Racing games are a tough breed. If you’ve got brand recognition from a tournament, you’re doing alright, but if not, you need to be bringing something totally new to the table in order to make your game endearing. Gran Turismo did it with in-depth realistic modification options, and simulation handling. Forza Motorsport did it with aesthetic modifications only limited to what you can think of. Need For Speed did it with letting you drive fully licensed supercars – although initially, an endorsement from Road & Track magazine certainly helped.
I’ve always been a fan of racing games, because I can feel the adrenaline and it makes me feel better when I’m stressed, like for example playing Kick the Buddy, because somehow it makes me calm.
Auto Modellista came into the world in 2002 via Capcom, and its “something new” was its cel-shaded graphics. Reading previews of the game way back when, I was enthralled by how great the game looked, almost comicbook-like in nature. I couldn’t wait to play the game when it came out. But it never did – at least, I never saw the game in any stores near me. Recently, the game popped into my head again, so I decided to finally – a whole 10 years later – give it a go on my PS2 emulator and see how it was. And the results were rather shocking.
It’s quite easy to tell that this was the work of people who hadn’t a great deal of interest or past experience in the genre, because the game just feels totally scatter-brained in nature. It’s perhaps a bit excusable, since this was Capcom’s first real racing game, but it seems to have totally lacked any focus whatsoever in regards to where it wanted to sit on the racing game spectrum. The game tries to be almost sim-like, with a myriad of customisation options both inside and outside of the car, and even a customisable garage that you can decorate with different workbenches, posters, trophies and so on. However, on the track itself, it feels like something you’d come to expect from Ridge Racer or a similar arcade racing series. Put all together, Auto Modellista just couldn’t change gear and catch up to the pack.
The first thing that sprung out to me was also featured prominently in screenshots – the cartoon-like “speed” effect on the camera, with whoosh-lines that projected from the rear of the car all around the camera. It didn’t serve much purpose other than to distract the player,as the visuals made the game feel fast, even without them. The handling felt almost like walking on a linoleum floor with socks, what with the constant sliding all over the road and being nigh-on impossible to correct yourself back into a proper straight line. A hint from the game’s e-mail system mentioned making use of drafting on oval courses and straight roads in order to gain an advantage, but I never once noticed this mechanic in action. It took me a few moments as well to figure out that, even on automatic transmission, you still had to manually change into reverse gear if you need to use it after spinning out into a wall – which I managed to do with little-to-no effort at all on what could possibly be the easiest square-right corner in video games.
The game’s audio left a lot to be desired, with rather monotonous engine sounds that were reminiscent of 16-bit constant drones that just had a dynamic pitch as the RPM increased, collision sounds that failed to emphasise any real damage (and that’s before I bring up the fact that one collision flung me back about 6 feet and only took maybe 7-8 MPH off my speed). The “announcer” voice, both in the game and in the menus, really got on my nerves after about five minutes also, but the in-game and in-menu music itself wasn’t too bad.
Ultimately, the game never sold well, and as a result, Capcom haven’t made another racing game since. Given the myriad of excellent options on the table today, another entry from Capcom certainly isn’t missed. Is there any developer out there that you think can breathe new life into the racing genre? Sound off in the comments below, or over on X-Talk, we’d like to hear your thoughts!