Nestled inside of Sony’s booth at E3 were a number of PSP stations like the above, this one shaped supposedly like a high school lounge, others like a subway car, one offering first-class airline seats, you get the picture. One area had a few playable versions of Race Driver 2006 on the PSP, which I of course spent a few minutes with.
Flipping through the game’s menus, I was impressed at the huge array of cars and tracks they’d managed to squeeze on the UMD. High-tech DTM machines, good ‘ol boy stock cars, Aussie V8’s, formula cars, and even rally cars are represented here. Sixty tracks are present as well, including circuits, rally stages, and even ice stages. The game also supports eight-player wireless and a ton of racing (and non-racing) challenges that will task you with beating a certain time on track, or drifting your way to a high score.
It all sounds good, and surprisingly it looks good too. The graphics have a bit of a flat cell-shaded look to them, with the cars seeming to lack textures in an effort to save the PSP’s little GPU from overheating. However, it does have a surprisingly good look on the little console, and car damage is handled quite well too. Bumpers crumple and doors flap open after accidents, and while you won’t see the same shower of bits and pieces as you will after an impact on the most recent PC version, overall crash effects are quite good.
Physics aren’t bad either. Obviously the little thumb-stick doesn’t offer terrifically precise control, especially for stock-car racing, but the game’s been tuned to handle it well. Cars feel very well planted to the ground and are difficult to spin, but the intent of this game is getting a taste of a variety of series and having fun while you’re doing it, which doesn’t exactly lend itself to realism. This isn’t a sim by any means. That said, the game’s a big step over most of the other currently available PSP racers.
So, it all sounds pretty decent, but I haven’t mentioned the worst part yet: load times. Admittedly, I didn’t have a stopwatch with me and the noise and lights at E3 can do funny things with your perception of time, but it seemed to be about a 20 second wait per track I visited. This is an awfully long time when you consider the game is meant to be played in short bursts while you’re on the go. I have many books that deliver a much higher thrill-to-boredom ratio than that. Normally I chalk up poor load times at E3 to early and unoptimized code, but given that this game is slated to be released on May 30, just two weeks away, I don’t think there’s any time left for optimization.
Race Driver 2006, which now seems destined to become a yearly series ala Madden is actually looking like a fun and playable game on the PSP. Unfortunately, there’s nothing playable on the loading screens, and unless something radical changes between now and the end of the month, you’ll be spending as much time waiting as you will lapping.