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Graphics: The visuals are uniformly disappointing. I often complain about how racing simulations fail to have graphics that meet current standards; well, here is an arcade racer that makes even the most unadorned simulation look attractive by comparison. The bikes and riders have a very low polygon count and are devoid of detail even at the highest settings. Although the bikes sway properly from side to side on turns, the riders are as rigid as statues, making the racing look silly. The trees and background scenery look very two-dimensional, and the colors are extremely bland. Other than the vehicles on the road, there are too few animations in the background to add any novelty to the surroundings. With the exception of dust and smoke, special effects are few and far between; I once went off the road into the water, only to find myself stationary on a single color that looked as much like water as a blue tablecloth. Clipping problems further mar the graphics, and I have never found myself stuck halfway through solid objects more often.
The maximum resolution is 1600×1200 and highest color depth 32-bit, but this is one of the many cases I have seen recently where these capabilities do not improve what you see one whit. This offering runs extremely sluggishly even on a fast system, with a poor frame rate except at the lowest resolutions–an indicator of a primitive game engine. Running in software mode is unacceptable on virtually all counts. The designers no doubt recognized the speed problems when they decided to incorporate an extraordinary number of graphics options, including three general detail levels, and separate settings for track and texture detail, view depth, dust effects, and sky graphics. Having lots of ways to disable realism in order to increase the frame rate is a solution that fails miserably.
Interface: There is support for keyboard, joystick, gamepad, and steering wheel, but everything is quite oblique since there is no control menu whatsoever. I first attempted to use my Microsoft Sidewinder Force Feedback Steering Wheel, and as is often the case in racing titles, the sensitivity was not right. The method for adjusting sensitivity is quirky, using the F1 key to raise it and the F2 key to lower it, and no matter what I tried, I could not get it right. I then turned to my Microsoft Sidewinder Gamepad, and the experience was more acceptable. Unbelievably, you not only are unable to alter the default control settings, but you are never allowed to up or downshift with any input device other than the keyboard.
There is no force feedback support, which is a real loss. The absence of a save-game feature is another drawback if you choose the tour mode because that decision forces you, no matter what your time constraints, to play it all at once. The play screen is relatively straightforward, displaying a course map, best time data, speedometer, tachometer, fuel gauge, rearview mirror, gear, position, and time elapsed. The indicators are a bit fuzzy, and not as sharp and easy to read as they should be.
Gameplay: The motoring in Race Across America is quite monotonous and not very fun. Despite differing scenery, all the tracks incorporate the exact same types of rolling dips and turns, interspersed with short straight-aways. There are no hair-raising drops, sharp corners, or complicated intersections to challenge bikers. The races are relatively brief, and I get more of a sensation of navigating long distances from Empire Interactive’s Pro Pinball: Big Race USA than I do here–and that is not even a racing title. At the same time, you paradoxically move too slowly; there is little relationship between the high speed you see on your speedometer and the leisurely pace at which you are actually progressing on the roads. The bike physics are absurd, and even less realistic than in most arcade racers. If you take a corner even remotely fast, you go right off the pavement. There appears to be no relationship between speed and stopping distance when you want to come to a halt. I never felt as though I were on a real vehicle governed by the laws of gravity, friction, force, and inertia.
Sound FX: The engine sounds are quite authentic; you get a full taste of this as an engine idles during the game’s installation and then takes off when this task is finished. There are neither vocal effects nor much in the way of ambient environmental sounds available. There is also no implementation of 3D hardware sound acceleration.
Musical Score: The rock music that accompanies the opening screens is actually quite enjoyable, so I harbored high hopes for the score that would attend the racing itself. Unfortunately, the music simply is dreadful, degenerating into a tuneless beat that can only be described as annoying. The score ends up being grating and monotonic as the courses themselves.
Intelligence & Difficulty: There are three levels of difficulty, including low, medium, and high. The biggest differences among these is that at higher ones, your opponents ride faster and there is more traffic to avoid. The range is broad enough to span both novices and experts. While it is not hard at all to learn how to compete, the control deficiencies and frequent gas stops make winning a real chore. The artificial intelligence is also very weak, as at most settings, you can whiz right past your competitors. When bikes tried to pass me, their guidance was so poor that they sometimes crashed right into my rear (or, should I say more delicately, the rear of my bike). The strategy of passing and blocking is virtually nonexistent. Furthermore, the cars on the road, which form traffic obstacles for you to navigate, have no artificial intelligence at all; no matter what you do near them, they just continue straight on their course like blind elephants on a rampage.
Overall: Harley-Davidson: Race Across America is a disaster from beginning to end. When compared to the best simulation, Electronic Arts’ Superbike World Championship, this new release conveys none of the realism of real motorcycle racing. When stacked up against the best arcade motorcycle racer, Ubi Soft’s Redline Racer, this WizardWorks offering provides none of the visual flash or sense of outrageous speed that causes sweat to stain your virtual handlebars. The best I can say is that the box design is fantastic and the cost is only $20, but I am afraid neither of these justifies the purchase.
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