Racing games are a staple of any gaming system, be it old-style arcade machines, home consoles from the Atari 2600 to the Xbox 360, or portable game systems from the Nintendo Game Boy to the Sony PSP. And its certainly not hard to figure out why: people just love driving cars really fast. Or, at least, people like pretending to drive cars really fast. Its just good old all-American fun. So now that so many people are carrying smartphones with all different types of games on them, it only makes sense that someone would create some car racing games for them. There are a few out there, and Astraware has once again stepped in to provide us with an update to their entry into this genre with GTS World Racing, an ambitious game that misses the mark in a few key areas.
GTS World racing offers the following features:
- Classic coin-op arcade style racing
- Race on 64 different track layouts at 16 worldwide locations
- 3 different car types to choose from
- 4 fun play modes to satisfy every level of expertise
- 4 difficulty levels from Easy to Extreme!
The biggest problem with GTS World Racing is not with the game itself, rather with the platform its designed for. I played the game mostly on my main smartphone, an AT&T Palm Centro. (The game is also available for WM Treos.) On the Centro I found it very cumbersome to use the 5-way directional pad in addition to the 2 of the 4 main buttons (the phone, calendar, home, and/or messaging buttons can be configured to serve as gas and brake pedals) to control my vehicle. Luckily, Astraware alleviates part of the problem by implementing a cruise mode, which will take over the acceleration of the car once you hit a specified speed, usually at about 125 mph. Once cruise mode kicks in, you only have to worry about steering the car and braking, which Ill discuss a little more later. On a Treo, this is also less of a concern, as the buttons are spaced further apart and the directional pad is more pronounced. Its still not great though, and thats not Astrawares fault: these smartphones can only provide so much as far as controls are concerned.
The graphics on display here are top-notch. The backgrounds are nicely done, featuring the occasional cactus and tunnels to drive through. The draw distance is also surprisingly good, meaning that you can see pretty far down the track and can know ahead of time when curves are approaching. For a small screen, this game packs a very nice graphical punch. There is a good representation of speed, and when you reach higher speeds it actually feels like youre going fast. This is tricky in car racing games. Even on more powerful console games, this can be difficult for the developer to pull off effectively. Astraware does a good job of it here. The audio is also surprisingly good.
I personally found a problem with the graphics that Im not exactly sure how to classify. When I played this game for about a half hour or so, I would often become nauseous. Im not sure if its the small screen or the fact that youre constantly looking ahead to see the next turn or the constant motion (or a combination of all three), but I found it very difficult to play this one for extended periods. And that made writing this review tremendously difficult. Im not sure if anybody else will experience this issue, but Ive never had a problem like this with any other game on my Centro or on a home console racing game.
There are 4 different modes of play, but they are all very similar. As described by the Astraware website, the modes are:
- Single Race - check out the tracks and practice your skills before heading for the main event
- Challenge Cup - race at each of the 16 locations and achieve the required finishing position for your chosen difficulty
- Grand Tour - complete all 64 tracks in all 16 locations and achieve the required finishing position in each
- Championship - complete the full 16 race season and score the most points to win the championship.
The only real differences between Challenge Cup, Grand Tour, and Championship mode are that in Championship mode you have to qualify for your position before the main race begins.
There are 3 classes of cars to choose from: Coupe, Sports, and Formula. The coupe drives the slowest, but is easiest to control, and the formula is fastest, but is much more difficult to keep on the track. The sports car falls in between. The choices of car classes makes the game more enjoyable for a longer period of time, as once you become comfortable with one you can try out the others. This is a nice addition for the game, and adds a lot of depth.
Levels of Difficulty
The next problem I found involves the varying levels of difficulty. There are 4 difficulty levels to keep you occupied, including Easy, Normal, Hard and Extreme. Obviously, when you first play, youll probably start with the Easy level, which is waaaaay too easy. Normal raises the bar some, but doesnt provide too much of a challenge. You can still beat just about all of your competitors without ever releasing the gas. Hard is a lot harder, and requires more precision driving. You have to be pretty good to play the game on this difficulty. Extreme is just that.
But this is where the game loses its balance, so to speak. Not only does the competition raise its game when you crank up the difficulty, but so do the requirements necessary to advance. In Easy mode, you only need to finish fifth or better to advance. This mode is easy enough. You could stop mid-race, make a cup of coffee, pick the game back up and still finish in the top 5. Normal mode requires that you finish fourth or better, in Hard mode you have to finish in the top three and in Extreme mode you have to finish first or second. Combining the tougher competition with the tougher requirements makes for a lot of failure.
In addition, raising the difficulty level makes for longer races. Easy races are only four laps long. Normal races consist of five laps, Hard races are six laps and Extreme races are an excruciating seven laps long. There is no option to adjust this. And let me tell you: one or two of those six and seven lap races and youve had more than enough of this game. There is no reason for you to ever want to race a single, seven lap event on this game. Actually, six is a lap or two too many. I would prefer three. The problem here is that I never wanted to race five or six laps. I would have been much better off if all the races were four laps but, as I mentioned before, the Easy mode is just no challenge at all.
The tracks are also different based on your chosen level of difficulty. Turns that were generally wider and easier to navigate on the Easy level become much sharper and more difficult on the Normal, Hard and Extreme difficulty levels. This makes the higher difficulty levels even more complicated, as the courses you have become accustomed to are not identical. The changes are subtle, but noticeable after youve played for a while. On every racing game Ive played, the courses stay generally the same; its the level of competition that becomes more difficult. In GTS Racing, everything becomes more difficult.
The higher difficulty levels and tougher tracks also make the control problems a greater issue. The sharper turns and shorter straightaways mean youll need to brake more, or certainly let off of the gas more, at least. This makes the cruise mode useless on the tougher difficulty levels, because youll really need to slow down and/or brake to be successful, and, just as in a real car, once you tap the brake, cruise mode shuts down. And as I said earlier, using the gas and brake in conjunction with the directional pad is not easy.
This game just isnt much fun and as I understand it, fun is the main objective here. Its too easy, too long, or too difficult and too long. I was never able to find a happy medium. It was actually a chore to play this game long enough to be able to write this review. Combine the harrowing difficulty with the nausea factor, and this was a rough one. In all though, if you could only adjust the number of laps in a race, this would probably be a very different review. But you cant. And it isnt.
Great graphics and sound
Lots of tracks
Three types of cars to choose from
Balance of difficulty
Lack of in-race options