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SummaryA maddening rush of speed--and a maddening control system.
The GoodSpeed. There's always a problem in computer games that try to convey a sense of speed when you race, and that's not their fault--you, the player, are doing exactly what you don't do in a race. You're sitting still. And your surroundings are stationary as well. So computer games essentially have to go way over the top in order to convey a rushing sense of speed, and many don't because that takes away from the 'realism'.
Star Wars: Episode I Racer gleefully goes way over the top, because it can. It's set in the Star Wars universe, so piloting a pod racer (two jet engines and a piece of string, essentially) that can reach speeds in excess of 750 MPH is... well, over the top. It definitely gets your adrenaline pumping. (A decent 3D accelerator helps, too.)
The tracks are large and varied. They aren't as large (and sneaky) as the tracks in, say, Carmageddon 2, but they are much nicer in appearance and represent their homeworld well with plenty of detail.
The BadFrankly, I'm a bit annoyed at the control system. You'd expect in any racing game that you would need to slow down, speed up, move left and right, brake, and hit the turbo. That conforms very nicely to a two button joystick. But Pod Racer introduces additional elements that I view as 'featureitis' -- hard air braking (why is regular braking and turning not enough?), rolling your craft sideways, moving up and down slightly, and reparing your engines on the fly are features that come to mind. They don't significantly enhance the gameplay, other than the ability to roll sideways allows you to fit through a verticle slot on one level easily (although you can fit through it normally anyway if you go straight through the center).
A two-button joystick doesn't cut it, and it's distracting to keep one finger near the keyboard to perform in-race functions. An obvious criticism of this is "Why don't you use a joystick with more than two buttons?" To that, I answer "Why do I need a joystick with more than two buttons?"
An 'obvious' solution is to use a gamepad or keyboard. But any true racing fan knows that keyboards and gamepads are 'total-on, total-off' devices that make subtle steering adjustments impossible--you're either turning as hard as you can, or you're not turning at all. Another solution, then, is to use a multi-button digital joystick. This reviewer had marginal success using Microsoft's popular force-feedback joystick, except that it didn't feel natural at all, since it's a flight throttle.
I would imagine that a multi-button steering wheel or yoke would be best.