Gamestyle Archive Intro: Andy takes us back to a golden age of racing on the PlayStation 2 for this budget historical release. Ready, set, GO!
Something is happening on the PS2; something that usually only occurs in the PC games market – that something is a veritable explosion of budget titles. Not only are budget re-releases of the platform’s most popular titles selling like hot cakes, but there also exists a thriving market for new games from smaller independent studios and publishers.
Golden Age of Racing falls into this latter category and, as the title suggests, harks back to a time when the Grand Prix was just that (and not the two-hour yawnfest it has become). Men were men and didn’t need things like ‘aerodynamics’ or ‘downforce’ – just a bloody great big engine strapped into a fibreglass tube. Golden Age ditches arcade-style action in favour of a more realistic approach, and whilst the game doesn’t feature any licensed cars or tracks, what it does do is successfully evoke the spirit of one of motorsport’s bygone eras.
First impressions of Golden Age of Racing aren’t particularly good, as the presentation has a distinctly ‘low rent’ feel about it. There’s none of the usual introductions we’ve become accustomed to, just a loading screen followed by a menu screen. The bare minimum of game modes are on offer: time trials, exhibition, championship, and two-player split-screen (although this mode was disabled in the code provided to Gamestyle). There’s also a trophy room where you can gloat over your silverware – or more likely shed a tear at your inability to win any meaningful trophies.
The first thing you’ll notice when you start racing is that there’s no map of the circuit – that’s right, apparently ‘proper’ Grand Prix drivers didn’t need puny reminders of where they were going. It takes mere moments to realise what a dreadful omission this is, as corners are poorly defined or not signposted. This means that more often than not you’ll carry too much speed into a bend and find yourself hitting the gravel (or a wall). This is frustrating, to say the least, and until you’ve really learnt the tracks, there’s little option but to slow almost to a complete stop when attempting corners.
The handling of the cars can also prove to be exasperating. The overpowered rear-wheel beasts fly in a straight line, but try and manoeuvre them at any sort of speed without first-hand knowlege of their handling, and you’ll find yourself spinning off the circuit – a lot. There’s a handful of different cars on offer, but there’s very little between them (except for the predictable variations in top speed and handling ability). It’s also possible to visibly damage your car, inasmuch as you can smash the front or back suspension – making cornering more difficult or reducing your car’s top speed, depending on what you break. These two flaws combined mean there is virtually nothing here by way of a ‘quick-fix’ (as one might expect from a racing game, or indeed for the novice racer).
Hours of practice are required to really get to grips with the game and to mount a credible challenge in championship mode. Of course, this also means that by the time you get to the championship, you’ve probably seen more or less everything the game has to offer (save for a handful of unlockable extras). The championship mode does have a variable difficulty setting, but this only extends to the AI of the other drivers. Bizarrely, for a game pitching itself as a realistic interpretation of Grand Prix racing, the crash physics are almost improbable; after some collisions (where carnage is expected), nothing else happens. At other times, low-speed impact results in cars flying wildly into the air, only to land and continue racing.
Gamestyle suspects that this provides fuel for Golden Age’s replay feature (which allows you to stop and review the action at any point in the race). Whilst amusing the first couple of times you use it, the novelty soon wears off. At first glance, the game looks pretty enough; the cars are realistic and well-detailed – skidding round a corner results in tyre tracks being left on the road and smoke coming from the tyres. Look a little deeper though and you’ll soon notice that the backgrounds are very unconvincing, replete with cardboard crowds and abhorrent trees. Everything’s very jaggy as well and when things get busy on screen the framerate drops – not good.
Sonically, Golden Age of Racing also fails to convince: there’s only one short loop of lounge-styled music played ad infinitum over the menu screen, and that’s it. The cars mostly make the right noises in all the right places, although there’s a peculiar ‘knocking’ noise too; Gamestyle has been unable to determine if this constitutes suspension rattling or the brakes being applied. Golden Age of Racing ultimately disappoints with its difficulty. Whilst Gamestyle agrees that games should provide a sound challenge, that challenge shouldn’t come at the cost of excluding all those who haven’t already sunk hours of practice into the game.
Worst still, a budget price tag shouldn’t equate to cut-down graphics and presentation. Nevertheless, there is something here for hardcore racing fanatics or those truly willing to put the hours in. For the rest us however, this game is best given a miss – because the cheap price point doesn’t compensate for the control pads you’ll destroy in frustration.
Gamestyle Score: 5/10