LGR – Star Wars Episode I Racer – PC Game Review
Articles Blog

LGR – Star Wars Episode I Racer – PC Game Review

September 14, 2019


Ahh now here’s a favorite I’ve been wanting
to cover for ages. This is Star Wars: Episode 1 – Racer, developed
and published by LucasArts in May of 1999 for Windows PCs, alongside the Nintendo 64
release, which is probably the more well-known version
of the game. It also got released for the Macintosh and
the Sega Dreamcast the following year, along with a highly simplified Game Boy Color version, and even a beefy coin-op arcade machine with proper podracing controls. But for this video I’m going to be sticking
to this PC version since it’s the one I owned and played back then, and I just like
it. Although I vividly remember the first time
I saw the game at all, which was at the local Best Buy store where they had an N64 demo
unit hooked up to a massive 3×3 display of some kind hanging from the ceiling. I was instantly enamored with the game and
the moment we upgraded our PC to be able to play 3D accelerated games, this Windows version
with its gorgeous gatefold box was on my short list of most-wanted titles. Although I don’t recall if this limited
edition box is the one we got back then or not, but hey, it’s the one I have now so let’s
take a look. Turns out there were two covers released,
one with Anakin’s podracer and one with Sebulba, with the latter being much more uncommon but neither are particularly cheap boxes these
days. Contained within is a colorful smorgasbord
of late-90s PC game inserts, including the limited edition goodies like this aesthetically-appealing
podracer schematic and the less-than-appealing young Anakin Skywalker
poster. Eh, could’ve been worse. You also get this wonderful Spring ‘99 LucasArts
product catalog, and man I love looking through these. This was quite a busy time for the company,
with prequel trilogy hype reaching a fever pitch and new games coming out seemingly every
other month. And of course you get the game on a single
compact disc in a jewel case, as well as the full-color owner’s manual, with 37 pages
of full-color manual that is yours to own. And even for 1999 this is a fantastic little
booklet, filled with great concept art, useful illustrations, and copious well-written tidbits
detailing each facet of gameplay. I just love a good bathroom break booklet. Starting up the game provides you with an
assortment of animated LucasArts artistry in the form of logos and introductory cutscenes,
with the main one showing a loose recreation of Episode 1’s famous podracing scene. [beep!] [“And they’re off!”] [now *this* is FMV podracing!] You’re then presented with the main menu
screen, John Williams’s classic Duel of the Fates playing on an endless loop. [♪♪♪] At this point you can choose to play multiplayer,
a single race, or the tournament mode. We’ll just be looking at tournament mode
in this video because single race simply allows access to stuff unlocked in tournament mode,
and multiplayer requires a direct connection to other PCs through a local area network. Sadly you do not get split-screen multiplayer
goodness in this version like you did on the consoles, and that always kind of bummed me out. What you do get is the ability to create a
profile for yourself and then watch a short in-game cutscene, where you wander into this
cantina, shoo away whatever randomly-chosen droid or creature happens to be standing in
your way, and then selecting a podracer. Each of them have seven performance statistics
inherent to their vehicle, as well as an 8th statistic that’s a little more vague and
that is the size and shape of the podracer itself. The driver really is of no consequence,
but you get to choose from everyone shown in Episode 1’s podracing scene and plenty more,
with over 20 drivers unlockable by the end of the game. Finally you can select from and compete in
one of three tournaments with up to seven races each, with the goal being to place fourth
or better on each track to reach the final competition, the Boonta Eve Classic from the
movie. After this you’re presented with a management
screen, allowing you to begin the selected race, inspect your podracer for no reason
other than to admire the polygons and GRAFIX, and perform a number of podracer upgrades
and tweaks. We’ll be back to this in a moment, but for
now let’s drop right into the podracing itself, beginning with another cutscene introducing
you to the upcoming planet. “Welcome podracing fans to Ando Prime!” “Home of the benevolent Andobi Bendu monks.” “Your host, the wisest of the wise…” “Ten-Abu Doba!” [barely-audible announcer introduction] [podracing sounds commence] Now this is podracing! Or, this is “Episode 1 – Racer,” to be more
precise. Did anyone actually call it by its proper
marketed title back then? I know my friends and I always just called
it “Star Wars Pod Racer,” but anyway. The gameplay is precisely what you’d expect
for an experience based on the nearly 20-minute scene from Episode 1: absurdly fast racing
through sci-fi environments with excellent sound design, interrupted by the occasional
piece of grating dialogue. [somewhat irritating alien exclamations] And man, this is still a lot of fun. One of the most important things for a racing
game to get right is a sense of speed, and Episode 1 Racer is one that absolutely nails
that. If the speed of the simulation was too slow,
it risks breaking the suspension of disbelief knowing that these podracers are moving at
velocities exceeding 600 miles an hour. But if the simulation were to move too fast,
or even moved at a speed that was accurate to what it would be in reality, then the game would
simply be unplayable. “You must have jedi reflexes if you race
pods” may be true, but expecting every gamer to possess those would not be very enjoyable. Thankfully, the combination of the environments,
sound effects, graphical effects, and control scheme make approaching 1000 miles an hour
here not only feasible, but desirable. The controls in particular are something to
be commended here, because it gives you just enough options to be able to fully control
your pod without ever feeling like the room for error
disappears. And seeing as they made this work as well
as it does even on a keyboard, that’s impressive. Now you might want an analogue control
method of some kind, whether it be a joystick, a gamepad, a steering wheel, or even the mouse. But personally, I’ve always played this
version of the game with the keyboard because, well, I just got used to it back in the day. But also because I find the precise digital
controls spread across the keyboard to be a good match for this kind of twitchy racing. And the manner in which LucasArts split up
the required inputs by default cleverly avoids the problem of ghosting when you’re pressing multiple keys simultaneously on a keyboard without NKRO. On the right hand side of the keyboard you
use the arrow keys to turn left and right as well as pitch up and down, and on the left
hand you have the WASD keys for controlling thrust, brakes, and the somewhat superfluous
rolling left and right. There are also keys on the left side for performing
repairs, changing cameras, taunting, as well as the all-important slide key. When this is held down, your podracer goes
from rapidly strafing left and right to having a more nuanced and fine-tuned control scheme
that’s better-suited for navigating sharp corners and narrow passageways. And finally, there’s the boost mode, enabled
by pressing a combination of inputs. Whenever you’ve maxed out on speed and this
indicator turns from green to yellow, you can pitch down and press Shift to enable the
boost, which will take you well beyond your normal thrust speed at the expense of handling
and heat generation. And that’s where this indicator on the bottom-left
of the screen comes into play, showing your engine status alongside an audio cue letting
you know you’re about to overheat. If you push too far then an engine will catch
fire and will need repairing on the fly, and if you keep pushing you’ll explode, so balancing
thrust with boost is key. Before long though, this becomes second nature
and you don’t even need to look at any of the indicators at all, relying completely
on the audio cues and timing to make sure you’re going as fast as possible
in your current podracer without combusting. [BOOM] Of course, if you do explode then you’re
quickly reset with fresh engines, but obviously that’s not ideal since you lose valuable
time. And parts do wear out the more you screw up
as well, so you will also have to perform repairs once you complete
the race. This is not something that you do manually,
it just gets fixed up over time by your pit droids, so buying up as many of those as you can,
as quickly as you can, is very much advised. And since it takes time to fix a podracer,
at this point you just switch to another one and keep playing. Because the way things work in tournament
mode is that you play more of a manager for every podracer, rather than a single racer
themselves. Once you’ve chosen a racer, you can then
invest your credits into improving their podracer through parts upgrades, with everyone sharing
the same pool of credits, or you can swap between them at will depending on your repair
needs. You also have the options to simply switch
out any damaged parts for others that are in better shape or have different stats altogether. Entering Watto’s shop or junkyard will provide
dozens of parts options covering all of the performance categories of your podracer, and this certainly isn’t the most streamlined
process. There’s a lot of menu interface weirdness
that makes it feel clunky with a mouse, and I wish there was more of an overview of all
the available parts at once instead of having to navigate through each one individually to see what
it does. And I also wish Watto would just shut up already. “I am-a betting heavily on Sebulba! He always wins, ehhehehehaah!” Seriously he never stops, it’s just an endless
loop of the same annoying sound bites over and over… “Have-a you seen-a my chance cube-a?” “Have-a you seen-a my chance cube-a?” “HAVE-A YOU SEEN-A MY CHANCE CUUUUUUUUUBEEEEEEE-AAAAA?!?!?!?!” OKAY, how about those visuals though? Mm, 1999. I kinda miss this era in PC game graphics. Although admittedly this particular footage
doesn’t look great anymore since I’m running it at 640×480, which is the resolution I played
it on back when it was new. And the HUD elements look distractingly blurry,
a problem that unfortunately exists no matter what resolution you choose, but oh well it gets the job done. Heh, anyone else always see this “3” as the
Monster Energy logo? Well now I’m just getting distracted, anyway. What I’m trying to say here is that, while
technically it’s not amazing anymore, in terms of aesthetics for a decades-old
game I still think it looks great all things considered. Star Wars design language and color palettes
mesh perfectly with late-90s graphical capability,
I feel. The 3D models are just polygonal enough to
be believable and the textures are just detailed enough to look good at high speeds. I also like how most of the alternate routes
and shortcuts are clearly laid out on the minimap, and man there are a bunch of them. Finding and mastering the shortest and most
navigable bits of track is key to a first place finish and a NEW LAP RECORD. And then there are environmental effects like
snow, dust, water, lens flares, and all sorts of objects breaking apart on collision that
looked positively fantastic back then and remain enjoyably charming now. I especially love the design of the tracks
that take place on worlds filled with neon and rusty metal everywhere, and the mining
stations with zero-gravity sections where you’re flying past floating rocks and electrical
hazards. Tracks like these make your choice in podracer
quite significant, since a larger but faster pod might be too difficult to navigate compared
to a slower but smaller one. In fact, the hazards are the other main pillar
of the gameplay here, with each track and permutation of said track containing its own
unique props, pitfalls, and perilous problems to plow through or pilot past. Though I always found it odd that podracers
slip and slide while going over icy surfaces, since, well, they’re not actually touching
the ground right? The game itself says you’re hovering four
feet off the ground in these things, so why is ice slippery? Oh well, it’s one more tricky thing to navigate
and I dig it nonetheless. Once you finish that you’re crowned the
king of pods or something and the credits roll, and all that remains are the additional challenge
tracks. I actually enjoy most of them, but… wrregnugh
this one in particular, Abyss? It is by far the worst in the game. Visually I like it but it is poorly and unfairly
designed. It’s the only track in the game that harshly
punishes you for not taking the exact correct route. So unless you take this top portion of the
track every lap, you have zero chance of winning due to it forcing you down a long, out of
the way loop of track that puts you way behind. And due to the nature of this top portion
of track, it’s incredibly easy to fall off either side. Not only that but it is oddly buggy, with
your pod just blowing up on certain sections of each turn. Quite simply, I hate this track and everything
about it and after about 40 minutes of trying to attain a podium finish I said screw it and
gave up. I ain’t got nothing to prove, this track
can suck it. And lastly there are the perks of this particular
version running on Windows. If you’re used to the much more limited
N64 version, it’s awesome to see that it’s capable of running up to 60fps on PC, even on period-correct
hardware like this Pentium III-based system with a 16MB Voodoo3 graphics card that I’m using here. There are definitely some tracks that play
smoother than others, but overall it’s a wonderful experience on PC. I mean, if you can get it working. I’ve experienced an array of bugs, graphical
glitches, sound system problems, and compatibility issues over the years, and that’s just on
Windows 98. On a modern system, it can be a true test
of patience to get working 100%. Thankfully, GOG.com has recently rereleased
the game on PC and it works fantastically right out of the gate, at least in my experience
so far. Not only that but you can crank the resolution
up as high as your display provides. So yeah, you want this in 1440p or 4K or whatever? Go for it! It’ll still be 4:3 aspect ratio but it looks
awesome. So if you want to revisit the game on a newer
PC I’d highly recommend this version just for ease of use, and if you’d like to support this channel
at the same time feel free to check out my affiliate link to GOG below this video. Either way though, I was happy to find that
Star Wars Episode I – Racer holds up incredibly well. Even after having not played it for at least
10 years. I’m sure some of that has to do with my
own memories of the game from when it was new and just playing it a crapload and beating it. But I also truly think that it stands out even today as one of the more satisfying
and speedy sci-fi racers of the late 1990s. [beep beep beep beep beep! BOOM!] [Watto humming along to “Pandora” by Anders Bothén] Hehe, well that was fun to make. And I hope this video was fun to watch. Either way though, as always I thank you very
much for watching!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *