Xtreme Air Racing combines two simulation genres -- flight and racing.
It offers more than 20 courses in five locales, with a selection of over 25 single and double-prop aircraft featuring realistic flight physics based on 200-plus independent airframe variables. Modes of play include Single Race (race on any course at any skill level using airplanes unlocked during race season), Race Season (full season with rankings), Free Flight (explore courses in a non-race environment), and Combat (head-to-head dogfights in special combat tracks).
Three types of Race Seasons constitute the heart of Xtreme Air Racing: medium length tracks including an authentic replication of the Reno, Nevada course, a tight-track season, and an endurance season featuring extra long tracks. Seasons are run in four increasingly difficult skill levels (Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum) requiring specific accomplishments in each to unlock the next. Once the Gold level is achieved, bonus aircraft, such as the Messerschmidt Bf 109 and the Japanese Shinden fighter, become available. Race Seasons include qualifying, practice, and race sessions, as well as a comprehensive aircraft setup option for modifications like gearing ratios and propeller settings in three general areas: thrust-increasing, drag-decreasing, and weight-decreasing.
Customized settings let players opt for race assistance, with visual aids such as course markers, air hoops, and pylon lasers. Other options include fog, sky detail, multi-texturing, particle effects, light points, roll and pitch sensitivity, mouse control, ground collisions, engine damage, wake turbulence, and more. Several views are available, some especially designed for players that undergo vertigo or nausea when dealing with loops, rolls, and spinning terrain. Up to eight pilots can compete via a LAN or Internet connection.
In what is quite possibly the worst use of the term "xtreme" ever, Xtreme Air Racing is a virtual representation of the real life sport of airplane racing. The sad truth is that if pilots in these races tried to pull anything in the least bit "xtreme" they would probably be banned from the sport for endangering the lives of their fellow pilots and the thousands of spectators on the ground. Also, the game itself is a straight simulation. The only "xtreme" thing you can really do in the main mode of the game is to go outside the course and receive a time penalty. Now that's extreme! Xtreme Air Racing is well put together and is a realistic depiction of the real life sport of air racing, but it is too bloody boring for anyone other than hardcore flight simulation fans to enjoy.
Xtreme Air Racing is based on the races held in Reno, Nevada every year. All of the pilots and their aircraft are faithfully recreated in the game. Airplanes such as the P51 Mustang, F8F Bearcat, F4U Corsair, P38 Lighting and more are all included in the game. The announcer for the races and the first voice you hear when you boot up the game is the man behind the microphone at the real races at Reno, Gordon Bowman Jones. Better still for fans of the real life races, racing legend R.A. "Bob" Hoover fully endorses Xtreme Air Racing and helped make sure the game was as realistic as possible. Whether or not those names and airplanes actually matter to you is another story.
The modes available in Xtreme Air Racing are pretty standard. A free flight mode, a single race mode, a season mode, and a combat mode (more on that later) round out the game play. Season mode is where you'll be spending most of your time in the season mode where new tracks and planes can be unlocked once you prove you can handle the easy stuff. The courses available range from ovals to figure eights to long and twisting endurance races.
The races consist of you and a handful of competitors racing around narrow tracks, all the while staying under the 1,500 ft ceiling. This is a lot harder than it sounds because not only do you have to worry about not crashing into your competitors (or them crashing into you), but you also have to watch your engine temperature and your water and nitrous levels. If you use your nitro boost too much, your engine will overheat so you have to turn on your spray bar to cool it down. On long races, not only can you run out of water and nitrous, but you can run out of fuel as well. This means you have to hold back and be fairly patient for most of the race rather than going at full throttle the whole way. Flight sim fans will probably love it, though, while arcade racer fans will get frustrated and/or bored rather quickly.
Adding in even more detail to the realistic racing experience are the amazingly deep tuning options available. You can fiddle with the engine, play with the engine RPM to propeller RPM ratio, and even decide how much engine coolant, fuel, and nitrous you are going to carry. All of the available tuning options will make simulation fans very happy. Each change makes a very noticeable difference, and tuning your plane becomes absolutely necessary the further you get into the game.
As I mentioned above, there is a combat mode in Xtreme Air Racing, but I wasn't very impressed with it. Finding the enemy plane is a difficult task because there isn't any radar. You are left simply scanning the environment looking for a tiny point of bright color against the bland background. Of course, finding the enemy plane is the easy part. Getting your plane into position where you can actually shoot the other plane down is rather difficult. I suppose not being able to spot the enemy plane easily and the difficulty of actually shooting the enemy plane down make Xtreme Air Racing's combat mode more realistic, but it still isn't very fun.
Controlling Xtreme Air Racing is difficult, but becomes slightly easier the longer you play it. A flight stick is the best way to play the game, but a joypad will work pretty well. The keyboard does not offer precise enough movements to play the game effectively, so a flight stick or joypad is definitely your best bet. The control setup I used was a Wingman Rumblepad where the left stick controlled the ailerons and the right stick controlled the rudder. The nitrous boost, and spray bar were assigned to face buttons and the throttle was assigned to the sliding throttle control on top of the controller. This setup worked quite well, but I'm sure a proper joystick would work a lot better.
Graphically, Xtreme Air Racing looks pretty good. The planes are all precisely detailed to look exactly like their real life counterparts. The only real complaint I have is that the ground is pretty ugly. The same boring texture map covers the entire area with only simple little buildings scattered about to break up the monotony. This lack of anything interesting to look at makes the free flight mode pretty much worthless, which is a shame. One thing worth noting is that the game features pretty spectacular crashes. Wings and propellers break off and your plane makes a nice fiery explosion when it hits the ground. Something that really hurts Xtreme Air Racing is that there is no real sense of speed. The speedometer says 400 mph, but it feels more like you are going 50 cruising up Highway 95.
The sound in Xtreme Air Racing gets the job done and nothing more. The airplane noises sound muted and when there are several planes around you it sounds more like a swarm of angry bees than a squadron of 4000hp racing planes. The announcer becomes annoying after a while as he enthusiastically announces that you cut a pylon or crashed into the ground. R.A. "Bob" Hoover whispers advice into your ear and coaches you around the track, but even his soft sweet voice will wear on you after a while. Luckily, there is an option to record your own voice as the announcer. Making use of this option can give you an edge as you can remind yourself in terms you can understand of upcoming obstacles. This option can also be pretty funny if the right people get their hands on the microphone.
So if everything is technically sound, why is the game still getting a 3/5? I like simulation style games quite a bit. The extremely deep tuning options and precision controls required in simulation games are a welcome challenge. I have been known to play the Microsoft Flight Simulator games for hours on end, so I am no stranger to flight sims. My main problem with Xtreme Air Racing is that it is flat out boring. It just amazes me how a real life sport that is so fast and so exciting can be so sluggish as a video game.
Overall, Xtreme Air Racing will appeal to hardcore flight sim fans and hardcore flight sim fans only. Despite decent graphics and sound and endorsement from major personalities of the sport, Xtreme Air Racing just isn't exciting enough to entice arcade gamers to play it. A little bit more speed or slightly easier controls could have added immensely to making Xtreme Air Racing more fun while not hurting the sim aspects at all. If you are a fan of flight sim games, you'll probably like Xtreme Air Racing more than I did.
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