G1 Jockey 4 PlayStation 2
Published by Koei
Developed by Koei
Release Date: Out Now
G1 Jockey 4, an introduction.
For a sport that's labelled as the 'Sport of Kings' it's quite surprising that we don't have more PC and console games based on horse racing. There's no doubt about the sport's popularity (on a global scale and not just here in the UK), so you would think there's a market. In fact there are quite a few horse racing games in Japan. Koei are not only responsible for the G1 Jockey series, they are also responsible for the Winning Post series, which is revered by enthusiasts (despite the game offering only Japanese text). So why haven't the Winning Post games had European releases and why isn't there more horse racing games available? After spending a lot of time with G1 Jockey 4 over the last few weeks, it's a question that I honestly can't answer.
What's the game about?
The career mode in G1 Jockey puts you in the role of a rookie jockey. You'll begin by creating your character (male or female), taking part in some mock races and then heading off to the stables you selected when creating your character, in order to the begin your career as a jockey. Aside from the Career mode (which we'll talk about in greater detail in a moment) you can also choose to have a single race on the horse of your choice and even go up against a friend in a split-screen race in Versus mode. There's an extensive Tutorial mode that is an absolute must if you're to get anywhere in the game. There's also an option to view any race replays you may have saved in the Career mode.
What's good about the game?
Those who like a lot of depth in their games (and who don't mind putting time and effort into learning them) will really appreciate what G1 Jockey 4 has to offer. Like the Pro Evolution Soccer and Football Manager games, G1 Jockey 4 is one of those games that richly rewards the time you invest in it. As we've mentioned below the game has a steep learning curve and it's a game you have to get a feel for but put the effort in and the rewards are very satisfactory. The first time I won a race I was ecstatic and it was a feeling of satisfaction few games have ever given me.
In G1 Jockey 4 there are flat races and steeplechase races. Racing isn't a matter of button bashing and to race well, there are many things to consider. Each horse has a racing style. There are Front-Runners (horses who like to lead from beginning to end), Drop-In horses (who like to be close to the front and then break away near the end), Drop-Out horses have a greater spurt than Drop-In horses and therefore are able to break away from the centre or even the back of the pack and finally there are Hold-Up horses that like to shoot from the back to the front in the final stages of a race. Your potential gauge will fill quicker if you ride your horse in its preferred style and seeing as potential can be used to maintain your horses top speed after its stamina gauge has emptied,you're going to want it to be as full as possible. You also have to consider the horse's motivation gauge. A horse's motivation is its desire to run. When the marker in the gauge is green the horse is running as well as it can but by riding poorly, you'll eventually turn the marker red. Once the motivation marker has turned red your horse will simply not perform and you'll see your opponents speed past you so it's best to make sure the marker stays green for as long as possible. During the final stages of a race you also have to make sure you change the horse's leading leg as well (although you don't have this to worry about in steeplechase races, you do have to concern yourself with using the jump gauge correctly).
This all seems a heck of lot to keep an eye on and it is to begin with and when you consider you can fall if you don't time your jumps correctly and that it's easy to block an opponents horse (and earn a suspension), it may seem a little overwhelming. Thankfully though there are several options available to you when you choose to start a career. You can choose Easy, Normal or Hard difficulty levels, whether or not to enable Stewards' Enquiries (which can result in a suspension), you can choose whether to make it as falling from your horse in a steeplechase race means you're disqualified from a race and probably injured for a few weeks, you can choose whether to have the ability to restart a race and having the option to save at the paddocks between races at a meeting. In effect these options allow you to play with punishing realism or play in a forgiving environment that allows you to correct mistakes, which is essential if you're new to the series.
Anyway let's put the mechanics of the game aside for a moment and concentrate on the Career mode as this is where you'll be spending virtually all of your time with the game. As we said earlier you'll begin by creating your jockey and then heading off for four mock races before joining the stables you've affiliated yourself with during the jockey creation process. The game progresses on a week by week basis. Each week you'll be able to negotiate for any available rides. If a trainer offers you a ride you can simply accept the ride but if you want a ride that was initially being offered to another jockey, you'll have to use some of your riding points (which are earned every week and you'll receive bonus riding points for doing well in races) to put in a request to have that ride for yourself. You'll lose the riding points regardless of whether your request is successful though. Other than the races you can also give three of the horses, you've managed to gain a ride for, a workout. This enables you to do some training in an effort to increase the horse's form before a race. From April in your first year you'll be able to train a new horse. You get to pick whether the horse will take part in flat or steeplechase races and then you'll pick the horse's parent and a new horse will be created taking on characteristics from the two parents you selected. For the first year you can't ride your horse in any races (you can in the second year though) and you'll just be doing various training exercises to improve the horse. The training exercises can be quite frustrating to begin with but as with the rest of the game, if you put the effort in you'll be rewarded by having a really good horse to ride the following year.
At the beginning of the Career mode you'll notice there are three characters that are to graduate with you. These characters will become your rivals (albeit in a friendly way) and during the game you'll have feedback on how they are doing and they will comment on how your performance is going. You can upset your relationship with these rivals by requesting horses they were due to ride. You'll notice that each jockey and trainer has a relationship icon that displays what they think of you and it is all well thought out. What I really like though is that no two career modes seem to play out the same. The first Career mode game I played I hardly had any other rides other than those from my stables and their friendly stables. The second game I played I've managed to win more races and I'm riding for around five trainers even though I'm still in my first year. I have to say I've been impressed by the Career mode and in my two weeks with the game I've found it difficult to pull myself away from the game, which has got to be a good thing.
What's not so good about the game?
The biggest problem with G1 Jockey 4 is the game's learning curve. There's no getting away from it, there's a lot to grasp here. This is especially the case if you haven't played any previous games in the G1 Jockey series. The learning curve is steep for two reasons. First of all if you've looked into the game you'll know about the adapter that comes with the game (from certain stores only I might add) which clips over the two analogue sticks so that they act as one. Our review code didn't come with one of the adaptors, so we had to try and simulate its control system by moving the analogue sticks simultaneously. To cut a long story short, this default control system just wasn't to our liking. Having read on the Online Racing League World forums (which are an excellent source of info on horse racing games), it's fair to say that even some of those who have used the adapter just can't get on with it. Thankfully Koei included a second control setup which works perfectly. It's a shame this alternate control setup didn't allow you to use the left analogue stick to steer (the analogue sticks are ignored with this setup) but otherwise it works very nicely. Secondly, driving your horse is an art that takes a long time to master. In fact I'm still not convinced I've mastered it yet but G1 Jockey 4 is definitely one of those games where practice doesn't make perfect but practice definitely helps to improve your skills and appreciation for the complexity of the game.
It's a shame that there's no online mode as having online races would have really been the icing on the cake. The horse and racecourse names are fictitious but just like in the Pro Evolution Soccer games you can spot who the horses are supposed to be. However there's no editor so names can't be changed, which is unfortunate but hardly anything that spoils the game.
How does it look?
G1 Jockey 4 looks OK. There's nothing special about the graphics but they get the job done. The jockeys and horse models are actually pretty good but there some problems. During some races, particularly the steeplechase races, your horses feel like they are moving on rails when moving around corners and that you don't have full control over their side to side movement. Slopes on some racecourses are far too angular which looks very unsightly. There are also numerous shadow glitches (the shadows of the horses are actually quite poor) that are really noticeable during replays. The racecourses themselves seem a little bland and low on detail. The trainers and jockeys who converse with you throughout the game are just 2D static images. Whilst this may be a problem for some it has to be said the artwork for the characters is actually pretty impressive and personally, I'd rather have it this way than have 3D characters that are low on detail.
How deaf gamer friendly is the game?
Deaf gamers won't have any problems with G1 Jockey 4. All of the dialogue, from the trainers, rival jockeys, journalists etc., in the game is shown in text and you will need to press the X button in order to move the dialogue forward. During races the various gauges will show you all you need to know and the force feedback gives a nice tactile representation of the horse's movements. Should you or another jockey commit an infringement, the word 'enquiry' will appear to inform you that a Steward's Enquiry will take place after the race has been completed. The results of the enquiry are shown in text.
There can be little doubt that G1 Jockey 4 is a great game. It could justifiably be called the Pro Evolution Soccer or Gran Turismo of horse racing games. However the learning curve certainly isn't a gentle one and you'll need to put the effort in to really appreciate just how good the game is. There is room for improvements though. Graphically the game could have looked a fair bit nicer and it's a real shame that online races are not possible. Some might be narked by the lack of correct horse and racecourse names too. However the quality of the game allows you to look past these problems. In fact with the game being this enjoyable all I can say is, when's the latest Winning Post game getting a European release?
Overall Game Rating: 8.9/10
Deaf Gamers Classification:
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G1 Jockey 4 may not be one of the more glamorous titles to arrive on the PlayStation 2 this Easter but here we have a game that's the horse racing equivalent of Gran Turismo and Pro Evolution Soccer. The learning curve is pretty steep but if you do put the effort in you'll find a game that's immensely satisfying.