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.
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