Overall Score 82%
New Star GP
Late last year I reviewed New Star Soccer 4. More than just a simple soccer sim, it is actually more of a simulation of the life and career of a professional soccer player. It is the culmination of many years of development and various improvements in subsequent incarnations of the original New Star Soccer concept, and it is a brilliant title. Could the winning formula be applied to another sport? Perhaps F1 racing? Si Read of New Star Games has given it a crack, and the results are not too shabby at all.
In New Star GP, as you might just expect, the player takes on the role of a Formula-1 pilot. You manage different facets of your career, just like in NSS4, but in this game, a lot more emphasis is put on the actual sport itself. The relationship with your family and friends does not seem to have that great an impact on the game, and the ways that you can interact with them have been dramatically reduced from the NSS4 model. The interface will be familiar to fans of the series, but those who come to New Star GP hoping for a career full of personal dilemmas, raunchy scandals and behind the scenes power plays will be disappointed. Not only that, but my favourite mini-game from NSS4; the racetrack is also conspicuous by itís absence, although the casino mini-games are still available to increase relationships with the pit-crew and friends.
Friends, family, pit-crew and team boss are the 4 relationships that need to be juggled in this game, but the simplified mechanics now mean that keeping everyone happy simultaneously is a snap. There is no option to have a wife or girlfriend and only a much more streamlined list of material objects to purchase. One nice feature is the ability to buy different vehicles for your personal collection, and then, on your days off , take them out onto the race tracks of the F-1 GP! Thereís nothing like putting around the iconic Monte Carlo circuit in a Mini-Cooper, a London bus, or even a battle tank! Still, I miss the random events that would crop up in NSS4 and the associated choices that had to be made. The game is inferior to NSS4 in terms of character development and role-playing potential.
Luckily, the top-down F-1 driving portion of the game is super. Control of the car is kept simple with only the arrow keys used for acceleration, braking and turning, as well as the left shift key for cars equipped with optional KERS systems (these provide a limited amount of boost to speed each lap at the expense of car weight). The cars feel just right, with parameters such as damage and tyre wear having a real tangible effect on the handling. The view height can be adjusted to a number of pre-defined values - I prefer a slightly higher than default position, but Iím sure that there would be comfortable setting for all players. All teams from the 2009 F-1 are represented along with all the drivers as well, but sadly, just as in NSS4, the names have had to have been fudged, most probably due to copyright restrictions.
There are 17 racetracks that ship with the game that somewhat accurately depict the stages of the 2009 GP. They do provide some diverse challenges and each has a good unique feeling to it. Weather is dynamic and fairly realistic (you wonít see rain in Abu Dhabi, but the British GP might be very wet on occasion). Other community-made tracks are available for download (visit the forums for details) and a track editor ships with the game.
Si has done a remarkable job with the AI. The computer controlled cars will deviate from the optimal path around the track as they jockey for position and attempt to avoid collision. The AI does make mistakes as well, meaning that a patient and skilled player can wait for opportunities to arise rather than just barging through as is often the case in other driving games. Itís good to see an opponentís car spinning into a sand trap as they attempt to negotiate a corner just a little too aggressively. It doesnít happen too often, but when it does, it gives a quite a realistic touch to the races. With the different combinations of driver skill, fixed values for different racing teams, and also variables like tyre wear and fuel load, coming up with a winning strategy on a particular day can be a very tricky assignment. A good pit strategy as well as canny driving skills and a little bit of luck can all make a difference. Medium difficulty presents a good challenge for myself, but an easy and hard mode are also available.
Well coded, with simple yet colourful and effective 2-d graphics, New Star GP will run fluidly on even an old dinosaur of a PC. Rain effects look really cool, bits fly off of cars if they collide, and smoke from engines and tyres enhance realism at the right times. The sound effects are great; including realistic engine noises that ramp up with the speed and sound awesome at the start of the race, especially. There are wailing tyres, the odd crash and bang of collisions, and a pit crew voice that aurally indicates lap times and adds to the immersion.
Although there are aspects of New Star GP that disappointed me when I compared it to my experience with New Star Soccer 4, I have to point out that the price for the registered version is only $10 compared to $25 for NSS4. There is definitely more depth of gameplay than is at first apparent, and subtleties continue to surprise me now, weeks after my first play through. It would certainly be an excellent addition to the collection of gamers who enjoy motor sport simulations, but gamers who are not necessarily fans of F-1 might find it a little difficult to get into.
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