the 1950's around a track filled with rolling hills, mountainside tunnels, and villages. I can't quite understand why this mode exists other than saying "sorry" to people for the rest of the game. Driving along the one track is rather fun, with a much higher frame rate and cleaner graphics than the rest of the game. It doesn't serve any real purpose but it is a welcome distraction.
Make sure you've got your helmet on and grandma's strapped in tight, 'cause we're going in! Monaco Grand Prix does a lot of things wrong, but perhaps the biggest letdown is that they did not get the game officially licensed. Although they have all the real tracks, albeit without the real names, there are no official teams or drivers. In this day and age, this is a gigantic letdown with almost every sports game carrying its respective league's license. I want to race against Schumacher and Moore but instead you get knock-off names in their place. The game takes a major hit in the believability department with this move and I don't understand it. We're not talking about an "Extreme Games Mountain Climbing" license where no one playing the game would really care, this is Formula 1 Championship racing, darn it!
Even the interface is something awful.
The graphics are a let down as well. While there is decent damage modeling, the cars and tracks themselves simply don't look as good as CART Flag to Flag and are not representative of the Dreamcast's capabilities. At a distance, the graphics look grainy and washed out and make it hard to see the turns up ahead. From the crowd grandstands, to advertising, to the sky and city backgrounds, the game looks like it was a quick port of a PlayStation title with a couple of last-minute minor graphical touch ups. Maybe Ubi Soft thought they could cheat a little since you're driving so fast past the scenery in the first place. Or at least trying to drive fast, which is why a speedy frame rate is so crucial. Unfortunately, frame rate is another area where Monaco fails to deliver. While driving around the track for some practice laps, the game chugs along at a nice pace but as soon as you get another two or three cars on the screen, you'll notice a dramatic drop in the frame rate. Not only does this weaken the illusion of driving 300 kilometres an hour, but it also makes your car very hard to control and you get a sort of lag where the actions on-screen follow the buttons you press about a half second later. In a driving game where you need good control for split-second decisions, this is unacceptable.
Never mind the licensing and shoddy graphics, though. Great gameplay can overcome those shortcomings, right? Well, yeah, unfortunately, Monaco Grand Prix falls on its ass here as well. The progress from one race to another doesn't reward you in any way. You simply get a run down of the points standings and then the garage menu for the next race where you can prepare and tweak your car or run practice laps. By the time you're a few races into the season, you just want to get onto the next one in order to get it all over with. It's not rewarding, exciting, or fun. The core race gameplay underlying the progress of the whole game is frustrating as well. On medium difficulty or above, just the act of keeping your car on the track is a lesson in frustration. If you don't brake in time for a turn, you're going to drive onto the grass or dirt, and any attempt to steer back onto the track before you come to a stop sends your car into a spiral. Is this real? Maybe. Is this fun? Absolutely not. Just getting the car around the track feels so much like a chore; you may as well be racing a lawn mower. The other end of the spectrum is the easy mode. However, in this case, the game is too incredibly simple. It's like driving a shopping cart through a grocery store: very simple to stay on course, you can easily pass your rivals, and it's repetitive. Ubi Soft has failed to strike a balance for both arcade and simulation gamers.
Better get used to spinning out of control, unless you play on baby mode...
Both arcade and simulation gamers will agree that the audio in Monaco Grand Prix is terrible across the board. From the cheesy menu music and sound effects that sound like they're coming from a Colecovision, to the half dozen sound effects you hear within the car's cockpit, the audio is a complete let down. Ubi Soft only went as far as to get enough basic sound effects to get by and even then the sampling rate is quite low with fuzzy voice acting and underpowered engine noises. There's no roar of the crowd, no public announcer and little communication with your pit crew. Formula 1 cars are some of the fastest vehicles on the planet and have that trademarked high-pitched whine with the Doppler effect that we've all made while driving our own cars. Come on, you know the ones: "BrrrrrrRRRRRRRR! VrrroooooOOOOOMMMMMMMMMM! BrrrrBRRRbrrrr…." Especially on a next generation system like Dreamcast that has a great audio processor, this effort is unacceptable.
The Final Word
Monaco Grand Prix is a sub-par racing game in almost every way. If you're looking for a good racing sim, get CART Flag to Flag. This one stinks.
Developer: Ubi Soft
Publisher: Ubi Soft
Highs: Very realistic on the higher difficulty settings, good damage modeling, interesting retro mode, you get a brand new jewel case and coaster…
Lows: No official Formula 1 license, uninspired and unrewarding gameplay, poor graphics and frame rate, terrible audio.
Other: 1-2 players, VMU (for saving data), VGA Cord, Race Controller Compatible.
(out of a possible 10)
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