Genre: Horse racing simulator
Release date: September 26, 2008
Horse racing simulators are geared towards an incredibly narrow niche market. Aspiring jockeys who also have a passion for console gaming are a rare breed, so Koei’s biggest challenge with G1 Jockey 4 2008 is convincing the wider audience to saddle up.
Skipping those tedious tutorials and diving straight in is always tempting, but in this case inadvisable. The training section is reasonably comprehensive and essential to anyone actually wanting to progress with this one. Care is taken to introduce the player to every aspect of the game, but there is great deal of information to absorb both on an off the track. Constant reference to that instruction manual is inevitable when you start off on the long arduous journey that is story mode.
Putting the player directly in the shoes of a rookie jockey, story mode is where the majority of the gameplay takes place. After selecting your jockey, male or female, the player takes part in four mock races before joining up with the stables they selected during character creation. The game then progresses on a week-to-week basis where the player will be bombarded by countless option and statistic screens before any serious galloping takes place.
The level of detail is staggering. Everything from which horse owner you align yourself with off the field to which leg your horse is leading with is taken into account. The learning curve is so steep mountaineering equipment is recommended, but those who persevere will be richly rewarded. A real sense of accomplishment comes with winning that first race, and suddenly all those hours you put in look like a worthy investment. The option to save and view replays of your great victories comes in handy here.
The races themselves are much more than mere button bashing. There is an array of meters and gorges to keep your eye on, measuring everything from your horse’s motivation to its stamina and willpower. Performance is also dependent on which kind of horse you are riding; for instance there are front-runners who like to lead from beginning to end, and drop-in horses who prefer to conserve their energy until their final stretch. Which to choose is often dependent on the type of race you are competing in, be it steeplechase or flat track.
The basic gameplay mechanics are simple enough to learn, but with off-field tactics also playing their part, the game is extremely difficult to master. If you push your horse too hard in training, there is every chance the animal will rebel when it comes to the big race, charging ahead and wearing itself out at the start. The option to breed and raise horses allows you to strategically plan for the future, and the rivalry that builds up over time between the player and computer-controlled counterparts adds some spice to the mix. It’s just a shame there is no option to play online, as a dedicated community could have built up around this game over time.
Graphically, the game performs little more than adequately. The horses, jockeys and courses look sharp enough and fluidly animated, but there is nothing here that couldn’t be achieved on previous generation platforms.
G1 Jockey 4 2008 is such an in-depth gaming experience that it could be justifiably compared to the Football Manager series. Unfortunately for Koei, its target audience is a fraction of the size.
For horse racing fanatics, this is a must own - it is realistic, challenging and ultimately rewarding -their only possible gripe is a lack of real race course, jockey and horse names. Its biggest failing, however, is the lack of appeal to the casual gamer.
The game really shoots itself in the foot with its steep learning curve. If the number of option menus you have to trawl through before seeing any action doesn’t send casual gamers running for the hills, the phenomenal difficulty of actually winning a race will do the trick. Even those with a passing interest in the sport are unlikely invest the kind of time it demands, especially after they learn that no betting takes place.
So there you have it: if you are a devoted horse racing fanatic who also happens to own a games console, this will be your favourite game. For almost everyone else, it is about as much fun as receiving a kick to the head from an angry stallion.