Dutch developers Davilex have gained a reputation for releasing racing games based in major European cities, the previous title to this one being the first London Racer. Available only for the PC it is now fairly old but sufficiently popular that Davilex have released this sequel, subtitled World Challenge. This bit confused me - how can a London Racer be allowed to race throughout the world? Doesn't that make him a World Racer? Anyway, that's the name. I guess they wanted to increase the scope of the game but retain the links to the original.
Installation of the game is smooth and trouble free and I only had to make a few tweaks to the display settings and controls to get my steering wheel working in game. Pick a car (all of which are suspiciously similar to models from the major European car manufacturers, yet subtly different so as to avoid licensing issues) and you're away. The tracks twist and turn through several major cities including London (obviously!), Edinburgh and Paris. There are other bonus tracks available on completing various stages throughout the game, but I won't reveal what they are so the surprise is still there (clue, think across the water).
The tracks themselves twist and turn with only a few places where you can really pick up speed. Most cities are really like that, so it's realistic, if not exactly much fun. I like to go fast and I also like it to look like I'm going fast too. London Racer: World Challenge (LR:WC) certainly does this in a convincing fashion with an excellent illusion of speed and, although slightly biased on the arcade side of things, realistic feeling physics and momentum to the cars. They feel as if they have real weight and inertia and respond in a believable way to smooth or fast changes in direction. Accelerating and braking also feel realistic. Front drive cars will even step out of line if you brake suddenly or lift off when turning a corner, just as most front driven cars do in real life.
The starter cars all have that tinniness you expect from a little 4 banger motor straining to propel you as fast as possible down the straight. The faster cars have the suitably high pitched whine of a highly strung V8 or the compact V6 that some of them have and they do sound great, especially the V8 howl at full chat. Nitros are also available to increase your speed and the damage you car has suffered directly affects its handling, acceleration and top speed. Luckily there are nitro refills in the shape of blue arrows and damage repair icons shaped like spanners that you can also pick up simply by running over them. You'll need these icons a lot, especially the nitro ones as you'll use a lot of boost just trying to stay in touch with the AI players.
This is a weakness of the game, but it's often the same old story with racing AI as you need to practice lots and really know the track before you can even think about gaining positions or winning. Especially since in this game the AI seems to have an inexhaustible supply of nitro to boot. Now, I'm not saying they have an unfair advantage, but I really hate it when developers seem to make it one rule for the player and one for the AI just to give some sort of challenge to the game. There's nothing more likely to get a player demoralized than realizing the computer is cheating. There is another flaw to this game, and that's the almost inexcusable lack of an online mode. There is a multiplayer option, but it's only for two people on the same PC, a poor imitation compared to online racing against a group of buddies.
The graphics move along at a fair old clip and it doesn't need some sort of alien-spec machine to get it running well either. Many parts of Paris and London are identifiable, although being an Edinburgh resident myself, I do wonder where on earth they got the picture of Edinburgh Castle from, because that ain't Edinburgh Castle!
The steering controls are a little bit sloppy and could do with tightening up, but apart from that, the game doesn't really have any glaring faults. I'd have thought some extra time playtesting with different people to expose the AI's problems, some proper research into what cities actually look like and a bit more effort on the multiplayer front would have worked wonders. As it stands though, a solid effort, if lacking in the final polish required for a top-level title.
People who downloaded London Racer: World Challenge have also downloaded:
Live for Speed, Europe Racer (a.k.a. Europe Racing), Leadfoot: Stadium Off Road Racing, Master Rallye, Le Mans 24 Hours (a.k.a. Test Drive Le Mans), Manhattan Chase, Le Mans 24 Hours, Rallisport Challenge
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