STAFF REVIEW of Import Tuner Challenge (Xbox 360)

Sunday, November 26, 2006.
by Tony Ingrassia

Import Tuner Challenge Box art Racing and the Xbox 360 seem to go hand in hand, with an abundance of styles to choose from. Import Tuner Challenge from UbiSoft is one of the newest racers to jump into the genre and rub elbows with some pretty impressive titles on the now 1 year old Xbox 360. In a sea of titles in this genre how does this racer compare to the rest, does it hold its own on the mean streets or is just left in the dust? Not to mention an eerie similarity to a racer from my Dreamcast days.

My first and pretty much immediate reaction was that this is actually Tokyo Extreme, no doubt about it, and the more I played the more the similarities mounted. Same vehicles, same ?In/Out? track system, same, same, same. Is same bad? Well in this case it?s not the similarities that hurt, but the lack of excitement. But before we delve into the negative, there are some positive things going on in Import Tuner Challenge.

For fans of ?Simulation? style racing games, you can spend hours, once you accumulate the cash, tweaking your ride. Everything from the paint, decals, ground effects and instrument panel can be changed to your liking. Not to mention the never ending mechanical upgrades and precision adjustments that can be made to your engine, exhaust, suspension and so on, it?s enough to make the most die hard car junkie go into overload. The vehicles in Import Tuner look pretty near flawless. I have to give credit where credit is due the cars are all well rendered and look great. Unfortunately that?s where the positive stuff ends.

For those of you who played any of the Tokyo Extreme racer games, you?ll be slipping on a pair of old shoes. The main part of the game is the ?Quest? mode, which sounded like it would be much more than it turned out to be. Basically you?re racing for cash on the streets against ?Gangs?. Each gang has drivers in various parts of the street along with the bosses to make it more interesting. Each particular driver has a certain time of day and section of town they frequent so you just need to track them down and beat them in a ?Spirit Point Battle?. Pulling up behind your rival and flashing your high beams starts the challenge, once the race starts the object is simple, stay ahead of your opponent for as long as possible. Your ?Spirit Points? will begin to dwindle the longer and farther away your opponent is from you, with a fast car this challenge is really over quite quickly. Your Spirit Meter is also affected by damage, rub a rail, hit a wall and you meter drops, on the subject of damage, Import Tuners really doesn?t exhibit much flair for damage, you get some sparks and barely a jolt when you hit a wall. The damage system leaves a lot to be desired. You have a few other modes to work with, Time Attacks, Free Run, Versus Mode, and Network mode (Xbox Live). You can also tool into your garage when you have some coin to upgrade your ride.

The real downside isn?t that you need to rack up wins to spend the cash needed to hang with the big dogs, that?s the game. What makes it unfulfilling is the lack of excitement when racing, in any of the modes. I?ll be honest I didn?t give the XBL mode a try due to the lack of excitement found in the other modes. Yes it?s a race, and yes its on some interesting tracks, although a tad monotonous at times, but there is no ?UMPH? I sat there pedal to the medal and really felt like I was on a Sunday drive rather than a street race, there was no real sense of speed and with franchises like Need For Speed and Burnout in the locker room you can?t slide in with a game that fails to get the adrenaline going. It seems that there is a bit of an identity crisis with Import Tuner in that it?s not sure if it?s a race ?Simulation? or a ?Street Racer?.

I?m a big UbiSoft supporter, and back in the day I enjoyed the hell out of Tokyo Extreme racer 2 on my Dreamcast, but that was then and this is now, and the bar has been raised by the aforementioned titles to do more. As I said, the game design is pretty cool for a next-gen console, but the meat and potatoes of a real exciting street racer got checked at the door. This game slid in under the radar and I?m afraid that?s where it's going to stay, with so much to offer it really just fell flat.

My recommendation would be simple, call it Tokyo Extreme 3 and find a new wrinkle to the antiquated game system that might cause the ?Wet Palms? that are so much a part of a good racing game when you?re flying down the streets.

Overall: 5.0 / 10
Gameplay: 4.0 / 10
Visuals: 7.0 / 10
Sound: 5.0 / 10


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