Racing titles done in this style date back to Super Monaco GP for the Sega Genesis. The gameplay back then was tight, and when played with surround sound ( this allowed you to hear cars approaching from the left and right sides), many felt that Super Monico GP was well ahead of its time. Well, times have changed, consoles have been bought and sold, and the Segas' newest machine is sporting another Monaco GP title. Being a true fan of past Monaco titles, my expectations were high when I peeled off the shrink wrap.
While the intro does a fairly good job at getting you prepared to race, the game itself leaves much to be desired. Monaco GP does well in showcasing a 128 bit systems power in terms of graphics, but it does little in exposing the sheer gameplay we have come to expect from a superior system. While there are several modes of play, neither of them promise to keep avid gamers interested for very long.
All too often we have seen launch titles which dedicated themselves to simply being graphically superior to the current crop of titles of previous systems. Monaco GP is no exception. The attention to detail is appreciated; however, great games are more than skin deep. The look of this game is no doubt awe inspiring if you are used to viewing a 32 bit system in action. Those of you making the transition from popular PC racers will be somewhat less impressed. This title shines in one area above all others, and that area is the sensation of speed. There is little or no sign of pop-ups, and as you speed down the track, landscapes as well as the objects on the side of the road present themselves with increasing detail as you approach. The Dreamcast can push 3D graphics with ease, and the machines power is more than evident in this title. The frame rate is excellent, and regardless of how many cars are on your viewable screen, there is no sign of slowdown whatsoever.
There are multiple views available to you; unfortunately, the view which exudes the greatest sense of speed is hardly the most playable. More often than not you will find yourself selecting the three quarter overhead view so you can have a clear line of sight to the oncoming turns. The "in car" view, nose cam, and chase views, while more graphically appealing, present a much higher degree of difficulty. Normally the step up in challenge is appreciated, but in this case it simply makes an already average racing experience that much worse. The majority of these camera angles are anything but playable. If you wish to enjoy the incredible graphics that these non playable views offer, you first must spend a great deal of time memorizing the tracks. This is a bit more difficult than it should be since there is a complete absence of a track radar! It's hard to believe that a 128 bit racer could forget a detail so predominant in racing sims, yet details such as tire tracks and skid marks are present!
And racing environments are average at best. Most prolific and certainly the most enjoyable aspect of the objects in the backgrounds is the smooth transitions they make into the foreground. Lacking are beautiful scenarios which involve you actually winning a race or stopping in for a pit stop. Doing either in Monaco GP will leave a rather bland taste in your mouth due to below average graphical presentation.
In console racing titles it appears as if sound was never on the top of the programmers priority lists. Sadly, this title is simply an example of "more of the same." The sound in this game is so limited in fact. that it ranks amongst the worst sounding Dreamcast titles to date. The engines are tolerable at best and the music leaves much to be desired (that is in fact is you want to hear music). The techno tunes seem to fit arcade games such as Ridge Racer much better than it suits the full racing simulation that Monaco GP tries to offer.
An occasional voice will request that you "hurry up", this along with throwing you an occasional voice-over bone is about all you'll hear from the titles shallow arsenal of sound files. The absence of an announcer is greatly felt in console racers, and sorely missed in this game. Once more, Monaco GP leaves you feeling empty in the audio area.
This game is without official lincencing, therefore only fictional characters and teams are represented. You are able to input your own name and team entry if you feel you are not properly represented. In options, we have touched on an area where this title shines greatly. There is a plethora of options available to you. This being true, a big problem is all to apparent here as well. The actual interface is muddled at best leaving the gamer thoroughly confused as to exactly how he or she should configure the settings. Rather than existing solely on an options menu, settings appear in virtually every menu throughout the game, including the in race pause menu. This in itself isn't so bad, but the fact that the options are completely different in each menu will leave you spending more time than necessary simply adjusting the settings according to your liking. The two main methods of play are the Arcade and Simulation Mode. There are five different options as far as racing structure goes including Single Race, Championship, Career, Time Attack, and a Dual Split Screen mode. There is also a Retro Mode that offers racing classic 1950's speedsters. 11 racing teams are available which are comprised of 22 drivers. The number of tracks including the retro track total 17, seemingly enough to keep even the most avid racer fans happy.
The Arcade Mode will hardly remind you of a quarter muncher in any area aside from its checkpoints. In fact, nothing at all reminded me of an arcade racer whatsoever. The handling was still weighted and loose thus showing little or no difference in gameplay. Apparently UBI's rendition of an arcade mode is simply turning off just about every option and slapping an arcade title on it.
The Simulation Mode is obviously where this game was meant to shine and within it you will find a few hours of enjoyment. There are numberous car settings (15 to be exact). Plan on adjusting your tires, gear boxes, and spoilers before, after, and during each race. This is very similar to EA's Mario Andretti's racing title for the PSX. Other noted adjustments that you will have the option of making include weather and lap selection. Most gamers find it tedious to race the six laps required to win a race, let alone 100. Yes, this game actually offers an option of racing 100 laps. If this were available in other titles I might even consider calling it a plus: however, in this title it's almost as if the programmers were making fun of you for buying it. One hundred percent of the controller options are configurable. This is an option all games should entail so you don't have to stick with a configuration your not fond of. This being said, if any game DOESN'T need this option, it's Monaco GP. The programmers spent so much time on options and details that they forgot the very aspect of what truly sells games: gameplay!
Did the developers forget that we not only watch the game and select options, but we actually get around to playing them? Already having spoke about the lack of an enjoyable Arcade Mode, the Simulation Mode is comparable to a model kit car that has all the neat gadgets. It looks just like the real thing, but offers little or nothing in terms of performance. Most avid racers are all for a challenge. Most prefer to steer clear of arcade style racers that can be ran best on a digital controller (i.e. Ridge Racer). While Monaco GP succeeds in doing this, it takes the level of simulation a bit too far. This game honestly can't be enjoyed to its potential with the traditional Dreamcast controller. This is due to the limited distance the analogue stick travels from side to another. It is far too difficult to handle your car with the precision necessary to win races on a consistent basis. Getting your hands on the wheel will do wonders for your game as well as greatly aid in enjoying this game from "in car" views (which I previously mentioned exhibited the best feeling of speed). At times you can get these bad boys up to 194mph and it is quite a rush to do so. All that aside, the wheel is not yet available to most Dreamcast owners, so you are stuck with using the limited analogue pad to control your car. After mastering the great learning curve that Monaco GP possesses, you will be required to sit through extremely tedious races. The tracks are so long and monotonous that breaking for an occasional pit or accident is a situation most will find much to welcoming.
One good thing the Dreamcast controller offers its handler is the addition of the jump pack controller. This peripheral is used to its fullest potential as you race around the track. When you punch the acceleration and begin to shift gears, you will feel a nudge from below. The way the jump pack rumbles feels almost as if the the controller is trying to jump out of your hands. Pretty neat stuff.. You will also be witness to occasional rumbles as you encounter grass, fences, other cars, or if you simply spin out. If you happen to have already purchased this lackluster title and don't own the jump pack, you probably should run down to the store and pick one up. It does wonders for the feel of the game.
Another impressive detail is the computers AI. In most driving sims all of the cars will react similarly; however, in Monaco GP you will find that both reserved and aggressive computer drivers are represented. In any other game this factor would really impress the consumer, yet when racing against smarter drivers in this title, the AI will do little if not aid in the annoyance factor. Once again, a great detail stuck in the wrong game.
Monaco, like its predecessors, offers an independent four-wheel physics model. This is designed to really give a great feel to your car. It's design and effect are completely different things. All to often will you find yourself spinning out or just barely bumping another car thus sending you into a end over end flip. Yea, its realistic, but seemingly impossible to avoid, even in the arcade mode where handling is meant to be "easier."
The two-player version would have been much more fun had the basic physics of this game been a bit tighter. Offering a full field of racers in a split screen mode is something that only Dreamcast can do at the time. While it presents a scenario that is potentially much more fun, the actual play it offers is short of spectacular. Perhaps in the future we will be participants in an online version pitting eleven competitors at a time against each other. If so, I hope the actual game play is tightened. If not the preceding scenario would be a total debacle.
17 tracks, tons of options and great graphics are far from enough to warrant a decent replay value. Play is frustrating to say the least. The Retro mode will consume about an hour of your time, while the rest of the game will surely get tiresome within a few days (or until the next software title is added to your library).
While offering a great challenge, very few of us will actually be motivated enough to see this game to its completion. Races are tedious at best. Even after you have mastered the loose control, you'll find that this game is downright boring. If you spent the $50 dollars on this game and it's simply too late to return it, these challenges may be a bit more welcomed to you rather than someone who has yet to purchase this game. If you already made the mistake, at least it will take you a great deal of time to win the championship races. This, as well as fiddling with the many options could in fact warrant a slight replay value. If you have yet to buy this game, I suggest you rent it first. In almost all cases, a brief rental will ensure that anyone who was at one time interested, is no longer interested at all.
The graphics are great. The options are even better; however, this launch title is typical in that it simply does not deliver. The great launch titles of the Dreamcast have spoiled most of us. Where in the past we might have accepted average games at a systems launch, after Soul Calibur, Sonic, and NFL2k, we simply desire more. Perhaps other racing titles will learn a thing or two from this one, both good and bad. On paper this game shines, while on the track it is lackluster at best.
The following is a condensed review of Monaco GP
This game is fast! Monaco pushes amazing graphics at a very quick rate. There is virtually no sign of pop-up or slow down.
Huge lack of sound files and voice-overs. The engines sounds are tolerable but again only average.
Ouch. Controlling your car can be extremely frustrating. Not having an analogue wheel will certainly lead to major frustration. The control is loose and heavy, quite a horrible combination.
If you happen to have bought it, there are enough options to keep you interested a little while. While Monaco GP is heavy in the options category, the gameplay hardly warrants substantial replay.
Once again, my expectations were high. Monaco managed to impress me with its graphics and options, yet disappoint me with its gameplay. The learning curve is quite steep, while the actual fun factor is very low. This title looks fantastic until you pick up the controller and actually race.
Review By: Jonathan Licata