SAN FRANCISCO (03/28/2000) - Not often does spin-off merchandise outdo the product from which it's spun, but minor miracles do occur. Take LucasArts Entertainment Co.'s new racing game, Star Wars: Episode 1 Racer. This arcade game, in which you jet around otherworldly racecourses at terrifying speeds, is entertaining enough that it might drive away memories of the disappointing movie that spawned it.
In Racer, you command a podracer-an airborne vehicle comprising a couple of jet engines and a sleigh that flies a few feet off the ground-and dash through a series of ever more complex courses at speeds that routinely exceed 400 mph. By default, you play Anakin Skywalker, the movie's pint-size Darth VaderÐto-be, and pilot Anakin's blue-and-white podracer. You can also play other characters and pilot other podracers. When you place first in each of the 25 courses (scattered among 8 worlds), you unlock a new podracer with different strengths and weaknesses.
Racer offers three modes-Tournament Play, where you tackle the 25 courses in succession and compete for prize money that allows you to purchase performance upgrades for your podracer; Free Play, where you can whirl around any track you've unlocked in Tournament mode; and Multiplayer Mode, where you can race against as many as eight players on a LAN.
LucasArts has done an excellent job of simulating the outlandish speed of these vehicles-you really feel as if you're traveling at hundreds of miles an hour.
The malevolence of the other racers also enhances the game. Unlike your opponents in traditional car-racing games, in Racer they would just as soon fly through you as around you. Thankfully, your podracer can absorb-and dish out-this kind of damage a couple of times without crippling effects.
Some players may tire of young Anakin's alternate whining and showboating. When you lose a race, the kid lets out a mewling "Awww. . . ." And his triumphant "I won! I won!" at the end of a successful race is even more annoying.
Additionally, navigating to the Settings dialog box from a race requires that you travel back through six screens, and returning to the race requires retracing the same six steps. Finally, the game doesn't natively support 3Dfx cards, though 3Dfx's latest beta drivers allow the game to run on Voodoo2 and Voodoo3 cards, with some graphics anomalies.
Macworld's Buying Advice
Despite Anakin's poor-loser attitude and some interface glitches, Racer is a dizzying good time. Maybe next time around, LucasArts should forget the movie and just release the game.
RATING: 3.5 mice
PROS: Realistic portrayal of high-speed racing; great graphics.
CONS: Anakin is annoying; interface needs work.
COMPANY: LucasArts (888/532-4263, http://www.lucasarts.com).
LIST PRICE: $40.