Hotly contested genre
The racing genre on PS2 seems to be running the risk of becoming pretty stagnant, every new tyre burning game released seems to borrow heavily from a handful of others and not add too much by way of original ideas. But original ideas are only really welcomed by gamers if they are good original ideas, packing a slew of new gaming ideas into a title is only going to get a game to stand out in the way the developer intended if they add something to the gaming experience rather than detract from it.
Enthusia from Konami does indeed bring some new ideas to the table, but are these good enough to see it rest in pole position or bad enough to send it down the breakers yard?
Its got to be frustrating as a developer of a racing game and doubly so as a developer of a racing game where you collect cars as you progress as you can be certain that almost every review of your game is going to include the words Gran and Turismo somewhere, typically followed by a comparison of your game to the widely accepted career racing game leader. Enthusia manages to avoid such harsh comparison by being a very different experience indeed.
The main mode in Enthusia in the Enthusia Life mode which is were you begin a career as a no-name driver with a no-frills ride and attempt to become top of the racing pile, initially you have twelve cars to choose from to start you off and in this game one of the things the gamer will notice is that you do not need to factor cost into your thinking when selecting your car, in fact there is no money in Enthusia at all so there will be none of the frustration associated with wanting a certain car but having to settle for a cheaper one in order to afford upgrade parts, in fact your upgrade parts are handed to you as you progress and spend time behind the wheel of any particular car and win with it. While the upgrade parts do not seem to have as dramatic an effect on your performance as in other titles of the genre the way in which they are handed out is pleasingly different and will appeal to the gamer who prefers a more 'arcade' experience rather than having to wade through screenfulls of numbers and hundreds of optional parts just to get the performance boost you want, the cars themselves are handed to you in an after race raffle in which you semi-randomly obtain a new car, or not as the case may be which can lead to frustration.
During your first moments in Life mode you will have the various menus and options explained to you via an on-the-fly tutorial which will pop up and explain what something is the first time you encounter it, if you feel the need to be reminded after that you can summon the tutorial back by pressing the triangle button at any time.
Some more nice ideas are encountered during the racing itself too, first up are the way your Enthu Points are handled. Enthu Points are what you will be wanting to hang onto as much as possible as if your enthu points ever reach zero it means you have to miss a week of racing, as your ranking depends largely on your performance over the last 9-12 game weeks where one race equals one week, missing a week and therefore a race can damage your standing badly, your enthu points are lost during the races when you collide with the scenery or the AI opposition and are also lost during bouts of poor driving such as going off track onto the grass.
This system provides a slick way of encouraging skilled driving as opposed to the way in which you can just smash into the AI to 'bounce' your way around corners in other games with no penalty, in the absence of a vehicle damage engine the enthu points system works quite well.
Following each race you will be shown to a screen detailing the major events of the race, you can see where you came off track, where you collided with both the AI and the scenery and also the points in the race where you overtook or were overtaken. You will also find out here how many enthu and skill points you are to be awarded, the skill points system basically makes you a better driver the longer you race for in each car, think along the lines of San-Andreas where your character just gets better at driving the more you do it - its like that. This of course means that some of your success in races depends not on how well you can actually play the game but how long you have been at it for which to me seems to detract heavily from the game as I'd prefer the success or failure of each race to depend on the gamers skill as a player much more.
You will earn differing amounts on enthu points back depending not only on how you drove but on what you drove too, before each race you will be shown the calculated odds of you winning and the less powerful your car is the greater the odds will be, since your enthu point rewards relate directly to these odds you will not earn much by simply using the old racing game trick of blasting around in a car much more powerful than the opposition, this comes as a welcome idea in my eyes in balancing the game out.
Unfortunately for a game which boasts to have realistic physics and even goes to all the trouble of displaying all the forces acting on the car at any given time if you want it to I found some of the car handling to be very odd indeed, it seemed to me that my car handled in such an odd way sometimes that it had the feel about it that it was hovering above the ground and gliding along, no car I have driven either in a videogame or in real life handles the way the cars do in Enthusia and I was able to confirm that its not just me when a friend came round during my playing of Enthusia and one of his first comments on it was that it appeared as though my car was floating, not in terms of height from the road but in the way it appeared to be handling. Also the driving never seems to get very fast, the majority of other racing games do a much better job of conveying a sense of speed while Enthusia seems to be content with making the edges of the screen blurry to portray it.
Graphically Enthusia is pretty much par for the course in terms of PS2 racing games, it isn't the best looking game out there but it isn't ugly either, the car models and tracks alike look good but nothing that stands out in the crowd in terms of graphics.
The music is also par, nothing that'll get stuck in your head but it won't get on your nerves.
Aside from the 'life' mode there is the 'Revolution' mode, in this mode you need to guide your vehicle along a series of increasingly difficult courses through colored gates, the gates all need to be hit at a certain speed and you can tell if you are moving to fast or too slow by the color of the gates, hitting them when they are green amounts to a 'perfect' and you'll want as many of these as possible to progress onto the next section.
This revolution mode can seem odd at first and you probably wont spend much time in it but it can provide a distraction if you get bored of the life mode.
Enthusia racing is not going to be to everyones liking, players who want to try something a bit different may take a liking to it but despite all the nice new touches there are better racing games on PS2.