Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Second Look @ Enthusia Professional Racing.

(All images are from YouTube video is not mine either.)

Enthusia Professional Racing, made in-house by Konami, attempts to blend arcade and simulation racing. It does this rather well by keeping the arcade aspect in the menus while the racing is fully simulation (minus vehicular damage).
This wouldn't be such a bad thing if it weren't for the fact that the player may spend the bulk of their time in the menus trying to figure out the probability system in their favor.
As the game is first started, you're treated to a walkthrough of the menus. Skipping this may be a bad idea as it teaches the player about the probability system, which the game seemingly runs on. It's all about whether or not the player's car has a chance of winning the race, and this is explained during the walkthrough. Don't let these words fool you though; you can still win a race at a harder difficulty but only by roughing up the other cars and driving harshly.

It's an ambitious title that strives to show off what it does. Ambition doesn't cut it as the game is littered with problems that are hard to overlook and limit the overall enjoyment.
One problem lies in the fact that each race is only a few laps, you may find yourself participating in the small-fish races that can give you the odds in your favor. There is no limit to this and its a smart way to upgrade your vehicle to tackle the harder races and improve your odds. If you're feeling daring you don't have to stick to the easy stuff, you're welcome to try the harder races in order to acquire better cars.
This presents a few more problems: Before the start of the start race you can place a “bet” on which car you think will win. This has no bearing on the outcome, leveling up, etc. and is generally useless in the game.
At the end of the race a raffle is presented wherein the cars that participated in the race are displayed and a single one is highlighted. The player presses a button and probability takes effect again as to whether or not the player acquires a new car. This is THE ONLY way to get new cars since there is no purchase system. Konami lost the point with this game when more focus was put on the probability system and Enthu points rather than the gameplay.

The Enthu Points present another problem: Enthu Point are points you get for racing; they deplete with each scrape, each time you go off the road, or each time you hit another car (or when another car hits you). Other than that they exist to gauge nothing. The points refill with each successful win or when you take an in-game week off from racing. If the total points reach zero, it will force you to take a week off. Your Driver level determines how many points you regain during this process.
No matter how many Enthu Points you acquire, one bump or slide off the road will take away the same amount of EP, forcing the player to pay more attention to their driving. This is the question that begs to be addressed when concerning the Enthu Points: if the same amount of EP is taken away for each mistake, why have it so the total number of EP raises with each level? To put it another way: if you have 100 Enthu Points, bumping another car might take away 10 points. Meanwhile if you have 1500 points, bumping a car seems like 150 points are taken away. No matter how many Enthu Points the player has garnered, it seems they're penalized for the same percentage for each mistake.

The Free Ride mode is limited to what you have unlocked so far, meaning new tracks and cars are pretty much off limits unless you work to win them.
There is another mode called Driving Revolution which is a take on Konami's Dance Dance Revolution series. The player is given a preselected car and tasked with driving down a three-lane highway, passing through certain marker gates along the way while trying to make the best time. It's a mixture of skill and little bit of luck (bringing in the probability system again).

The racing is, for the most part, straightforward with the physics and speed being as closely accurate to the real world as Konami can muster. Each car handles, accelerates, and brakes differently from each other. The upgrade system has a small but noticeable effect on the cars.
The tracks consist of real world and original designs, each one requiring a different way to master driving through. It's not tough since the course map provides the player with enough warning of which corner is coming up, its up to them to remember when to brake and accelerate.
There is no damage and, seeing as how there is no monetary system involved, this is a good idea. Since the computer AI is anything but intelligent, you'll have to deal with them bumping into you in their attempts to drive the correct line. The AI is lifeless in that it doesn't fight back, its programmed to just go, to never make a mistake, to accelerate and brake perfectly, to recover from when the player cheaply runs it off the road and continue along as though nothing has happened.
There are two camera views: a close chase camera and a bumper cam with a rearview mirror. The bumper cam is the only way to see what's behind you since there is no button to look back.
Also, you may want to make sure you take a drive properly as there is no restart, only retiring. Doing so forfeits any Enthu points recovery and the chance to unlock a new car.

Enthusia shows off its potential in the graphics department by featuring some of the best graphics seen in a racing game on the PS2, potentially rivaling Gran Turismo 4. There are rarely any jagged edges on the environments, which are unique in their own rights, and the cars are smoothly designed. The game feels to run at a steady 30+ fps (I could be very wrong in that description) even with several cars all going full speed. The car models shown in the menus aren't the same during gameplay, however, but its hard to take notice of the other cars when your main focus is directed towards the driving.
Cars gather no dirt on the off-road courses, similarly the dust isn't kicked up behind you. During the wet courses the rain runs down the screen and back up when speeding. The reflections on car windows are dulled down to pixelated blocks but the reflections on the cars themselves are nice. Lighting during the night levels is nice, but nothing to get excited over. The ground reflects the light during wet night levels.

The soundtrack has an interesting mix of songs, the menu music is piano-techno mix, something of the arcade variety. The in-game soundtrack mixes it up quite a bit with songs mixing techno with rock guitars, its tolerable but best taken in small doses.
The car's engines seem to drone, increasing in pitch when accelerating and decreasing when revving down. Sadly, it's just unnoticeable.
What may be noticeable is that there are no crowd noises. The game feels lifeless and because of this you get a sense of loneliness. No one's cheering you on because no one cares.

In the end, Konami took a bold step in an attempt to blend arcade and sim. It was, however, a misstep. In essence it can be seen as a game you would play in an arcade with a sim racing engine, it just can't make up its mind to figure out which side of the fence it wants to reside on.
If a sequel is ever put into production, Konami should learn from they're mistakes and rid the game of the Enthu points, complicated menus, probability system and focus more on the driving.
The game is littered with problems, sure, but it's not a bad game. The roster of cars is a strong one, the racing is accurate and fun, and the probability system is tolerable, even ignorable.
Konami attempted to make a community behind the Enthusia brand name with a website, which is no longer active, that was meant to be a community hub for Enthusia players which held events, contests, leaderboards and other news. It was just mediocre when compared to other racing games of the time (Gran Turismo 4, Forza Motorsport, even R: Racing Evolution) which had more reason and depth to them.
Even with the game being as old as it is, it would make a perfect addition to the Sim Racing Aficionado's collection. All others would be better off sticking with the more AAA titles.

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