"No matter how excellently you race, your opponents will be right on your tail or just in front of you. Even if you crash and burn, you won’t lose track of them because the game just keeps you moving on its own. That leaves you free to explore IGPX’s primary draw: big robot punches."
The idea behind IGPX has obvious merit. Take a bunch of giant mechs with feet that let them skate along looping highways, then form up teams of pilots to steer them through a mad dash for the finish line. It could have been a blast, one of those rare license-based games that compels people to play it no matter what their thoughts on the source material. Unfortunately, the tiresome execution doesn’t quite live up to the premise.
When you first begin playing IGPX, its shortcomings won’t be obvious. The game sort of eases you into its flaws, as if hoping that’ll keep you from noticing. There’s a simple setup that divides races into three classes. You have to make your way from the bottom to the top and that means playing through some courses. Therein lies the first problem.
Though at first you might think to yourself that the courses look pretty good, you’ll soon grow sick of them. Part of that is because you race the same drab tracks something like a million times. Another reason they don’t work so well is that they’re essentially duplicates of one another. You get some concrete and it loops around itself, twisting this way and that while in the background, murals float by and hardly make any impression on you at all. If you do notice them, you’ll probably forget them a second later. They could just as easily be nursery wallpaper.
The visual issue is compounded by a lack of true substance. You’ll scratch your head, wondering how to tell one track from another outside of memorizing backgrounds. Aside from occasional bits of debris, there isn’t much to distinguish them. Stages are remembered as “the one where there’s grating for a few seconds” or “the one where you fly into the air at the top of a steep drop.” It’s unlikely that you’ll ever come to prefer one zone over another.
For some racing games, that flaw alone would be damning. In the case of IGPX, it’s merely annoying. That’s because the backgrounds ultimately don’t matter much. Neither do any curves (or lack thereof). The game isn’t so much about high speed as it is combat. No matter how excellently you race, your opponents will be right on your tail or just in front of you. Even if you crash and burn, you won’t lose track of them because the game just keeps you moving on its own. That leaves you free to explore IGPX’s primary draw: big robot punches.
Each race begins with a rolling start. Acceleration throughout most of the race is automatic, except when you choose to boost. You have a gauge that shows where you are in relation to the other racers and there’s a meter that shows what progress you’ve made around the track. If a zone has hazards like blockades or scaffolding, it’s marked in red so that you can pay attention when you glide around to that portion of the course.
While the race is in progress, you’ll spend most of your time monitoring the gauge. The green dots are your enemies, the blue ones your allies. You typically race in a squad of three, and you can switch from one to the next whenever you like. Theoretically, this allows for a lot of strategy because you can have one mech that is the fast one, another that packs the toughest punch and a final one that is somewhere in between. Or, you might be like me and outfit all three of them essentially the same way. The choice is yours and it ultimately doesn’t seem to matter a whole lot. Your opponents are still going to punch you and send you rolling and cussing at the worst possible moments, and you’ll sometimes be able to counter with punches that send them into the stratosphere. It’s a give-and-take sort of relationship between you and the AI.
Then the racing part comes into play. When you near the end of the track, there’s a zone where you suddenly gain the equivalent of a nitrous boost. So do your opponents, who will always arrive there at about the same time. This is your cue to mash the ‘square’ button and hope you are the first to cross the finish line. Meanwhile, your opponents are doing the same and possibly using cheap special attacks that force you to crash. If they hit you, then the whole race was for nothing. If you try to block, it’ll slow you down and they’ll zip past you and over the finish line for victory.
The good news is that if anyone on your team—even your computer-controlled buddies—crosses the finish line in first place, you’re okay. Since they stay just ahead of you and behind you, sometimes they’ll save your butt. Other times, you’ll be about to claim victory and someone will snipe you. Your team members will have crashed earlier in the course and now you lose in the last few seconds. Never has rubberband AI been so transparent! Points are tallied so that the team with the most points is the winner, but get this: there’s a total of 30 available points and whoever comes in first place gets 15. Why they even bothered with points beyond first place is a mystery.
Whether you win or lose the race, though, not much changes. You just unlock another race against someone else and then repeat. There are a few variations on the theme, but mostly the game will feel about the same after the first match as it will after the fiftieth. The only real diversion is the ‘Garage,’ but even that doesn’t help much because no matter what parts you purchase, you’re ultimately still racing about the same mech with opponents that will stay even with you the whole time. The only time you’ll notice any improvement at all is about midway through the game, when you should be able to afford some of the better upgrades but your opponents haven’t yet become ruthless. Then, a few rounds later, the game goes back to feeling just like it did at the start.
The feel that you’re just playing the same thing over and over isn’t helped at all by the voice work, which is good but in short supply. After every race, you’ll hear one of a few clips say something vaguely relating to your performance. Before each duel, you’ll hear one of a few dialogues and one of the characters will probably say ‘hell’ or ‘damn’ to remind you that IGPX is an edgy cartoon. The voices will irritate the hell out of you in time, and you can’t skip them. They’re probably just there to mask load times, which are fairly short but not as brief as they would be in an ideal world.
Like the load times, IGPX feels just that little bit too long. You’ll find yourself wishing for variety well before it ends. Instead, the developers ask you to accept more races on the same dull tracks, against the same few opponents as you the title of Immortal Grand Prix champion. It’s worth it if you like the cartoon, maybe, or if the premise is too much for you to resist. It would even make a good rental. Just don’t mistake it for the sort of the game you’ll likely want as part of your permanent collection.
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Staff review by Jason Venter (September 26, 2006)
Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.
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