Imagine, if you will, a car crash of game genres. FPS and puzzler? Been done. Sports and beat 'em up? Nope, done that too. How about racing sim and RPG then?
No, we're not smoking crack, we've merely got our hands on the intriguing SCAR. After you've waded through the forest of branching option menus, strap in for an ultra-realistic racer. And we don't use the term lightly either: SCAR drives just like a full-on racing sim. Handling is more sensitive than a manic-depressive who's been dumped and fired on the same day. Brake in anything other than a straight line and you'll unceremoniously skid into the gravel, and the enemy AI is unrelentingly aggressive. The plus side of this is a technical and measured driving experience, a welcome respite for gamers tired of the cars-that-grip-harder-than-Loctite school of arcade handling. The flipside is that it's tough for casual players to dive in and start racing. But if tough's your bag, then SCAR is the must-have Gucci model of the season.
This can be redressed, however, with SCAR's upgrade system. Rather than modify parts of your car, here your driver is the tweakable object. Winning races and performing tricky and stylish manoeuvres during a race add to your rolling XP total, and when enough are amassed, you'll 'Level Up', as they say. There's no dice-rolling or braking power +10 modifiers, but you do get skill points to spend on factors such as Vision, Intimidation and Heartbeat. It's not as deep as the upgrade mechanics in other RPGs, but it's an interesting spin on the genre. More to the point, it has a tangible effect on your performance.
The game includes a few other neat little features too. Drive badly or out of control and your Composure will drop; as it nears zero your little driver craps his pants and the whole screen goes blurry, making racing temporarily even tougher. Similarly, you can drive others to distraction by upping your Intimidation meter and tailgating them around the track, though this requires considerable effort. If you mess up at any stage in the race, you can momentarily rewind time and amend your mistakes. It doesn't always work though - the rewind period lasts for an annoyingly short period of time, so unless you unleash the 'Tiger Effect' at that precise second, the damage will have already been done, and you'll only go back to halfway through your race-ending smash.
But that's not to say it isn't a comprehensive racer. There are tons of tracks, and a surprisingly large selection of cars from one manufacturer (even the battered old Alfasud makes an appearance). The Dynasty career mode is absolutely immense, though multiplayer is sadly limited to two-player split-screen. But it's the infuriating inconsistencies, such as overtly aggressive AI and lack of any sense of speed whatsoever that put the brakes on SCAR. By no means a scar on the genre, but hardly a revolutionary surgical procedure, either.
A good-looking racer, packed with innovative features but lacking the panache to successfully pull them all off.