Xtreme Air Racing (XAR) is a flight simulator which, amazingly enough, simulates air racing. Specifically, it is inspired by the National Championship Air Races, held each year in Reno, Nevada. The game was developed by Victory Simulations, and published under the OuterBound Games brand, which is owned by eGames. XAR was released on September 14, 2002.
One of the amazing things about Xtreme Air Racing is how quickly it dropped off the map after its release. There are three key websites associated with the game: The game's official website was xtremeairracing.com. That website now is about air racing in general, and if you click on the "sims" link, you're taken to a dead section which says at the top: "The Enthusiasm For Flight Simulation Has Dimmed In Current Times But Here Are Some Archived Reviews From The Past." Another website mentioned in the game documentation is the website for OuterBound Games, which was located at outerbound.com. That site no longer exists. Finally, there's the eGames website at egames.com, which does not mention the game at all. (!)
In addition to this disappointing lack of support from the game's developers and publishers, there is an amazing lack of information on the game anywhere on the Internet. It's as if this game has simply disappeared off the face of the Earth, and nobody ever knew it existed. That's a great shame, because XAR is one of the best non-combat flight sims ever made.
The obvious question: What's so great about it? Well, mainly it's that XAR has one of the most detailed flight models of any consumer simulator. Really, how many simulators make modeling of air density a significant portion of their flight model? XAR does. I wouldn't go so far as to say it has *the* most realistic flight model out of all the computer software out there, but casual flying enthusiasts and real-world air racers alike agreed when the game first came out that it did a remarkable job of making you feel like you're really flying the plane. The model provides that "you are there" feeling better than most sims can.
A definite notable point about XAR is simply how unique its concept is: To my knowledge, there is no other major-label simulation of air racing for the computer available anywhere. (With the exception of Xtreme Air Racing 2: Redline, which was released about a year after the original XAR.) The result is a sim concept that not only appeals to hardcore flight fanatics; it should also be of interest to racing fans in general (the people who usually race cars). The game provides an aircraft configuration section that works just like the garage in car racing games, where you can tweak your machine by putting in different engines, adjusting your wingspan and propeller length, and the like. These kinds of adjustments aren't a big deal for casual flying, but those little differences become significant in racing, when shaving a few inches off a plane's wingspan can make all the difference in speed. How many flight sims let you do this?
So why wasn't Xtreme Air Racing more popular? Basically because of the sorry state of the computer gaming industry. Despite the fact that a great many people pretend that they still care about gameplay in a computer game, most people still focus on how good a game looks and sounds. Sure enough, XAR doesn't have the world's most amazing graphics--indeed, the graphics were dated even at the time of the game's release. Occasional visual glitches also give the game a slight lack of polish, and many reviewers and gamers were quick to call the game a cheap "budget" title that wasn't worthy of attention because of these attributes, almost entirely ignoring any aspects of gameplay or realism.
Since there's not much information left about XAR online, I figured the old adage about the Internet should apply: If you can't find something that you think should be on the Internet, put it there yourself. In that vein, this page endeavors to be a page about Xtreme Air Racing, sort of a surrogate manual and strategy guide, describing some of the features of the game and providing some tips.
One of the most pressing maintenance matters in Xtreme Air Racing (just as in real life) is the fluids that go into a machine. The fluids are mostly similar to those familiar from the car world, but here's a quick rundown of the four fluids available in XAR. (Note that the quantity of each fluid you carry can be set in the airplane configuration; having more of each fluid obviously allows you to use more of it, but more fluids also make your plane heavier, which can impact speed.)
Need I say more? It's the stuff that makes your engine run.
2. Spraybar Water
Although the planes in XAR have constant-running cooling systems to keep their engines from overheating, the strain of running at top speed for extended periods of time can still contribute to an engine overheating, especially an engine that's configured to be high-strung for racing purposes. To help deal with this problem, the planes in XAR carry a certain amount of plain water, which can be sprayed onto the engine's radiator to cool it down with a device called a spraybar. You can toggle the spraybar on and off in flight by pressing S.
3. ADI Fluid
ADI (Anti-Detonation Injection) fluid is a mixture of water and alcohol (usually 50% of each) which can be injected into your engine with the fuel to improve performance. This is especially useful when the engine is under strain (at high manifold pressure); when the engine is operating in mid-range, ADI fluid doesn't make as much of a difference. You can toggle injection of ADI fluid in flight by pressing I. Although you can toggle it to conserve ADI fluid, in real life, race pilots often carry enough ADI fluid to last them the whole race.
4. Nitrous Oxide
A substance familiar from the world of street car racing, nitrous oxide (NO2), when injected into your engine, provides a quick boost of power. It should be used sparingly, for two reasons: First of all, using it adds considerable stress to the already-stressed air engine, and in a game like XAR where maintaining engine life is important, that's something to consider. Secondly, you can only carry a maximum of 4 bottles of nitrous oxide in the game anyway.
The cockpit layout in the game is pretty straightforward, but there are a few things you'll see there that I haven't seen in any other flight sims, so just to be clear, let's review the most important instrumentation you'll see while flying.
Prolonging the life of your engine is an important part of Xtreme Air Racing. In real-life racing, engines are tuned for speed, not longevity, and so engines are pushed to the limit. Similarly, in the game, your engine will gradually wear down as you continue flying. At first, this probably won't make much difference in how your plane performs, but as your engine nears the end of its working life, you'll probably experience noticeably decreased power output.
The Life-o-meter in XAR is the colorful circle in the upper-left corner of the screen; as you keep flying, the circle will continually diminish, representing a sort of health meter. When the circle finally disappears, your engine will simply stop. At that point, your chances of finishing the race are pretty much gone, unless the engine just happens to cut out so close to the finish line that you can glide across.
In the center of the colorful circle meter is a smaller rotating black-and-white circle. This circle continually spins around, and it acts as a speed indicator; the faster the circle in the middle is spinning, the faster your engine is losing health.
In shorter races, you may be able to ignore your engine life, because the race often ends well before your engine starts getting down into the red zone. On the longer "endurance" races, however, which are specifically intended to emphasize keeping your engine going over pure speed, you'll certainly want to keep an eye on how your engine is feeling. The main factor that affects your engine's health in this game is high temperature, so make sure you manage your spraybar water well.
Also note that the quickest way to kill your engine is to over-use your nitrous oxide. Your NO2 is meant to be used in short bursts; if you hold down the NO2 button for very long, your Life-o-meter will start spinning like crazy, and you'll make a barbecue out of your engine in a matter of seconds.
The Life-o-meter is XAR's main concession to unrealism. The truth is that although engine life is important in real-life races as well, it would require a considerable amount of work to actually simulate the different parts of an airplane engine and model damage levels for each one; although it certainly would be possible, doing so is beyond the scope of this game, and so instead of actually modeling the various subtle effects of impending engine failure, XAR simply treats your engine health as a scalar, modeled by an on-screen health meter. It's a cheesy technique borrowed from first-person shooters, but it works.
Although your plane in the game contains an altimeter, there is a computerized bar graph just to the right of your Life-o-meter that graphically shows your height when you get close to the ground. There's a small black horizontal line on the graph which indicates a height of 50 feet; flying below this line is considered especially dangerous, and in real-life air races, pilots are disqualified for going under 50 feet at any point in the race. Xtreme Air Racing won't disqualify you for this, so pilots who really want to push it can try it, but there's not much reason to do so.
Below the Life-o-meter and altitude bar graph are three words: "OIL", "TEMP", and "FUEL", representing your oil pressure, engine temperature, and fuel level, respectively. These words will individually be green, yellow, or red, depending on the status of the relative indicated factors, green indicating a safe value, yellow indicating danger, and red indicating a critical warning.
At the bottom of the screen are several lines of text that display various information textually.
Let's start with the left side of the screen. First are indicators to signify whether your NO2, ADI fluid (designated "ADI"), or spraybar water (designated "H2O") are currently in use. Below that is your SC (supercharger) setting, which can be either "High" or "Low". A "High" setting causes the supercharger to force more air into your engine, which creates a higher manifold pressure, which translates into greater power. This is especially useful at higher altitudes, where the air is thinner and you need to push it into the engine harder. The downside to this setting is that a high supercharger setting also increases the rate at which your engine deteriorates, so you may want to set this to "Low" if you don't need it. You can press B (for "blower", a synonym for supercharger) to switch between the two different supercharger settings. Finally, the "F" in the lower-left of the screen represents your current flaps setting. Flaps are not usually used in air racing, because they slow the plane down. However, if you need to go around a really tight turn, you may find that flaps give you a little extra lift, enabling you to force your plane around the turn faster. In any case, you can control your flaps with the F key: Press F to extend your flaps further (you can press it multiple times to extend them more), and press SHIFT-F to retract your flaps in the same way.
In the lower-right corner of the screen is even more text output. First is your plane's speed in miles per hour, then your altitude in feet. Below that is "A", your angle of attack, "G", the number of Gs your plane is currently experiencing, "MP", your engine's manifold pressure in inches of mercury (again, higher manifold pressures generally mean greater engine power but faster loss of engine life), "RPM", the number of revolutions per minute your engine is currently spinning at, and "Thrtl", your current throttle setting, expressed as a percentage of maximum throttle.
At the bottom-center of your HUD are four short vertical bar graphs, each of which represents the fluid level of one of your plane's four fluids. As your fluid levels diminish, obviously, the bars go down.
Although XAR has a "Free flight" mode (and I recommend you spend some time in this mode to get used to the different planes and tracks available in the game), the main idea of the game is obviously to race, so here's the basic lowdown on how the races work. Obviously, you can't create a "track" in the air for planes the way you can make a track on the ground for cars. The tracks in XAR are defined by pylons, little black-and-white-checkered pillars on the ground; these pylons are the checkpoints of the race, and essentially, if you fly around the outside of each pylon, then you've flown a lap around the track.
Because these pylons can sometimes be hard to see (especially when you're trying to concentrate on the act of flying your plane), XAR comes with three types of computerized navigational aids to help you see where you're supposed to be flying. All of these navaids can be turned on or off in the game's graphics setup.
The most simple navigational aid in XAR is pylon lasers, which are simply red laser beams shot straight up into the air from pylons. These help you to see where the pylons are.
A much more useful navaid in the game is course markers; these can take two forms. The first is a line of red-and-white cones laid along the outer perimeter of the course. With these cones, you can simply fly along the outer rim of the line, and know that you'll be flying around the circuit. The second type of course marker is actual computer-drawn red and green lines on the ground which form a sort of "virtual racetrack" on the ground. If you fly between those lines on the ground, again, you know you'll be in basically the right place. You can choose to turn on either of these courses markers, both, or none.
Finally, air hoops are pretty much the ultimate navigational aid. They are big, virtual hoops suspended in midair which provide the suggested best path for you to fly. Just fly through the hoops and you'll stay on track.
There are two people who are considered legends in the real-life world of air racing who are featured in XAR. You don't actually get to see them, but if you want, you can certainly hear a lot of them.
R. A. "Bob" Hoover
Hoover's name is actually attached to the game's name: When you start the game, the program is introduced as "R. A. "Bob" Hoover's Xtreme Air Racing." A veteran of real-world air racing, Mr. Hoover is available as a radio link during races in the game. He'll advise you on things to keep an eye on, and his delivery is right on: He speaks with a tone that's calm yet attentive, and many players actually find his voice reassuring when they're in the cockpit. His advice is helpful at first, but after a while you may get tired of hearing him say the same things repeatedly. You can turn his voice off by turning down the "Hint Volume" option in the game's audio setup.
This is the guy who really announces for the air races in Reno. Although he probably does a much better job in real life, many gamers complain that his voice is actually one of the worst features of the game, owing to his perpetually over-enthusiastic tone (he sounds like a game show host most of the time) and the fact that his commentary in the game is pretty repetitive. It's also somewhat distracting to the pilot; when you're flying, you usually don't care too much when planes five positions away from you are neck-and-neck. You can turn off Mr. Bowman-Jones' commentary as well, by adjusting the "Announcer Volume" option in the game's audio setup.
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