I’ll cut to the point. Phar Lap is about as interesting as watching paint dry. The game promises its players the thrills and the thunder of horse racing, but fails miserably to replicate any of that excitement. It’s a poor imitation, if anything, and even then I feel like I’m being generous. Perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s take this from the top. Phar Lap – Horse Racing Challenge comes with a sizable variation of modes to take to from the get-go; story, quick play, online racing, betting party, and finally, the game’s creation hub.
Diving straight into the story. Here, you’ll create your very own rider from a small pool of generic assets. Once you’re happy with your rider and you’ve given them a name, you’ll be taken to the story hub. The hub spans the likes of a homestead, a training facility, stables, and races. The crux of play sees you participating in the latter to improve and upgrade the former. Rinse, and repeat. That’s about as deep as the game gets. Each of the hub’s systems feed into the core experience in one form or another, but it’s boring, and fairly tedious.
When you participate in races, you’ll earn money, EXP, and some useful items for use in the game’s components. The homestead is your domain, and here, you’ll work to improve your storehouse and your rate of income. The storehouse allows you to bulk up the capacity of your wares, gradually allowing you to hold more and more items throughout. Your income, on the other hand, is your flow of bread and butter, so to speak. You’ll revisit this tab quite often to take in some cash, with more cash rewarded as progression is eventually made.
This income is tethered to a timer, in which you’ll merely wait for time to pass by before pulling in the coin. The training facility operates in a similar way. Here, you’re able to make upgrades to this facility to further improve the stats of your horses, ranging speed, sprint energy, and acceleration. That leads us to the stables, and once again, this functions in a similar fashion; buy stalls, buy horses, and breed horses. Every single one of these options come tethered to a cap that will only raise once you start investing the money you’ve made.
There’s a cap on pretty much everything that you do. This cap will either relate to the level of your horses, or the level of your rider; known here as your prestige level. Looking to increase your income? Level up. Looking to buy more stables and improve breeding facilities? Level up. Looking to improve the ability of enhancing your horses? Level up. That wouldn’t be so bad on its own, but given the fact that the game purposely shoehorns you into retreading old ground several times over, it all quickly wears quite thin before long.
The only way to increase your prestige level is to fulfill set goals. There’s only so many per-level, and only by fulfilling them will you make any progress. The problem, however, is that there’s no variety of depth present here. Most of them consist on the likes of earning a set amount of money from racing, travelling a specific distance during races, and making upgrades. It’s a cheap way of forcing you into playing the game the way the game wants you to play it, rather than allowing you the freedom of choice, and it gets tiring, very, very fast.
At one point, I had just one single goal to fulfill before moving onto the next prestige level. However, this goal expected me to do nothing else but to collect fifteen bouts of income. This meant that I was sitting around just waiting for time to pass by, due to the fact that I only gained one sum of income for every five minutes of real time. Sure, I could have head on over to the race tracks to earn some more money, but at that point, I had already beaten all the available tracks in the game, and had more than enough money to see me through.
Whatever the case, that’s how the game’s progression structure is laid out. It’s constrained, it’s boring, and it’s irritating. You’ll race, you’ll earn money and items, and then use said items to upgrade your wares before heading off to race some more. I should point out that each area and sub-area of the hub is served as a single screen of options. Dialogue is text-box, and characters drawn rather than animated. The aim of play is to grow a stable of champions, champions that will serve you throughout the game’s distinct locations.
You’ll start off with horses that are good for nothing, and will need to spend time racing with them to improve their unique levels. Horses come with a rank and a level. The higher the rank typically determines how many levels they’re afforded before being capped. You’re free to buy horses from the stables, and indeed breed horses. When it comes to breeding, you’ll select a stud and a mare, pay a lump sum for them to bump, and come away from it with a brand new horse; stats of course being determined by the horse’s heritage.
It’s a simple system that gets quite costly further in, but in truth, money isn’t really an issue in Phar Lap. Play the game right and you’ll be rolling in it at all times. Naturally, the higher the level of a horse, the further you can take their stats. This is imperative when you begin to unlock the later locations, with a firm and gradual difficulty increase present for each and every location. That being said, it’s not all that hard to stay on-par with this spike. Simply participate in races to advance your horse’s level, bump up its stats, and off you go again.
The racing itself is painfully straightforward. You’ll accelerate with the use of RT, sprint to max speed through the use of the A button, and slow down with the B button. Movement is tethered to the left stick, with LT allowing you to glance behind you. That’s as simple as it is. Out on the field, you’ll start out in the gates following a random draw that determines what gate you’ll dart out of. Just as the race starts, you’ll see a gauge present that affords you a short boost if you’re quick and precise enough to pulse acceleration at just the right time.
Following that, you need only hold down RT and let the game do the rest. I don’t say that lightly. Seriously, the majority of each race simply sees you holding down acceleration. You’ll rarely need to move left or right, seeing as how the horse tends to follow a set path regardless. Sure, at times the horse will slowly veer off in the furthest direction, but a quick tap back in the desired direction is all you need to do. There’s a bit more depth to the racing than that, mind, but it’s hardly something that requires any skill, or much of anything at all.
Along the track, you’ll see a blue bar that spans the width. Staying in this bar will fill up your horse’s max speed faster than usual. This comes in handy at the final stretch, seeing as how every participant tends to throttle their horses to oblivion for the win. To do that, simply tap the A button in rhythm to a simplistic flashing animation. Once you’re past the finishing line, you’re served your rewards and then sent on your way. This functionality remains identical throughout the entirety of play, with very little difference present outside of track choice.
The locations within the game are fairly straight forward. They’re all broken into different categories; rookie, apprentice, high stakes, expert and so on. Once you’ve picked your location, you’ll see a collection of races that you can take to, all of which house their own prize pools and requirements. You’ll need to unlock successive races by completing preceding races, but again, it’s all standard stuff. Prior to each race, you’re given some useful insight and a few options to toy around with if you want to spice things up a bit.
This includes the likes of track size, track conditions, and stats of other participants. You can also place bets (so long as your horse isn’t classed as capped) to earn some extra income, and later on in the game, you can hire riders to do your job for you, allowing you to simulate the match or watch it as a spectator. That’s the sum of the story’s depth folks. It’s one of the most repetitive bare-bones games that I’ve ever played, and I only stuck with it for as long as I did to beat an irritating rival that popped up from time to time. So, what else is present?
Over in quick play, you can jump into rapid matches against online competition. The game functions pretty much the same here; pick a horse, place a bet, off you go. The same can be said about the game’s online racing. Don’t expect a crowded player base, because you wont get that. Then there’s the betting party mode; a place in which you can simulate or watch races and bet on them alongside your buddies. Exciting stuff, really. The horse creator is another addition that’s sub-par, and doesn’t really provide any meaning or depth overall.
Here, you can create the mare or stud of your dreams, altering stats, appearance, and preference. Most options here are as generic as the rider creator. Speaking of generic, that’s exactly how the game looks and sounds. The game’s textures are poor, with very little detail on show throughout the entirety of play. Despite a fairly decent commentator, the audio falls victim to that dull outlook too. Bottom line? If you’re looking for a decent horse riding experience, you’re not going to find that here. Do yourselves a favor and skip this one by.
Despite its varied modes, the bulk of your time spent playing Phar Lap will consist of little more than participating in dull repetitive races, whilst tending to a shed-load of overly linear upgrade paths. The game’s depth is puddle deep, and remains as about as exciting as watching paint dry. Moreover, it relies far too heavily on cheap tactics to needlessly stretch out its longevity, only further emphasizing how quickly it outstays its welcome.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.