SCAR: Squadra Corse Alfa Romeo PS2 Review

A racing game featuring established features of the RPG genre is a rather intriguing prospect. With such ambition, it’s easy to fear that the racing itself would be left under realised as the numbers governing the game behind the scenes overwhelm the rest of the title. It’s a challenge for any development team then, Milestone has been brave, and the results are now here for all to see with the arrival of the first ever CARPG.

It’s tough not to laugh at a game that is seemingly going through a bit of an identity crisis. CARPG? Simple, it’s a car game enhanced with elements from the RPG genre. After playing this Alfa Romeo themed title we soon came to realise that the development team haven’t done too bad at all in attempting to get everything right, in fact it’s an admirable job for what has turned out to be a more than competent racing simulation that just happens to boldly dip into another genre.

Forget the usual racing titles that have you obsessed with tweaking everything from the engine to the fluffy dice in the window, as SCAR is all about driving and improving without having to even think about lifting the bonnet up or fiddle with the fluffy dice in the window. You’ll gain experience for passing or psyching out your opponents (hopefully sending them spiralling out of control, R: Racing style) during races, clean laps and more.

Skill points earned with levelling up and passing special goals can then be distributed to nine attributes that aid you further during the racing. Many of these attributes are locked to begin with and they only become available upon reaching a certain level. You can improve the acceleration and handling of the motors, reduce the amount of recovery time and damage following crashes and so on. See it’s a racing game flirting very passionately with RPG elements.

The RPG flirtation goes even further with the various gear that your driver is able to don, including racing leathers, gloves, helmets and boots. Wearing gear boosts stats as armour would in an RPG title, improving the amount of damage that your car can incur, making your intimidation have a quicker effect on your opponents or a lesser effect on yourself, and so on. Gear can be won in the imaginatively named “Gear Events”, provided that you manage to win the races, or by clearing some of the games interesting challenges. Furthermore, some gear can’t be worn if you don’t possess the required experience level. It’s all rather silly, but it all hangs together quite nicely in the end.

The racing itself doesn’t take a backseat to the role-playing dynamic, which is how it should be, if anything, each aspect of the game manages to compliment the next. The simulation part quickly comes to light in your very first race. Cars are difficult to handle and have a tendency to leave the track if you don’t treat your machine with enough “real life” respect (this is with all the driving assists turned on!). It’s light years away from arcade racing, and we found ourselves attempting many races again and again as our car seemed almost magnetically attracted to the roadside grass, or perhaps we’re just bad drivers. Cars can also eventually be wrecked, which makes what is already a difficult game, twice as difficult.

Which brings us nicely on to the Tiger Effect, a feature that allows you to rewind time, and theoretically correct mistakes. Unfortunately it’s a flop of a feature, which often has you repeating the exact same mistake that you attempted to rectify, clever idea, but it clearly hasn’t been test-driven, therefore it quickly becomes a pointless and forgettable feature.

The AI don’t necessarily stick to the racing line and genuinely act a lot more human then the Gran Turismo series has yet been able to muster. They are prone to mistakes too and use the entire tracks to their advantage, rather then sit seemingly glued on a predetermined line, which makes for some exciting racing. The AI is even able to intimidate you when driving close behind you, this eventually results in a colourful, blurry screen and muted sounds, which is equal to being drunk, it obviously makes driving a lot more difficult. Good stuff.

If you like your racing, there’s certainly plenty here. The Tour mode has 50 races over a five series run to compete in, and then of course there’s the challenge mode, which comes available as soon as you hit level 5, with further challenges coming available as you advance onto the higher levels. There are 25 challenges in total, which range from staying ahead of an opponent for a certain amount of time to keeping speeds above certain limits throughout portions of the track.

Those who think they can take on the world can upload their best lap times or download ghosts via the PS2 network adaptor, no online racing unfortunately though. The multi-player side of things is reserved for 2-player split-screen, which works well enough, if a little choppy at times. It’s a bit of a missed opportunity though as the RPG elements could have also been showcased here, with each player posessing a seperate profile and using all their levelled up skills from the single player mode.

SCAR: Squadra Corse Alfa Romeo is a rather quirky title that reminded us very much of something that the Japanese could only dream up, but that clearly isn’t the case as the mad people over in Japan weren’t responsible for this rather curious blend of racing and RPG gaming. It may be quirky, but when down on the racetrack things take a mighty turn into serious territory, and the difficult driving soon makes this clear. It’s frustrating at times, but the main thing is that it works as an enjoyable game.