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Excite Truck: Extended Playtest
Written by James Hobbs

Last time I played Excite Truck, I was impressed. Despite only having a hands-on with a demo, it was immediately apparent that Excite Truck provides a kind of ballistic fun that is refreshingly different to the hordes of serious racers out there. My main concern was the longevity - the casual, arcade-style inclination of the game could be at the cost of replayability. At this stage, after spending several hours with the finished version of the game, it's still difficult to comment on the replayability. What is certain, however, is that Excite Truck is a superbly preposterous racer that propagates the Nintendo modus operandi of fun above all else.

Excite Truck Screenshot
Safe driving. Always.
The game, initially at least, presents rather a steep learning curve that some may find rather off-putting at first. The final version includes a training mode to take you through the ropes of the game, which is a helpful addition, but the rather 'loose' handling of the trucks themselves means that it does take time before you can navigate successfully through races. We made the mistake of launching straight into the 'Challenge Mode', after rather densely missing the main single player - it's very, very hard. Completing the training and then going into the main Race Mode is definitely a better idea.

The standard race mode presents you with several cups to compete in, each with a varying amount of races and tracks. You can stray fairly far from the beaten track, and each level offers multiple routes for you to explore. The locales range from Fiji to Canada, and each environment is rendered appropriately. The graphics, whilst not particularly stunning, are very competently presented, with reflection-mapping on the trucks and the water. The frame rate is appropriately high throughout, and the game does feel fast. A boost just as you leave a jump, or as you land, rewards you with a massive burst of power, that can result in you flying for hundreds of metres above the track. It's quite a spectacular effect, and the graphics engine copes with it well. Most of the levels have additional details, such as trains, boats, and even hurricanes on one of the levels. Little details like that help to keep the environments interesting, and the pace of the game is such that you can't really notice the graphical flaws.

In order to progress through the game, you have to accumulate a certain amount of stars on each level. Initially, this isn't too hard, once you have the hang of the controls, but achieving high numbers of stars does present a significant challenge. Stars can be won by smashing into other trucks, performing good landings, getting big air, and by launching other trucks into the air - with the help of one of the items. The deformation item has the effect of warping the landscape in front of you - turning gulleys into mountains, creating huge jumps in front of you that you can utilise to get massive air. However, this feature is criminally underused, and at times it does feel almost redundant - it could have been implemented in a way that made it a bit more integral to the gameplay. Another item that makes an appearance is an invincibility item - this is far more useful, as it renders your truck impervious to damage, allowing you to storm past other trucks and smash your way through rows of trees. Driving through trees without collision awards you a 'Tree Run,' giving you yet more stars.

Boosting is an incredibly important aspect of each race, and is surprisingly strategic. Boosting at key points allows you to fly higher and further than you normally would, and allows a boost upon landing, greatly increasing your chances of winning. However, as you engage the boost, your engine begins to heat up, and will eventually overheat. Rather cunningly, if you drive through water, your engine immediately cools, allowing you to boost for longer. As we progressed through the cups, we found ourselves relaying on this game dynamic more and more.

Challenge mode, as I mentioned, is rather tricky at first. You have three modes of gameplay - driving through gates, jumping through rings, or a seek and destroy type mode, which is excellent fun. The first two options, as well as being disgustingly difficult at first, are rather tedious and formulaic - seek and destroy, on the other hand, is brilliant. You are faced with a number of other trucks that must be hunted down across the large game map and crushed. The higher the speed of the collision, the more stars you get. It's very simple, destructive fun, and it's definitely the mode we most enjoyed, other than the main race mode.

Excite Truck does feature a multiplayer mode, which we played briefly. I say briefly, because we thought it was absolute tosh. Dreadful framerates, dodgy graphics, and an absence of other trucks to race alongside make it not really worth bothering with. Single player is far, far better - a great shame, as a decent multiplayer would have improved the game immeasurably. We're going to spend some more time on the multiplayer before we bring you our review, but it doesn't bode well.

We got a chance to test out the MP3 playing option featured in-game - it's a bit tricky to find at first, but it's there, and it works. You assign an mp3 to individual courses, which isn't particularly intuitive, but it is nice to have your own music in-game.

We haven't finished with Excite Truck yet, so stay tuned for our massive review - before the game comes out.

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