FFRacer – Review

FFRacer: from Bergen to Oslo

developed by Jordi Colomer Matutano

Let me start by saying that FFRacer is one of the more cleverly designed games I’ve come across in a long time.  It’s part high velocity racing game, part FMV (Full Motion Video) game, and a pinch of train driving simulator game.  It’s a weird mash of characteristics and style for a video game.  On paper, something like this shouldn’t work, in fact, it most likely wouldn’t work.  However, the developer of FFRacer has found a way to actually make it work.  Not only is it functional, but it’s also pretty fun, even to watch someone play.  I know this because my kids love playing and watching me play as well.  The experience isn’t perfect, it may even be a little awkward at first, but the gameplay is exhilarating and the scenery and background of the Norwegian landscape in this FMV game is beautiful.

I’ve been a fan of FMV games ever since they came out.  That’s a tough thing to admit, given that for the most part, FMV games usually suck.  It was a genre that was doomed to fail from the get go.  There were a handful of somewhat popular titles.  Games such as Night Trap, Sewer Shark, Mad Dog McCree, or the god-awful Johnny Mnemonic.  The history of FMV games is a short lived and slightly sad one.  Some gamers might tell you that successful FMV games did in fact exist.  Those gamers might even try to convince you that games like Wing Commander III and IV, Under A Killing Moon, The Pandora Directive, and Phantasmagoria are great examples of FMV games.  The fact is, none of the latter games mentioned were FMV games.  Yes, they did feature FMV in the game, but the gameplay itself was not comprised entirely of Full Motion Video.  The cutscenes and interludes were FMV, but the gameplay itself was not.

FFRacer probably includes the most ingenious use of FMV in a video game to date.  The gameplay is straight forward and intuitive for the most part and the objective is simple.  Take your train from point A to point B in the fastest amount of time possible while carefully steering the train through curves, bends, and turns.   FFRacer is comprised of 17 sections or tracks that make up one full length train ride – in fast forward video.  You don’t have complete control over the train.  In fact, you can’t really control the train at all.  You simply need to ‘guide’ the train along the set track while it’s moving at speeds of over 100 – 300 Kilometers per hour.  For the most part, the game is on rails, but the illusion and sensation of speed is convincing and entertaining.

The controls are pretty basic.  Use the Arrow keys to gently ‘steer’ the train through every bend and turn without letting the train crash or hit the rails.  There are no real crashes or derailments, instead the train loses speed and momentum every time it hits the side of the rails or crashes because the player hasn’t coasted with each turn in the track.  It’s kind of hard to explain, and the best way to understand it is to actually play it and feel it for yourself.  Besides just turning and bending with each curve using the left and right arrow keys, players must increase the speed of the train by holding the up arrow or slow down the train using the down arrow.

Lastly, it’s important to memorize sections of track, because you’ll most likely be playing these tracks a few times before you’ll actually be able to set a fast enough record in order to unlock the next section of track.  With 17 sections of track to play through that’s quite a bit of gameplay and the scenery of each is enough to re-visit each section numerous times.  Every time you crash you lose precious speed which you’ll need to steadily increase if you really want to unlock the next playable section of track.  It’s difficult at first but the experience quickly becomes manageable.  Within 30 minutes of playing I found my track records improving progressively.

There’s not much to say about the graphics since they are basically FMV graphics.  It’s real-life footage, it’s very detailed and there’s only a minor HUD overlay that shows your speed and time, but it does the trick.  The important thing is that it looks great and provides that insane sense of speed that we could only wish to experience in real life.  All of the FMV footage is taken from the Bergensbanen documentary, which not many people outside of Norway will be very familiar with.  The documentary itself is a 7 and a half hour long video, “showing every minute of the scenic train ride between Bergen on the Norwegian west coast, crossing the mountains to the capital of Oslo.”   When shown at speeds of 100+ kilometers per hour this train ride lasts less than a quarter of that time but it still just as scenic to look at.

The audio involves numerous techno tracks that are subtle enough and suitably match the illusion of speed within the game.  The only other sounds are the whirring of the train increasing in speed and the bumps heard from veering off the track, so to speak.

Conclusion:
Without knowing much about FFRacer the actual gameplay might seem a little inconspicuous.  Don’t let that little detail fool you though.  It is a fun game made up of simple pleasure.  I did mention that it’s not perfect, since the current version that is available doesn’t really come with any set of instructions.  This isn’t a very big deal since the controls are simple, but not knowing the times that you need to beat in order to unlock the next section of track is a fairly big omission.  I basically had to play the first track over and over to find out exactly what the time was that I had to beat in order to open up the second leg of this 17 track journey.  I think this can be easily remedied though in future versions or updates.  Perhaps by displaying the time that needs to be beaten before selecting the track or by displaying the required time in one of the corners of the screen.

FFRacer really impressed me with it’s simplicity and the great sense of speed which I know is just an illusion, but a very good one at that.  The 17 track game is quite large and could provide hours of gameplay, especially for those gamers who are parenting little ones that enjoy watching them play games.  There is a fully playable demo available which includes the first 3 tracks in the game.  The demo provides more than enough game to convince gamers whether or not this is the type of experience they’d be interested in purchasing.  The full version is being sold for $10 dollars through the FFRacer website.  Personally I think it’s well worth the price, if for no other reason than that FFRacer is probably the most clever and best all-around FMV game I’ve ever played.

The game is only available on PC right now but be sure to try the demo out and then buy the game directly through the FFRacer website by going here!

Note: The demo is about 1 GB while the full game is just over 3.5 GBs big.

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