Originally created 09/24/01

New endurance racing game almost as good as being there

The Le Mans 24 Hour race is an epic competition. Cars ranging from modified street cars to some of the most powerful racing cars ever made drone around the French countryside, trying to cover the most distance in 24 hours.

Turning that race into a videogame is a tall order, but developer Melbourne House and publisher Infogrames have done a creditable job upgrading the Dreamcast title "Test Drive Le Mans" for the PlayStation 2.

Unfortunately for them, "Le Mans 24 Hours" hits store shelves just a few weeks after the magnificent "Gran Turismo 3" debuted. The game is not as good as "GT3," but that doesn't mean it's not worth your time.

"Le Mans 24 Hours" gives you an excellent collection of cars and tracks, including the famed Le Mans course, Road Atlanta, Donington in England and Suzuka in Japan.

The graphics are solid, the cars handle well and even the sound, which does not include any lame commentary, is acceptable.

It's important to note that if you are looking for a driving simulator, look elsewhere. While there are adjustments available for the cars, they don't seem to make much difference in handling. You can't damage your car and, in fact, you can bounce off other cars in corners to help you around.

There are five play modes. Start with Quick Race, which lets you just jump into a car and start driving. In Championship mode, you race in eight series. Do well and you'll be able to unlock new cars while learning what endurance racing is all about.

In Le Mans mode, you can use either the actual Le Mans track or the Petit Le Mans race in Atlanta. On the Le Mans track, you can race for 24 hours, just like the real thing. You have to deal with darkness as the race enters nighttime, and rain often appears to provide an additional challenge.

Time Trial mode allows you to practice without other cars in your way. Multiplayer mode allows two players to race on a split screen.

Graphics get a B. They don't quite match the incredibly detailed images of "GT3," but they are nicely done, especially the cars. Shadows that follow the cars and match the source of light are a nice touch, as is tire smoke under heavy braking. How those tires smoke in the rain, however, is a puzzle.

Control gets a B-plus. The cars are easy to control and will do what you tell them to do. The level of driving skill is adjustable and really makes a difference. Start with the easiest level to get a feel for the cars, then move up for greater challenge.

Sound is a B-minus. The car sounds are good, although they don't change much and come across a bit muddy. The roar of the grandstand crowd soars as your car turns onto the main straight. The music consists of jingly tunes I could have lived without.

Give "Le Mans 24 Hours" a B. It's an excellent driving game, especially for those who find the almost-too-real simulation of "GT3" a bit much to deal with.

"Le Mans 24 Hours" is rated E, for ages 6 and up.


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