Auto Modellista

Gamestyle Archive intro: this review dates from the end of 2002 and is another without a score – if we turn up a score as we go through the archive then we’ll update this review! Ah, the memories of the cel-shading genre.

Writer: JJ

Format: Playstation 2

Published: December 2002

automodelista

The Cel-Shading fad is now spreading into new genres, with XXI resurrecting the first person genre, and Auto Modellista sparking life into arcade racing.   Yet let us pause here for a moment, because the version on review here is a truncated version of those available in America and Japan: the online features have been removed.   For once Playstation 2 owners can cast a jealous eye over their Xbox counterparts, but do not blame Capcom as the European infrastructure was totally out of their control, and there is an add-on disc next year to allow such features.  However as I presume the percentage of readers who have broadband at home is reasonably low, ideally we can focus on the offline aspects, which lets face it, we’ll have to!

Despite the range of options and manufacturer cars included in Auto Modellista this is no denying that the game is purely an arcade racer, albeit in a fresh new outfit.   Perhaps on second thought you could envisage what the developer had in mind whilst creating such a game: one that bridged the gap between Ridge Racer and Gran Turismo.   In some respects this has been achieved, although the stylish look of the game takes precedence over anything contained with its confines.   Over the past few months the limited appearances of Auto Modellista have sparked concerns and criticism over the handling of the game, which at ECTS was particularly ropey.   Of the many games on display at the Playstation 2 event, Auto Modellista was one that did not involve a lengthy queue.   I’m glad to report that things have improved, but first we’ll start with what the game can offer.

All racing games these days come with some element of customisation and visual modifications, and after reviewing the Mech-themed Phantom Crash this theme is continued with Auto Modellista.  In fact this was one of the core principals of the game, allowing Japanese car fans to tune their own favourite model, then adorn it with colour schemes of their own choosing.   Online racing would be an attractive proposition, but to visit areas and hang out with other drivers comparing your own virtual vehicle would be heaven to any boy racer.   As it stands the main single player mode is simply called Garage Life, because this is where you will spend most of your virtual time.   Everything about Auto Modellista is different, from the moment go: when you are offered to customise the type of garage building you will use, you realise this is no ordinary racer.

Apart from the standard versus and time attack modes, Garage Life is with one obvious exception the only mode worth mentioning in Auto Modellista.   The range of real manufacturers covers all the main Japanese car producers, with a limited selection of some of their most famous models.   Capcom have tried to create the feeling that your garage is very much your home.  Here you can stick up posters and answer read mail as, and when it arrives – a similar feature seen in Sega’s Burning Rangers.   Mail can be a useful source of information and hints to gaining everything possible from this mode.   Beyond these superficial features you have the challenge of customising your car, visually and mechanically.   Everything can be fashioned to create your dream-racing car and the more success you have on the track, the more items become available to you.

Racing itself is an unusual affair, not because of the handling or tracks, but in a world of realistic visuals and racing, the look of Auto Modellista is eye capturing.   The handling of the cars has been improved and with a little practice you’ll soon be accustomed to how to control your car.   The default handling and braking on some models is a little heavy handed, with over sensitive breaks and cruise ship turning.   Ideally you should look at the handling of each and every model before deciding on your selection, however just like the real world, consumers are driven by looks and fancy add-ons: when does handling come into that?   A minor grip is that all of the cars are available from the start, with the exception of hidden models; this removes the learning curve of beginning with a small motor, before jumping into a mechanical beast.   Capcom perhaps thought that many would perhaps stick with only one model and turn it into their own, different certainly but perhaps not ideal.

As expected Auto Modellista is a stunning game and certainly brings something new to the Cel-Shaded genre.   I cannot even attempt to do it justice through words alone and even playing it is not enough.  The only way to really capture Auto Modellista is through the replays, and here you can enjoy the weather, lighting and much more besides, with autumn leaves being my own favourite.   Capcom again include a 60hz mode for us to enjoy the speed of the game, which can only be appreciated in first person.   Other views tend to highlight the lack of movement, which apart from the wind effect can fool the player.   I would have preferred the wind effect to highlight a slipstream, which you could use to overtake an opponent, but this is arcade despite all the customisable features.

Recently Capcom have built a fearsome reputation for their Survival Horror and 2D fighting game offerings.  When discussing the track design of Auto Modellista, the lack of experience is fairly apparent, as despite the glorious visuals the course layout is mundane in comparison.   Bland city circuits, a downhill course that resembles ski slalom, and the typical oval circuit is all that awaits the arcade fan.   Regardless of whether the online element influenced their design, the short and sweet nature of each can only be seen as a disappointment.   Thankfully the lack of Japanese rock music is a blessing and in its place we have the more modern and attractive ambient dance, which are more prevalent on European releases.   The one audio let down is the commentator who will only provide minor sound bites that soon become annoying.   Again totally arcade in nature, but best left in the arcade I feel.

The other worthy mode in Auto Modellista is the Replay and Edit Room, here you can view the interactive replays, but go far beyond what rivals have to offer.   Yes you can edit views, create negative visuals and choose your own favourite music.  What other game allows you to include effects similar to those seen in the intro, control the commentary, and split the screen into different sizes and various sounds?   It’s a well-balanced feature, which allows you to take the most mundane replay, and turn it into a visual feast.  Only here can you fully appreciate how good Auto Modellista looks.

Despite the unique look of Auto Modellista, the lack of decent tracks, challenges and innovation beyond the graphics employed means that the game is an empty shell of what it could have been.   Don’t get me wrong as I love arcade racing and would pick Rage Racer over Gran Turismo anytime, but minus the online play and stripped of the Cel-Shading, there is no getting away from just how ordinary Auto Modellista really is.

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