Game Description: From the minds that brought you TOP GEAR RALLY comes this ultra-detailed, highly addictive combination of simulation and arcade-style racing. In order to master the 33 cars the game offers, you can take part in a Training mode, which allows you to practice cornering, acceleration, and more. The game features 10 tracks, which send you traveling the globe to Hawaii, Black Forest, Las Vegas, Kyoto, New Zealand, Les Gets, Sydney, Zurich, Lisbon, and Rome.
I wasn't supposed to like World Driver Championship (WDC). Right from the start, the chips were stacked against it. Did the N64 really need another racing game to add to its already extensive library dedicated to the automobile? Not to mention that the genre has rarely shown signs of innovative gameplay over the generations of hardware. To top it off, WDChas already developed a reputation for being the most realistic racing game on the N64, meaning that there would be a high learning curve, making it difficult to get into. But against all odds, like one of those smaller 200lb sumos besting the more standard 500lb ones on ESPN, the more I played WDC, the more enamored I became with it. How did a game I seemingly had it in for start to impress me? Let me describe what happened.
Before I was introduced to WDC, Dale, who had already been playing the game, informed me that at the beginning, two racing teams will try to court me to drive their vehicle. "What's that?" I said. "Are there touches of role-playing game (RPG) thrown in?" That was the hook that drew me in. The lineup of unlicensed cars is basically organized into teams from different nationalities and based on your ranking, various teams will try to lure you to their side. All of this make-believe ranking and reputation later reveals itself to be a thinly disguised method of the old 'unlocking' extra cars incentive. But still, there are faces and dialogue in the scheme of things and while it isn't anything close to offering fully realized RPG elements, it still adds personality to a genre that is often very sterile and lifeless.
As for the actual gameplay, WDC is the 'Tetris' of driving games. While I won't make claims of how realistic the cars handle (since I've never raced professionally), I will say that the cars control very differently from what I've come to expect of driving games. The steering feels very loose and smooth, but at the same time responsive and manageable. Good analog control is a must. The result is a very Zen-like connection to the car and road where driving becomes a very addictive experience. The one thing I can say that's like real driving is that I had to anticipate the turns ahead of me and not swerve on the dime which usually leads to a spin out. But even when you spin out, unlike other racers in which crashes play out like broken records, in WDC you can try effectively to adjust and reduce the misdirection to recover and get back into the race, minimizing the time lost. So even when I was out of control, I was able to exert some level of response, managing crashes rather than being overwhelmed by them.
Even not in its wide-screen high resolution mode, the graphics in WDC are a standout. There's slight pop-up in the foreground, but nothing serious enough to detract from the distinguished photo realistic textures that decorate the stages. The colors in the game are far less saturated than in most games so everything looks more lifelike. I also appreciated how environments weren't busy but rather serene. Instead of bombarding the senses with helicopters, exaggerated sunsets, and flying jumps, everything in WDC feels decisively low-key and ultimately adds to the Zen-like quality.
I can go on further about the aggressive computer AI (that's good), its cliched electric guitar rifting musical track (that's bad), good collision detection (that's good), lack of visual or physical car damage factor (that's bad), or the bare-bones two-player racing mode (that's bad), but none of those things seemed to matter much to me because I couldn't put this game down. This was a hard game for me to review because the reason I liked it seemed so abstract that perhaps something would be lost in the tale. But what I did try to do was describe my experience with the game and in doing so, hopefully my perspective will become clear.
It's funny Chi mentioned his inhibitions because I had some of my own. We agree on everything up to that "200lb sumo" analogy. One big draw of World Driver Championship (WDC) is the team-racing concept. Taking a team to the top of the circuit added incentive to complete the game. It was nice change from the simplistic one-dimensional arcade ports that populated the system. Yes, WDC can be unforgiving to fans of San Francisco RUSH or Crusin' USA. The cars react realistically to turns and my car's speed and handling had a definite impact on the car through turns throughout the course of the race. You cannot be lax while playing because at any time it could cost you your place in the race.
What I think should be stressed are the graphics in this game because they are phenomenal. Boss made a point to mention that they wouldn't be supporting the 4MB Memory Pak. In fact, they said they wouldn't need it. After seeing the game in action, I have to side with Boss; WDC needs no help in the graphics department. The cars are beautifully rendered and the environments are so realistic that I had to keep reminding myself that this was not memory pak enabled. The game also offers a high-res letterbox format, which serves no real purpose but like any film buff that chooses the letterbox edition of a movie, video game connoisseurs will appreciate this option.
WDC is not without its faults, however. Except in the front-view mode, there is rarely a real sense of speed. When I'm driving a car flying easily over 100 mph, I should feel like I'm flying by the seat of my pants, but instead I felt more like I was speeding down the highway on my way to work. As realistically as the cars handle, the most you will lose is your place in the race. You car never takes damage nor does it ever do more than spinout as Chi mentioned. This removes a lot of realism from the game. And finally, WDC lacks authentic cars. To save time and (I figure) money Boss, decided not to license cars and instead created pseudo models. The Porsche and Ferrari are in the game, but they look a little different and go by different names. Ultimately not a big deal, but something I think you should be aware of when going in.
WDC is an excellent GT racer. If Boss included some realistic crashes, added some damage models and got the licenses, WDC would be comparable to Gran Turismo on the PlayStation. Alas, it lacks these things so I'll have to say that it's not the greatest in the world, but for those without a PlayStation dying for a GT game of their own, this is the one for you.
Parents are probably safer selecting something like Beetle Adventure Racing or Diddy Kong Racing for their kids.
Funny thing is, I'm not so sure hard-core racer fans will find World Driver Championship to be all that accurate of a simulation either. The game seems to march to the beat of its own drum and those who are able to tune into its rhythm will find it an addictive and rewarding experience.
Arcade racing fans who feel that Tom Cruise "need for speed" will want to stay away from this one. Not only are the controls difficult to grasp, but the overall sense of speed is not readily apparent. This higher degree of learning is sure to frustrate younger players.