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By Ron Scopelliti
While the new Disney-driven deluge of Star Wars movies has brought its share of nostalgia among those who have fond memories of the earlier films, the one film that seems to get excluded from the happy memories is “Episode I: The Phantom Menace.” While it would be easy to fill a page listing the movies oft-cited deficiencies, there was one positive that The Phantom Menace brought to the Star Wars universe: pod racing
The film’s pod racing sequence itself was a mish-mash of racing clichés, but the concept of pod racing was fascinating. And LucasArts, the video game branch of the George Lucas Empire, captured the spirit of pod racing perfectly with 1999’s “Star Wars Episode I: Racer” game, which was originally available for Windows, Mac, Nintendo 64, Sega Dreamcast, and GameBoy Color.
And now, GOG.com has made “Racer” available to PC owners running Windows 7, 8, or 10. GOG.com, which was originally called “Good Old Games,” literally made its name reissuing old computer games to run on modern systems using emulators and wrappers. Though they have since expanded to release new games, they continue to reissue classics like Sid Meier’s “Pirates” series, “Alone in the Dark,” and enhanced versions of the “Baldur’s Gate” games.
“Racer” is the latest in a series of GOG re-issues of classic LucasArts games, including the whole X-Wing series, the Indiana Jones series, and other non-movie-related games like “Sam & Max Hit the Road,” and “Tales of Monkey Island.”
“Racer” allows you to race not only on the Tatooine track featured in the film, but on 20 additional tracks at scale speeds up 600 mph. The tracks each have a distinctive personality, from the speedway feel of Mon Gaza, to the obstacle course of Oovo IV, which requires you to navigate past rotating fan blades, and through an anti-gravity tunnel peppered with floating boulders.
The game features a wide variety of pod racers in different shapes and sizes, all of which have unique handling and acceleration characteristics. Though the physics may have little in common with a traditional flight game or auto-racing simulator, they seem consistent with the way the racers were portrayed in the film.
Players can control their turbine-powered beasts using a mouse and keyboard, or a variety of controllers. So far I’ve found that, while my Thrustmaster Extreme 3D Joystick gives me the most precise control, I prefer the arcade-feel of an X-Box-style controller. System requirements are relatively low – a 1.8GHz processor, 1 GB of RAM, and a 3D video card with 256 GB of VRAM that’s compatible with DirectX 9.0c.
The game’s single-player “tournament mode” is a rather rudimentary and linear career mode, requiring you to conquer a series of tracks in order. Once you’ve completed a track in career mode, it’s available to play in “single player free play” mode, which is a good way to practice since you can set the number of opponents to zero, and have the track all to yourself. Being that “Racer” was first released in 1999, there’s no option for online play, though multiplayer racing is possible over a local area network (LAN).
On the plus side, all of the action is accompanied by a John Williams soundtrack, and sound effects taken directly from the movie. And there’s a 42-page PDF instruction manual to help you learn the finer points of the game.
What the game lacks in complexity, it makes up for in simple fun. If you’re in the mood for some racing fun, but don’t want to deal with gear ratios, camber angles, and tire pressures, “Star Wars Episode I: Racer” delivers just as well now as it did in 1999.