By: Matt C. on April 27, 2003
It's very difficult playing through Auto Modellista without comparing it to Gran Turismo 3. Both games offer real cars and the ability to tweak your racing machine for optimum performance. So Auto Modellista must be an incredible racing title if it provides the same great features as Gran Turismo 3, right? Wrong. This game has a great concept, but the actual execution is poor.
Auto Modellista has several gameplay modes, including Garage Life, Single Race, 2-player Verus, Time Trial, Network and a unique VJ mode. The single race, verus, and time trial modes are all standard stuff, so I won't get into detail about them. As for the VJ mode, it allows you to spice up any saved replay files available on your memory card. You can add special effects, change the music, include weird sound effects, and add graphical overlays. The VJ mode is a nice little distraction, but to be honest, it doesn't impress me all that much. Granted, you can create some swank looking "music videos," but there are far more important things I'd like to see in my racing games.
The real draw in Auto Modellista is the Garage Life mode, which is much like the Simulation mode in Gran Turismo 3. Here, you can select a car from either Acura, Chevrolet, Ford, Dodge, Hyundai, Toyota, Nissan, Honda, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Subaru, Daihatsu, Suzuki, and more. Surprisingly, a large portion of the best cars in the game are available from the get go. Some high-end cars need to be unlocked first, but you can start out with a Nissan Skyline or a Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution if you wish.
To be fair, all the cars are initially stock, so in order to boost that Skyline or Evo to its maximum potential, you need to play through the entire Garage Life mode. You can still add some modifications to your car before you even start racing, but the best tuning parts need to be earned first. Speaking of the parts, all of them are by real companies such as HKS, Mugen, Ralliart, and GReddy, but it doesn't make a huge difference between which company you choose.
As you win more and more races, more powerful tuning parts can be added to your vehicle. In Auto Modellista, you can tweak the tires, brakes, suspension, turbine, muffler, computer, engine, the final gear, and the car's weight. Cosmetic parts become unlocked as well, but they have very little affect on the performance of the car. All in all, you can change the look of the hood, side mirrors, front aero, side aero, rear aero, wing, rims, and the headlights. It's really cool being able to customize the look of your car because you can freely move a camera around it when you are done. Sadly, there are usually only 3 or 4 different parts you can choose for each area of the vehicle though.
Not only can you modify your car, but it is also possible to customize the look of your garage. You can add tool cabinets, posters, tires, oil cans, garbage cans, and other items that would appear in a mechanics' garage. Decorating garages is interesting, but rather pointless.
Needless to say, the Garage Life mode provides the meat of Auto Modellista's gameplay, but the main problem I have with it is that it is way too short. There are only 20 races you can participate in this mode and it shouldn't take more than 7 hours to finish them all. I might be a little picky, but I really wish that there were some endurance races or maybe some true rally courses.
Luckily, all the time spent tuning and dressing up your car can pay off if you have a Network Adaptor and a broadband connection. You can take your best racing machine and enter it in races online with other people. Since everyone has Cable, DSL, or T1, the game tends to remain smooth and I didn't notice any major latency problems. Actually getting online is just as easy as other PS2 titles -- assuming that you already have a Network Adaptor configuration file on your memory card. Don't worry though, creating a config file shouldn't take more than a couple minutes.
Playing online is certainly fun, but one thing I should mention is that some chumps usually just bounce off the walls at full speed instead of racing properly by slowing down and drifting around corners. It's very annoying and the game does not punish players who use such cheap tactics.
The graphics in Auto Modellista are definitely a mixed bag. On one hand, the cel-shaded car models look awesome and the special effects look stylish and unique, but the actual courses look extremely ugly and uninspiring. I get the shivers just thinking about them. To make matters worse, you can't even see all that far down the road because everything beyond a certain point looks like a mess. Fortunately, tiny arrows appear at the top of the screen before each turn, which keeps the game from becoming unplayable.
One thing I must stress about Auto Modellista is the questionable handling. Practically all the cars in the game have a tendency to drift like crazy, and these drifts dramatically reduce the speed of your car. I eventually became accustomed to the weird handling, but just be warned -- it requires a lot of patience, practice, and sweat. If the handling in Gran Turismo 3 annoyed you; don't even bother with this game.
Auto Modellista could have been one of the year's best racing games (maybe even a Gran Turismo killer) due to all the aspects you can customize, but there are just too many flaws to overlook. You may want to consider purchasing Auto Modellista if you are able to get your PS2 online using a broadband connection. As for everyone else, I think you should keep this one at "rental status" instead.