GameOver Game Reviews

Game & Publisher Monaco Racing Simulation 2 (c) Ubisoft
Overall Rating 83%
Date Published Monday October 12th, 1998, at 01:05

Divider Left By: Jube Divider Right

There is something thrilling about driving a jet engine on wheels. I can't put my finger on it, but I believe it comes from a very basic human instinct. The desire for velocity, the pursuit for quickness, or as the cliché puts it.. The Need for Speed. To those who feel this call of the road and rubber I recommend you grab your helmet, gloves and the nearest analog racing wheel. Monaco Racing Simulation 2 puts you right in the cockpit (or the wing, tire or backend) of a world class racing machine. No attention to detail was spared in the creation of this milestone for the simulation-racing genre. And it shows. From the moving camera cranes right down to the yellow flag waving track attendant Ubisoft captures the thrills and disappointments of racing. Now that we're revved up and ready to run.. Let's get on with the show.

[Graphics: 20 / 20]

Let's not beat around the bush. Hands down Monaco unleashes some of the best visuals I have seen in a simulation. And even nicer is that it does it without any pretense or bloated requirements. You don't need a Pentium II to see the cockpit. Multiple angles, details and views all ran smoothly on my K6 233 with Voodoo 1. Solar flares and lighting effects are included tastefully. It is certainly a breath of fresh air to see graphics that do not upstage gameplay, and still not totally suck. Many times games with excellent game play lose points in the graphics category. A recent example of this would be the flight simulator Total Air War, great gameplay but the graphics were mediocre at best. What impressed me most about the visual effects in Monaco 2 was that they weren't "showing off" some hot technology or out shining game play. Therefore I am giving full points here to graphics which visually enhance without sacrificing the most important aspects of the game.

[Sound: 12 / 15]

Pretty good. The variety of tire screeches is very useful in determining how close to spinning out you are. The engine sounds were a little weaker than what I wanted. I guess Grand Prix Legends spoiled me. The lack of an announcer was obvious, especially at the starting grid assignments. Driving over the grass produced a strange sound, I wish some game designer would finally get this right. Driving on the lawn does not sound like driving on cardboard or plastic, so stop trying to fudge it.. We can tell the difference. Overall, the sound was effective but could have been tweaked for many improvements. My guess is that this was the last area to be designed. Keep trying boys.

[Gameplay: 28 / 30]

Man, I could go on for pages about the gameplay. However, I have a feeling that my fellow reviewer for this game, Pseudo Nim, may indulge to do so. So I will try to be brief and let the game play speak for itself, it has earned it. Numerous modes of driving give you all the racing choices a gamer could need. With over 30 camera angles this game gives you plenty to look at. But let's not stop there, fine tuning gear ratios and fuel mixtures are your definition of fun? They're here. Want to see statistics of the countries that you are racing in? They're also here. Want tips on how to angle and run over 12 different styles of turns? Even they are here. Got tired of the F1 class cars? Why not race in retro mode featuring 4 unique classic racecar designs. All that is here. True to life car and motion physics let you experience the joys of spin outs due to traction loss, spin outs due to premature turn acceleration, and spin outs due to collisions with one or more of the 21 other professional level computer driven cars. Once again for the hearing impaired, its all here. So there you go. Why didn't I give it full score? Excess. We really don't need camera views from both rear 3/4 5 feet and rear 3/4 8 feet. We don't need an option for the nationality of our driver profile. (Do we?) The cockpit could have been larger on screen, and a wheel could have been included. As well there could have been a truly amateur setting for the computer AI, giving rookies a bottom rung to cling to for those first dozen races. There are a lot of extras which really do not add anything meaningful to gameplay, and I think that certain aspects of Monaco 2 could have been improved had they been left out.

[Fun Factor: 12 / 20]

I hit this category hard because I think this is where Monaco 2 lacks the most. As I discuss further in my conclusion, Monaco reaches new levels in regards to the racing simulation genre. But it comes at a cost. Racing around the tracks in time trials and practice alone is great for a while, and is practically required if you want to do anything but over shoot every turn and under run every straightaway. However racing with other cars is a great feature of the "racing" genre and it is nigh impossible in this game. Under amateur skill settings the AI is by no means forgiving of mistakes a green driver would make. Spin once and you are at the back of the field before down shifting to first gear. Its frustrating, its annoying, and it doesn't get any easier. The only solution is to restart or go back to practice mode for another solo session. It would have done the casual gamer a great service for Ubisoft to include a slower and less aggressive level of AI. Despite all of great accomplishments and features the game quickly becomes repetitive and boring without an AI level to match the gamers. I know simulation purists may chastise me, but number one priority is to entertain the gamer. Monaco 2 quickly loses its entertainment value with its high level of difficulty and margin of failure.

[Multiplayer Play: 2 / 5]

Monaco 2 supports both retro and F1 racing modes multiplay via split screen. However in the version reviewed network, dialup and serial modes were disabled. Hopefully this will be patched and or enabled by Ubisoft some time in the near future. Without them it seriously damages the already questionable replay value.

[Overall Impression: 8 / 10]

Definitely raising the bar for the racing genre this game presents a number of innovative mode of play, excellent graphic implementation, and unparalleled attention to detail. It gets my stamp of approval in a number of categories, though it lacked finish and design in other. With it all said and done this game impressed me. However, here is where my "reality check" sets in. The biggest flaw of Monaco is in what I call Reality Overkill. Let's face it, driving these cars is tough. And to do it competitively is a near impossibility. A majority of gamers simply do not have the skill or the patience to learn the fine arts of drifting a shallow 70 and overtaking through a switchback. It is a dilemma which game designers have struggled with for a long time. How to provide an optimal balance between realism and fun. Many simulationists would argue that the fun comes from a game that mirrors its real life equivalent as closely as possible. And I certainly agree that path of logic for the most part. A good example of this is Jane's Combat Simulations. For a number of years Jane's have released what has become the standard in flight simulators. And these sims aren't easy, thick manuals, lengthy training and practice are required before getting up in the air with any reasonable level of success.

I'm sure you are asking "What the hell does this have to do with you driving around a track in Brazil at 170 miles per hour?" Well certain compensations must be made when converting from the real thing to the little plastic disc at home. And these compensations vary depending on the title and level of overall realism the company is attempting to achieve. In terms of Jane's, the level is very high; and to give every player a fair shot at being able to fly they provide a large amount of supplemental material in the form of trainers and manuals. Conversely, in another EA game recently released, Need for Speed 3 very little supplementation was given. It basically turns the driver loose on a high performance automobile that requires very little fundamental knowledge to operate.

Ubisoft seems to want to go in the other direction. Monaco 2 is a really hard game. There are plenty of "helpers" such as ABS braking and anti-skidding that make driving almost manageable. In all honestly I do not see why they even have an option to turn them off, without them the game turns into one long spin out. After making a serious 2-day effort to train, learn and drive on one specific course I still could not compete with the computer racers. And that's just the single race. There are so many modes of play (read: modes to get passed by other racers) its almost depressing. You have your choice of Grand Prix, Championship, 17 track Season, Scenario mode and the 50s mode where you race with old style cars (ala Grand Prix Legends). All of this really pushes the point: this game is not geared towards the keyboard tapping weekend racers. Only the die-hard digital Alex Zanardis' need apply.


Divider Left By: Pseudo Nim Divider Right

Ubisoft is somewhat of an interesting company. Sort of like Psygnosis was, anyway. They put out arcade games, then bang, a relatively realistic game. More arcades, more more more, bang, another sim (perhaps not in absolute terms, but relative to their lineup). Such was the case with Formula 1 Racing Simulation, which was a pretty decent F1 game (especially considering all the horrendous Psygnosis F1 games that came around at about the same time). Compared to F1GP2 it was somewhat harder to control, and the game felt slightly unfinished overall, but it was still pretty good. Graphically, especially.

Which is where Monaco Grand Prix Racing Simulation 2 comes in. There's a fine difference with F1RS, though. While F1RS did a fine job of simulating a Formula 1 car, I'm not precisely sure just what MGPRS2 simulates. The cars are MUCH more volatile, they go into uncontrollable wheelspins a lot more often, and they feel like they have more raw power - but after a few field tests on the Hockenheim track (my personal favourite), I've come to the conclusion that on stock settings, with either manual or auto gearboxes, the MGPRS2 cars top the F1 cars by about 1 to 2 km/h. That's not much, considering how much less control you have over them. Incidentally, since I mentioned tracks - the tracks in MGPRS2 (I'll just call it Monaco from now on, easier on the eyes) are exactly the same as the F1 tracks, with the addition of a European track.

The garage options are pretty extensive. You even have telemetry data, so that you can tweak a certain part of the car, then take it on the track, see if it made a difference, and if so, which way. A bit annoying is the fact that by default you have 120 gals of fuel, even on training. I mean, after dumping 115 gals I salvaged up to 5 km/h top speed, which ain't too little. Sure, you have less grip then - but the point was to find the max speed, and not tune the racing stats.

In a way a very neat test would be to compare laptimes. The thing is, and I'm chagrined to say that, I can't drive the Monaco cars. Maybe it would be easier with a steering wheel and pedals, but I'm cheap, so I play with the keyboard. And normally I expect games to behave at least a little bit. I noticed NASCAR was significantly better with a joystick/steering wheel, but in general, I find games should be playable on the keyboard. (If you don't know what the difference is, think of it this way: when you use the keyboard, your gas is either 'On' or 'Off', there's no middle position. That's like if you sat in a car and floored the pedal right away. Whereas pedals do a similar job as a real accelerator.) The thing is, Monaco is completely uncontrollable. Maybe tweaking some settings could make it a tiny bit better, but I doubt anything would make me be able to drive that car.

Monaco is very majorly based on the F1RS engine. The graphics are pretty much the same (which is not to say they're bad - F1RS had excellent graphics, and Monaco adds a little juice to them). Smoke effects are slightly more refined and skid marks are somewhat better. The thing is, since it's visually using the same engine (even the menu system), I have a strong feeling the underlying structure might be very similar to F1RS - and there's a few things I'd like to say about that. And the environmental effects are just too cool. Rain, drizzle, sunshine, clouds .. like, whoa.

The most major problem I found with F1RS over the time I've been playing it (yes, I still play it - in fact, I'm on Race 7, at 100% length) is the tire wear and tire temperature problem. In real life, as you exit the pits, your tires are cold, and grip is low. As you drive around the track, your tires warm up and grip increases. Then, gradually, the tires wear down, and your grip decreases again. The emphasis is on gradual, though. In F1RS I'd exit the pits, pretty much float my way through the lap to the start line, then bang! Feels like I'm glued to ground - grip's like on Jupiter. Then I drive a few dozen laps, posting lap records (as far as I remember I even beat Schumacher's record on one of the tracks!), then all of a sudden the car starts to float. Lap time increases by 10 seconds, I can't steer properly anymore, time to go to the pits. That happens over the span of about one lap. I can't possibly see what Ubisoft was thinking, since in real life, it never happens in under a lap - unless you drive on grass, gravel, grass again and gravel again - then you might get such a drastic change. In any case, I'd have loved to check if this problem is in Monaco, but, considering I couldn't quite well control the car for a few dozen laps, I wouldn't be able to say. And though not a major problem, it's slightly annoying.

The pits are neat. Only problem is, if you're not fast with the pit menu, they'll just sit there waiting - the game doesn't get put on pause while you sit in the pits. So you're best to decide on your pit strategy well before the race, or at least as fast as you can while you're being led into the pits.

Which is not to say Monaco is bad - oh, by no means, no. It's a very solid racer, and it has a pretty nice feel to it. Except, like I said, the wheelspin - I think it's some mishap on the part of the developers, because even with a manual gearbox, it stays. Sort of reminds me of the same thing in NFS3 - when your gears change, you lose grip and make cool skid marks. WAKE UP! That never happens in real life! But then again, no one said NFS3 was realistic. So never mind. And, once you do, it's much too easy! In F1RS, once you catch where too much gas is too much, you're set - and on amateur level, if you don't lap your opponents by about 5 laps, you're plain sad.

The sound score is nothing to drool about, but nothing to complain about, either. The effects are well-timed, nothing's lagging behind (like it was on my 486 while playing NASCAR). All the sounds you expect are there - tires screeching, engine sounds, metal on metal, et cetera.

This brings me to another neat thing about the game, which I intentionally left for the end. You can actually drive a retro-style racer. Yeah, a la GPL. Except you're limited to four cars, on one track, so I'm sure it gets boring pretty fast - but, albeit short, it's very well done. And, in a way, I think there shouldn't have been a modern part to this game - Ubi should've just made it all retro. The car drives very nicely, it's almost completely uncontrollable (which is realistic), it doesn't seem to believe a curve is somehow different from a straight line - but it's fun! And major one, at that.

In either mode, Monaco is a good game. The physics engine is pretty good, and it has a lot of potential behind it - and had the modern part of the game been a little bit more controllable, it would've maybe even made it to the Readers' Choice. As it stands, you either have to be REALLY good, or have a steering wheel.

And oh, by the way - sorry for the shots not showing all of the 360 camera positions. It's hard to drive and take shots - so I decided to show off only the most useful angles.

Highs: Good graphics, good physics engine, interesting idea of a retro-style racing car.

Lows: Some sprites (esp. humans) look really fake, the cars in the modern mode are pretty uncontrollable.

Graphics: 15 / 20
Sound: 13 / 15
Gameplay: 24 / 30
Fun Factor: 18 / 20
Multiplayer Play: 4 / 5
Overall Impression: 9 / 10


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