Armchair Air Racing 
Xtreme Air Racing Review By Scott Germain

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Fans of air racing always dream about strapping into one of the top unlimiteds, firing up, and joining the likes of Lyle Shelton, Skip Holm and Tiger Destefani. Only a handful of people have the combination of pilot skills, financial backup and intestinal fortitude to actually compete in unlimited air racing. A mix of skill, attitude and luck blends into the sport. Few people can do it - until now.

Victory Simulations is working hard on Xtreme Air Racing, a PC based flight simulation centering on the three-dimensional arena of racing airplanes. Currently in Alpha version, Warbird Aero Press has been flying the sim for the past several weeks to get to know the sim. Overall, fans will be very pleased with the result of VSís efforts.

Even though the sim - it really isnít a game - isnít even near being finished, the Alpha version presents very well, and the menus are effortless to navigate. Even without an instruction book or documentation, I was able to set up the software on my home and notebook computers. In itís current form, the software takes up 416 mb of hard disk space.

The navigation screens allow the user to type in a pilot name, choose an aircraft and a race course, and modify the aircraft. Pilots can choose either Bronze, Silver or Gold classes with differing levels of AI (artificial intelligence) built into the respective class.

One thing that will make the sim great is the ability of the software to mimic real life. The modifications you choose have a direct reflection on your speed, reliability, and aircraft handling. Stick a -9 Merlin in a Mustang, put in .480 nose gears, clip the wings to 28 feet, and fair in the flaps; you now have a very finicky racer that might not run so well. Much testing before you race will be required to iron out your setup.

Other choices are available; you can fly Rare Bear with a R-4360 if you want to, or put in a stroked out R-3350 like the real thing. Three blades or four? Go ahead and make your choice, along with the reduction gearing, fluid levels and number of nitrous bottles.

Once in the game, the racers are led down the chute from west to east in front of the grandstands. A five second countdown begins, and ends with, "Gentlemen, you have a race!" Get the ADI and spraybars on and hammer it! Depending on your position in the start formation, you have to be careful not to trade paint or collide with other racers. Doing so ruins your day and provides the fans with a smoke column.

At this point, pilots will notice the graphics and terrain detail. Iíve been running the sim on a 1 Ghz Athlon home PC with 384 mb RAM and a Voodoo 3 AGP card. With all graphics details set on high, the screen performance is stunning. You can make fluid control movements and fly the line around the pylons that you want to. Formation flying on another racers is also easy. On a 650 Mhz notebook PC equipped with a RAGE Mobility 2 AGP video chip, the game also runs very well.

XAR contains some very detailed AI (Artificial Intelligence) code that throttles the digital aircraft you race against. In the single player mode; the better you fly, the better they fly. The other racers follow a line around the course that is pretty tight, and it doesnít seem that they get any degradation of airspeed while pulling Gís. Plainly put, an aircraft like Rare Bear or the Super Corsair would be flown a bit wide while the Mustang could be closer to the pylons. As it stands now, it seems to be a free-for-all with everybody flying the tight line. As the production version ships, this will hopefully be refined further.

Actually flying in the races is a blast. Pilots can be up and running in just a few minutes thanks to the easy navigation. Flight sticks and throttles will be an absolute must. Nice touches include some HOTAS (Hands On Throttle And Stick) features such as ADI, spraybar, nitrous and supercharger shifting. The aircraft panel shows instruments and dials that move, and there are also indicators for fuel, ADI, spaybar and nitrous levels. If you tweak your fluid levels to bare minimums before the race, you will have to manage your power settings closely or risk running out.

Since the sim mimics the real thing, engines can and will blow up. Push too hard and youíll feel and hear the roughness and decreasing power. Keep abusing the engine and you will find yourself looking for the nearest runway. Even though this is the Alpha version, I find that the aircraft bleed a little too much airspeed after an engine deconstruction. The first several times I made it back to the runway, but there was nothing left in terms of aircraft energy. Currently, only the Rare Bear had working landing gear. I made several dead stick approaches and landings in Voodoo, the Super Corsair and Critical Mass after scattering my engine, but with no operating landing gear, I slid to a stop on the runway.

XAR will be shipped with Multi Player mode, so internet users will be able to hold races with other pilots. In true form, this will be the real test. Iíve found that the digital racers in the game are relatively easy to beat, so some human interfacing will be a good thing. There are also free flight and air combat modes in the current version.

Itís a bit unfair to list any shortcomings, seeing how this is one of the first trial versions. Currently, VS are working on refining the aircraft skins to a super-detailed level, adding "Hooverís Hints," and the voice of a real race announcer. Players can also choose from a number of fantasy course, and also fly some Formula 1 aircraft. With the limitations of a computer screen and using the stick's coolie hat to look left and right, it would be nice to have a feature that would have your crew chief give you a radio call and let you know where a passing racer is. There also seems to be no logic built into passing or being passed. 

Overall, everybody from NASCAR fans to air race fans and pilots will get a huge kick out of Xtreme Air Racing. This sim is much different than your everyday jet combat sim; the goal is to outsmart and outfly your opponents in a low-level, adversarial formation. Itís not as easy as it sounds. Throw in a race engine that isnít behaving properly, picking out tiny pylons at 490 mph and rising terrain on the course, and it becomes apparent why not everybody can be an unlimited race pilot.

For more information and pre-ordering information, click on www.XtremeAirRacing.com.

Xtreme Air Racing FEATURES :
 
Extraordinary 3-D graphics with meticulous attention to aircraft detail and terrain.
Over 50 courses in 5 different regions ranging from the Reno desert to the Alps of Europe to the jungles of Thailand.
Three levels of difficulty offer challenging game play for beginners and experts alike.
Extensive aircraft selection of over 20 different models in the Unlimited Class.
Unlock tracks and fly new aircraft as you advance.
Flexible and fun multiplayer mode for up to 8 players.
Fly in a single race or over an entire season.
Spectacular crashes and special effects.
Realistic flight physics with over 200 independent variables in the airframe.
"Hooverís Hints" will put Bob Hoover in the co-pilot seat to coach you around the course.
Air Combat and Stunt modes.
Extensive replay tools let you record your race and study your racing technique from all angles.
Race announcer gives the "play by play" and reacts in real-time to events during a race.
Ability to record your own voice as the announcer and name your own planes and pilots.
Realistic wake turbulence from other aircraft.
Aircraft setup and modification allows you to tune the aircraft to track layout and weather conditions.
Dynamic, 3-D engine and sound effects.
Advanced AI adjusts to skill of player and makes every race competitive.
Optimized for hardware acceleration.

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