Star Wars Episode I: Racer was one of the games many fans have been waiting for years to be remade. Now, at last, the only (and amazing) Star Wars podracing simulator has been restored by gog.com for modern versions of Windows.
Star Wars Racer originally came out in 1999 as an obvious follow-up to the podracing scene in The Phantom Menace. Even those who disliked podracing in the film tend to agree that Racer was a brilliant project. The game turned out to be highly entertaining, challenging and very much in the spirit of Star Wars.
Racer’s graphics are still firmly in the year 1999. Everything looks somewhat square-ish, but to be honest, one hardly has the time to pay attention to detail while swooping past at the speed of over 500 mph.
The chief advantage of Racer is its atmosphere: nothing disturbs the feeling that this is Star Wars. The music comes straight from Episode I’s original soundtrack, includes the amazing Duel of the Fates, but also every piece of music that plays during the film podrace sequence itself. The drivers you can unlock are all the strange aliens familiar from Tatooine’s track, and there is both little Anakin and Sebulba (who is on top of the food chain, so to speak).
Each driver has their own personalised speeder. There are small and fast speeders, big and durable speeders, speeders that accelerate from zero to 500 in a matter of seconds and speeders that barely fit on the track. Everyone can find their favourite. In the beginning, you start with a handful of pods unlocked, and with every race track completed, you get to unlock the local champion’s speeder into your collection.
The good thing is that throughout the game, your speeders can be upgraded by buying parts from Watto’s shop. This is useful both if your vehicle gets damaged beyond repair (like if you tend to hit the walls too often) and for keeping up with the rising competition. It also means that if you have a favourite pod, you can make up for its deficiencies. For instance, if your pod is very fast but tends to overheat, you can just buy a better coolant pump.
The tracks in the game provide just the right challenge. Different environments on different planets include sand, snow, ice, jungles or stations with zero-G rooms. Every element from the films is used: like Anakin, you can take different routes, get shot at by Tusken raiders and get damaged so you have to repair as you go. Your opponents bump into you and throw insults in Huttese at you. Now this is podracing.
Even Watto’s annoying babble as you are looking through his wares contribute to the atmosphere. And I will say it again. This is Star Wars. The trick is in picking up all the random trivia and throwaway lines from the films and utilising them in a creative manner. In this case, for instance Qui-Gon Jinn in Episode I mentions that podracing is done on Malastare – and in Racer, we get to visit that track. The developers back in 1999 understood that the key is to make things click, the “a-ha” moment when you realise you know the guy sitting in the cockpit.
Why aren’t there more games like this, with up-to-date graphics?