GTS Racing Challenge for Pocket PC

Reviewed by: Howard Carson, send e-mail
Published by: Astraware, go to the web site
Requires: Pocket PC 2002, ARM or XScale processor; not compatible with SH3 or MIPS based Pocket PCs
MSRP: US$17.95

Zoom! It's important to go Zoom - even on a Pocket PC racing game. Smooth action, precise controls and tough road courses are also at the top of the requirements list. How is this possible on a teensy little computer you ask? Well you may ask, but these little handhelds are not the creaky, slow PDAs of yore (all of two years ago - I guess that's about 10 in PDA years?). Nope. These new XScale processors and video subsystems are positively gosh-darned zippy. Hence the game play possibilities for GTS Racing Challenge from Astraware.

Developed by Pazzazz in France and published by Astraware, GTS Racing Challenge is the latest track and road course arcade-style racer on the market. The game features 8 different tracks, each with 4 difficulty levels (progressively tougher track layouts) for a total of 32 combinations. There are also 4 different race categories: Single Race, Challenge Cup, Grand Tour, and Championship, and 3 different speed settings. The advanced categories (everything except Single Race) include qualifying laps, time restrictions and a couple of very competitive drivers. Game play is definitely arcade-style and while the various race locations are very nicely done (complete with realistic skylines, skies, clouds and flora) the emphasis is on the track, cars, car control and winning.

That's the set up. So what's it like to play? In a word, excellent. This game seems to be pushing the limits of what can be done on the current Pocket PCs with the latest XScale processors. As the next generation of PDAs hits the market, and as main memory gets larger (128MB? 256MB?) you are going to see games even more amazing than this one. But make no mistake though, the smart-brains who designed and programmed GTS Racing Challenge have made some excellent decisions about how to balance the use of processor power and internal memory. The result is a game which is graphically good, displaying enough atmosphere to convince you about the track location, and which also reserves enough processor cycles for vehicle control and racing physics to give you positive steering, responsive acceleration and identifiable shifts.

I really liked the Challenge Cup - I just don't know anyone (including me) who can turn in a decent lap time using the Extreme track difficulty setting. It's seriously tough! If you want the ultimate PDA racing challenge, try the Extreme track setting with game speed set to Fast. Talk about stress!

Cons: Keep in mind gang - this thing is running on a Pocket PC not a P4/3GHz desktop box, so you have to make a few concessions. There seems to be a big step up in speed when you go from the Easy difficulty setting to the Normal difficulty setting, which means you really need to spend some time practicing in Single Race mode. We'd prefer a gentler and more consistent step up between these settings - our suggestion being to increase the base speed for the Easy setting (it's a bit too easy). Steering control with the directional pad on our iPaq 3950 was a bit choppy - took some getting used to - but it may be partially attributable to the OS and the iPaq electronics. No graphics settings for environment details. We'd like to see a few more vehicle choices and some corresponding additional engine choices with the related power, acceleration and handling characteristics.

Pros: Keep in mind gang - this thing is running on a Pocket PC not a P4/3GHz desktop box, but you only have to make a few concessions. The game uses only about 1MB of storage - amazingly little considering the power, graphics and execution. Nice overall driving controls. Manual transmission setting seems quite accurate - revs and shift points seem well matched to the power curve - so you can maintain strong acceleration out of turns. Realistic crash sounds (try GTS Racing Challenge with headphones to get the most out of all the audio). Positive directional movement with quick response to changes. Solidly competitive set of tracks and vehicles to choose from. Fun. Highly recommended.

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