We live in a… I don’t know if you’d call it a “golden” age as such, but we certainly live in The Age of the Remaster. And as time goes on, it seems like companies are more and more willing to bring back less well-known titles from the dead and allow a new audience to experience them.
With that in mind, Capcom, I think it’s about time you brought back Auto Modellista, the most beautifully stylised racing game in the known universe. And maybe fix its issues to give us a definitive edition once and for all.
For the unfamiliar, Auto Modellista is a racing game from 2002 that was developed by Capcom alongside the original Monster Hunter and Resident Evil Outbreak. The three games, although unrelated, were all developed with online connectivity in mind — and Capcom hoped that at least one of them would go on to be a million-seller, establishing the company as a formidable presence on the then-fledgling online multiplayer space.
Both Monster Hunter and Resident Evil Outbreak went on to sell more than a million copies each, and the former established itself as a series to be reckoned with worldwide. (Capcom would probably prefer you don’t talk too much about the latter.) Auto Modellista, meanwhile, ended up launching on PlayStation 2 in Europe and North America without any online functionality whatsoever — though it was subsequently reinstated in a lesser known rerelease known as Auto Modellista: US Tuned, which formed the basis for Xbox and GameCube ports.
Couple this troubled development cycle with a relatively mediocre critical reception and it’s understandable why Capcom has been hesitant to return to the racing game genre ever since; in fact, aside from a sort-of-but-not-really follow-up to Auto Modellista for Xbox known as Group S Challenge, we’ve seen no Capcom racing games at all since the early ’00s.
Which is a shame, because Auto Modellista is actually really good; the trouble is that people went into it with the wrong expectations. Structurally, it resembled Gran Turismo and its imitators, but in execution it was more of a Ridge Racer. In retrospect, this should have been exceedingly obvious from its bombastic, manga-inspired presentation, but no; Auto Modellista is, sadly, one of those games that has forever been tarnished with a thoroughly “meh” Metascore.
Or is it? With today’s tech and high-definition displays, Auto Modellista could look astonishingly good — and it deserves a second chance. If only so we can laugh at the inevitable 12 year olds on Twitter who would accuse its distinctive look of ripping off Persona 5. You know it’d happen.
Like most racing games with a career mode, Auto Modellista challenges you to work your way up through the ranks of competition by buying and selling cars, upgrading and tuning them to suit the requirements of different competitions, and ultimately proving your supremacy on a variety of race courses.
Auto Modellista’s main strength was the variety of different experiences on offer. There were speedy sprints around the Shibuya Expressway; drift-heavy hill climbs and descents; track races; and street racing. But the game never took itself too seriously in any of these events; it was all about the exaggerated joy of driving rather than trying to provide a truly realistic experience — and this is where the majority of the game’s criticisms from back in the day came from.
Critics of the time tended to heap scorn on it for its “floaty” handling, complaining about the cars’ seeming lack of traction under certain circumstances. But honestly, this is part of the appeal; despite the presence of real cars and the upgrading and tuning elements, this is a game inspired by an idealised, romanticised vision of racing rather than realism. Initial D rather than Eurosport, if you will.
And this means that for anyone who has always enjoyed racing games on the more arcadey side of the spectrum, Auto Modellista is a great game. It provides the enjoyable “CaRPG”-style progression of the Gran Turismos and Forza Motorsports of the world, while providing a handling model that allows you to take corners sideways with minimal braking required. Plus it cannot be overstated how wonderfully gorgeous and stylish the cel-shaded visuals are — particularly when you pick up the pace and the manga-style “speed lines” start appearing.
Even the tuning aspect of the game is designed to be accessible and friendly to arcade racing fans as well as more hardcore petrol-heads; while you can take control of all the elements manually if you wish, there’s also an excellent “easy tune-up” option that allows you to choose whether you want to emphasise acceleration or top speed, and drifty or grippy handling.
Then there’s the mass of collectibles to acquire as you progress through the game, including bodywork customisation kits, paint jobs, stickers and even furniture you can place around your garage.
Or how about the “VJ” option, which allows you to remix your own recorded replays into some of the most gloriously early 2000s music videos imaginable? An absolute delight.
We’ve seen stranger titles get remastered in recent years — plus there’s definitely a market for stylish racing games — so a rerelease of Auto Modellista probably isn’t out of the question; the main sticking point is likely all the licensed cars and livery in the game.
Honestly, though, I’d happily buy a copy of this for modern platforms with fictionalised cars and sponsors — I’d just love to see what those cel-shaded visuals look like on a high-definition widescreen display, and I doubt I’m alone in that.
Oh well. At least in the meantime you can pick up the PS2 version for twelve quid…
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