World Racing 2 seems to be the unfortunate victim of circumstance. During the most crowded market of the year, amidst higher-profile releases like EA's Need for Speed: Most Wanted and Bizarre's Project Gotham Racing 3, TDK and Synetic unleashed a sequel to 2003's World Racing, a title which generated little interest, nor critical acclaim. And the tragedy of the situation is that Synetic has created a very strong package, and for many this holiday season, it may well be the right choice.
Things are not what they first seem to be. World Racing 2 is a title that seems squarely aimed at the simulation market, boasting "realistic driving physics with more than 200 parameters" and touting its wide selection of vehicles. And yet, despite all this, World Racing 2 is very much an arcade experience, somewhere between the (admittedly still arcadey) PGR and the completely over-the-top likes of San Francisco Rush. Expect to be gunning on your nitros to get enough speed to leap a drawbridge, drifting like mad through turns, taking shortcuts through fields, and even driving through a stargate in the pyramids of Egypt. This is not Gran Turismo, and for those of us more interested in adrenaline-fueled racing action that meddling with menus, this is surely no crime.
World Racing 2 packs quite a bit of meat, as well. The backbone of this package is its career mode, which consists of dozens of missions, some of which involve as many as 4 or 5 individual races. These missions pack an impressive level of variety. Although there are technically only 6 maps in the game, these levels are absolutely massive, so much so that I was able to drive around one for close to a half hour without retracing my tracks. Each mission will lay out a course within this huge arena, sometimes using roads, and sometimes just little yellow ribbons to guide the player through completely off-road routes. Still others will have players navigating through various gates and making their own routes, while other missions may not be races at all, but task-oriented challenges. The possibilities are nigh limitless, which helps sustain interest through the very lengthy career.
The action itself is very tight. Although many of the races are challenging, rarely, if ever, did I become frustrated by the controls or the handling of the vehicles. There's a slider to change the physics from simulation to arcade, but even when skewed toward the sim side, the cars are simple to control. The damage model is also beautiful. Cars will get paint scrapes and mud splatters, damaged doors will hang open, fenders will tatter and front ends will crumple. This damage has little bearing on how your ride will handle, though, and need an incredible amount of abuse to actually break-down.
Playing the career mode will reward players with "speedbucks," a currency used to purchase tracks and cars for some of the other modes (Speedbucks are useless within career mode, since each mission has a pre-determined selection of cars and tracks). These are earned not only by completing missions, but also by performing impressive drifts, jumps, and for playing fair (not taking shortcuts, not ramming opponents, etc). Extra modes include one-off races, online racing with up to 6 players, split screen multiplayer, and joyriding. There's nothing too wildly original as far as peripheral modes go, but all the basics are covered.
The European sensibilities of this Germany-grown title probably won't appeal to some on this side of the pond. With 17 manufactures licensed, the car selection has been much improved since the first World Racing, a Mercedes-only title, but there are still no American or Japanese cars to be found. While there are some pretty snazzy rides to be had, also expect to spend some time racing with 20 year old Volkswagen hatchbacks and other horrendously uncool hoopties (though I must confess I do derive joy from pimping these cars out with airbrushed flames a la Wayne's World). The mediocre euro-techno soundtrack will likely leave many longing for a custom soundtrack option, but alas, all they will find is the ability to create a play list from the meager 12 tracks available. In broader terms, World Racing 2 suffers for lack of style.
But none of this matters when you're behind the wheel. For all its marketing naiveté, it packs a substantial and addictive racing package, with simple, satisfying controls, and levels that are both challenging and diverse. It won't likely satisfy the hardcore simulation fans it seemingly targets, but for the more casual racing fan, it's a compelling package. World Racing 2 has surprised me, and it's always unfortunate when a game appears to be less than it is. With two demos available, I really recommend that all arcade racing fans at least look into this one.