Imitation is the sincerest for of flattery. It’s a cliché, but it is also undeniably true. With the success of the Gran Turismo Series over the years, many competitors have tried to copy the winning formula. Some with great success, while others have fell flat. Enthusia Professional Racing unfortunately landed in the latter category.
When I first heard about the game, I had high hopes. Gran Turismo 4 (GT4) had been out for a year now and this seemed like a new take on the genre, with a few innovative twists. The initial glimpses I got from various screenshots and trailers looked fantastic. The graphics looked like they could be better than even GT4.
It Had the Cars
Enthusia was not lacking on the car front. It included 211 vehicles that spanned several decades and various performance levels. The vehicle modeling was fantastic with special care taken to get every detail correct. Being an excessive car nerd, I was happy to see oddballs included like the Cadillac STS, Jaguar X-Type, and Mercedes-Benz G500L.
But I was happiest of all to see it was possible to drive a Chevrolet Freakin’ Astro. Finally, after all these years my wish for a Chevrolet Astro in a racing game had been granted (yes, that was a real wish). It was time to right a shameful wrong I had committed behind the wheel of one of these mid-size General Motors vans in my past; albeit virtually.
Over the Top Physics
Enthusia had many other similarities to Gran Turismo than just a massive pool of cars. The vehicle showcase screen, the replay presentation, even the background music felt straight from an earlier Gran Turismo title. The game’s course selection continued this familiar feeling, with a mix of racetracks, city courses and rally stages. Although primarily fictional course, there were a few real tracks sprinkled in such as Tsukuba and Nordschleife. Like the cars, the graphic rendering of these tracks was top notch.
But for how great the graphics were, the gameplay was lacking, if not infuriating. Despite Enthusia aiming for a more realistic driving experience from a physics standpoint, the overall gameplay leaned towards arcade more than simulation.
Vehicle handling was way over the top. The high-powered cars were hard to control without driver aids and most cars felt like their tires were made of ice. RWD cars just wanted to drift through every corner, regardless of speed or steering input. Even my Astro wanted to be sideways at all times, which was actually quite a bit of fun.
Innovative Idea, Poor Execution
The coolest concept in Enthusia was the emphasis on clean driving. It was as important to overall game progress to avoid contact with opponents and the walls as it was to actually win races. Winning did improve the player’s ranking, but clean driving was what was required to increase driver skill level and acquire car upgrades.
A balance was needed. There was no point in a player smashing their way to the win and increasing their ranking, just to face stiffer competition with a car that didn’t receive upgrade rewards.
Oddly, new vehicles were awarded at the end of each race via a lottery regardless if the race was won or lost. But most of the time, these cars were just garage queens. The game was not properly skewed, and more was rewarded for driving slower cars than the faster machinery. Not only were slower cars easier to control, thus avoiding any dirty racing penalties, but a multiplier was given for racing a slower vehicle versus the competition, so just barely winning with a Silvia rewarded more than dominating with a Corvette.
In the end, it almost seems like the game’s creators were worried Enthusia Professional Racing was too similar to Gran Turismo on the surface, that they tried hard to differentiate it. Although some ideas were clever, overall the game lacked the finesse and replay desire of other racing titles at the time. It’s a shame as there was so much potential here.