Sunday, February 2, 2014

Video Game Slush Pile: Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano

Start with a box full of old games that I played a few times years ago and then gave up on, deciding that even I could find better ways to squander life's precious gift. Dig 'em out and give them a more proper play-through, document the results, mix in some humor and some extreme right-wing political ranting and then post the results. This is the video game slush pile. Let's do this shit.

For the inaugural edition we've got a 2005 racing game for the PlayStation 2 that was primarily a European release but made it's way to the Shining City on the Hill as a budget title from the good people at "Valcon." I love that name, by the way. The best qualities of both value and, well, getting conned. It just screams "only available at America's one remaining video store and in a crate in the back of a Utah mom and pop shoe store."

 All the thrills of two identical looking cars going through turns!

In Europe this game was called "SCAR" which stands for "Squadra Corse Alfa Romeo." I guess finding entertainment in the lasting reminders of severe wounding is more a continental thing, because the American release has a far more straightforward title that informs you that racing and Italy are going to make sweet, sweet love on your moron box when you pop this thing in. The Alfa Romeo logo is still featured prominently, complete with Illuminati-themed heraldry of a snake monster devouring some poor guy. Call me crazy, but reminders that our reptilian rulers are committed to trying to exterminate us is not something I'd like on my midlife-crisis-mobile. 

"Car and Snake Monster" magazine gave it five stars.

In addition to blatant NWO boasting, this logo has another bad aspect, namely that we'll only be getting cars from this one manufacturer in the game. This means in the career mode you'll end up racing the same three or four bright red cars over and over. Against fields made up entirely of the same make and model that you're using. On the same handful of tracks. But hey, $19.99 in 2005 money, which is now the equivalent of several hundred thousand dollars. Or will be, once our "snake friend" depicted above pulls the hyper-inflation lever.

"That's an eye-tal-yan car, yup."

There's two game modes. One is called "Instant Action" but only lives up to that title if you consider "action" to be giant lock logos over everything and "instant" to be "play the career mode for twenty hours so some of this stuff is actually usable." Seriously, about 90% of the already sparse content in this mode starts out locked. Don't even bother.

Luckily the other mode is at least playable. It's called "Dynasty" but it's really just a career mode, not something where you can buy a racing team or the like. It actually tries to be original, which is very welcome. This is, after all, the "Racing RPG!" "I'm Rune Staff the Elf, Italian car driver of light!" "I steer my car into the darkness!" etc.

What this all means is you can customize your driver's skills, putting earned points into things like "Heart" and "Acceleration." Yeah, tough choice there. You can even win special "gear" that improves your abilities further. +3 Helm of Drifting, that sort of thing. Your driver has composure points that are damaged when someone is riding your back bumper, but you can turn the tables and "intimidate" by doing the same to your rivals. Your car has "hit points" that decrease when you try to do anything aggressive or cool and pay the inevitable consequences. Brake, turn, brake turn, that's how you're supposed to do it. Destroy your car and you lose, obviously. To make up for this you get the oddly named "Tiger Effect" that lets you rewind time to correct a severe accident. One can only imagine how a guy who drives Italian cars came to have such awesome power over reality and why he chooses to squander it on "one make and model only!" races.

"Why you no slow down for turn?"

I made my way through this mode, gradually learning to slow the hell down for the so-called "turning," intimidating and being intimidated, and gaining experience points to spend on the "acceleration" skill so I could accelerate slightly faster. It was o.k. Contrast this to the technically brilliant but soulless and dreary Gran Turismo 4 which came out in the same year. In that game you face dreadful and never-ending license tests, have to grind the same races over and over for paltry amounts of "credits" (time to win the Sunday Cup...for the 10th time...) and generally face way too many hurdles to simply getting to the core of the game and having fun.

In Racing Italiano you get right into winning and improving and the races themselves actually can be competitive and interesting, rather than "my car is way underpowered, I'm boned" or "my car is way overpowered, hope I don't spin it out while way ahead." This comes at the expense of variety and options. In final analysis, this one's all right.

Graphics: The cars look like cars, the track looks like a track. I'm satisfied.

Control: Your usual racing game "Shit, a corner! Mash the brakes and fail to find a good racing line." Might be a little more forgiving and less realistic, which I'm fine with. The "rewind time" feature was very welcome, although it takes forever to recharge. Considering the rules of general relativity were just violated by some nobody in an IT racer, I guess I can live with it.

Depth: What part of "role-playing game!!!" didn't you hear? Well, it's actually pretty shallow, but major credit for trying something new. You can eventually unlock all those tracks and cars, but by the time you do you'll probably be thinking "that's enough Italian racing for now." I know I was.

Overall: It was decent.

The Critics Rave!

The underwhelming vehicle selection is compounded by the fact that the cars look pretty ugly. - Gamespot

Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano isn't even worth a budget price. - Gamespot

There are a billion other racing games on the market and most every one of them is better than Alfa Romeo Racing Italiano. - IGN

Shill Section

Aaron Zehner is the author of "Posts from the Underground," now available in paperback and e-book. Read a free excerpt here.

His first novel The Foolchild Invention is also available in paperback and e-book format. Read free excerpts here and here.

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