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Excite Truck
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Excite Truck - Review
Written by James Hobbs

Excite Truck is a game that, initially at least, appears to have little depth. It's very much an arcade-style affair, and unashamedly so - Excite Truck is an excercise in flagrant, over-the-top nonsense. However, it's all too easy to dismiss the game as a short-lived, instantly gratifying experience that you will not revisit - I do not believe this to be the case.

Excite Truck Screenshot
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The bulk of the game revolves around 'Excite Race', the main single-player mode. The game is divided into several cups, each consisting of several races that must be successfully completed to progress to the next cup. However, Excite Truck eschews the traditional 'first-place-wins' formula of racing games in favour of a star system. Stars are doled out based on several factors, such as drifting round corners, getting 'huge air' ( man ), obliterating other trucks, navigating dense crops of trees, and even for crashing yourself. As such, it's perfectly possible to 'win' a race in last place by driving like a maniac. However, there is an incentive for winning - an extra fifty stars are allocated to the truck who finishes the race in first place. What superficially seems like an incredibly simple game actually requires a great deal of strategy and forethought in order to succeed, particularly in the later levels of the game.

The star system does seem somewhat unjust initially, particularly in the multiplayer mode - it requires the player to approach the game in a different manner to other racing titles, and that is certainly not a bad thing. Those gamers used to storming off ahead and carving tight lines around the corners will not find themselves rewarded - indeed, the best way to play Excite Truck is to drive like you are completely unhinged. The most rewarding points of the game are when you manage to finally clear the Great Wall of China, or career down from a high slope into the side of another truck. It's all about the most ridiculous manuevers imaginable, and it doesn't take long to get into the correct mentality for the game.

Excite Truck features several locales, each with a number of different tracks. The environments include Fijian beaches, Chinese hilltops, and Scottish moorlands, all rendered appropriately but with enough of a dash of silliness to make racing through them interesting. Throughout each level there are numerous detailed buildings and features that you can glimpse as you fire past them, including vast Scottish castles, sailboats, and even gigantic Arctic tankers. It's incredibly fun and satisfying to launch successfully over a towering castle walkway, and whilst you do not gain anything particularly from doing so, it gives a sense of freedom that is important in a game such as this. Straying too far from the beaten path does result in the dreaded 'invisible walls' forcing you back on track, but there is just enough leeway to allow you to feel unrestricted for the most part, particularly on the Mexican levels.

Excite Truck is controlled by holding the Wii remote on it's side, like a SNES controller. Tilting the remote allows your to steer the truck, whilst the 1 and 2 buttons brake and accelerate respectively. This is undoubtedly the control method of choice for driving games on the Wii, and it works particularly well in this instance, as precision isn't really what Excite Truck is about. Initially, the loose and slippy nature of the truck steering is quite difficult to get to grips with, particularly if you are familiar with realistic racing games. However, it doesn't take too long to acclimatise, and as you progress through the game more advanced trucks are unlocked that allow you to develop your racing skills.

The trucks are sufficiently different from one another, to the extent that I found it difficult to move on to a truck with a different type of handling after using a specific truck to complete races. Each truck has a seperate rating for speed, turbo, air, and grip, and these can mean the difference between winning and losing a race. A track with a lot of aerial 'rings' ( flying through them sequentially results in stars ), for example, would require a truck with a good air rating in order to maximise the amount of time in the air, therefore increasing the amount of stars gained. A more twisting, drift-orientated track where coming first place is essential to filling your star quota would require a more speedy, turbo-driven truck. Learning which trucks are best suited to different tracks is vital to succeeding in the harder levels of the game, and it does get very hard indeed.

In order to help you get as many stars as possible, the game makes use of several power-up icons. The most drastic and innovative of these is undoubtedly the '!' icon - driving over this generally has the effect of morphing the terrain in front of you, creating massive rifts in the landscape, or even forming gigantic ramps from which you can launch into the air. It looks very good indeed, and it can also become quite strategic - you can use the morphing effects of the power-up to launch opposing trucks high into the air, disrupting their progress. The other power-up icon is the 'POW' icon - driving over this initiates an incredibly annoying siren sound effect, and makes your truck impervious to damage from trees and other trucks. By using this, you can smash other trucks off the road, or drive amidst dense crops of trees, allowing you to gain stars from performing tree runs. It also has the effect of increasing the speed of your truck, which helps immeasurably, particularly with some of the earlier, slower trucks. Hitting these icons at the right time is critical, and they never really feel like too much of a gimmick.

The game presents you with two difficulty levels, Excite and Super Excite. Super Excite is not available initially - in order to unlock it, you have to complete every level on Excite mode with an 'S' Rank - the highest rank attainable. This requires you to achieve a set number of stars on each track, which by the last cup, is a ridiculously high amount. It gets very, very hard, and it forces you to learn the specific techniques that are essential in order to win. At no point, however, does it feel redundant - if anything, the difficulty makes the game even more enjoyable, particularly if you miss out on an 'S' rank by just a few stars. Upon unlocking Super Excite mode, you are greeted with an extra cup - Diamond cup. The difficulty ramps up even higher on this mode, and should provide a hefty, if not massive challenge to most gamers.

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