It’s easy to see how horseracing games are overlooked; it’s not the most pivotal standard-setting genre, and as per other horse racers there’s no graphical splendour to excite the public, just drab green fields, hedgerows, headache inducing jerseys and a central view of a small man’s rear. Likewise I’m not totally convinced about the role of a Jockey. We’ve probably all witnessed painful dismounts in the Grand National, only for the horse involved to just get up, carry on, and do quite well without being spanked over the finish line.
Gladly this is not the case with G1 Jockey 4. It’s one of the most difficult games I’ve played, despite providing a wealth of demonstrations and playable tutorials, the complexities involved provide a steep learning curve that players will have to persevere through before they can achieve a good understanding of how to actually win a race. You may know how to drive and windmill whip, but using these commands in context isn’t clear for anyone unfamiliar with racing a horse.
Having mastered drive, where you tap triangle in time with the horses’ stride to increase speed, it’s easy to presume that this method will help you cross the finish line first. Unfortunately at no point in the drive tutorial are you told that using it through an entire race will cause the horse to loose stamina and run at much slower speed, although arguably the games target audience may already be familiar with simple race concepts like this.
Once you’ve got the gist of the controls G1 Jockey does become incredibly rewarding; executing the correct commands and running the perfect race provides great satisfaction when the fields are always large, and the finishes a frantic – yet tactful – button mashing frenzy. Unlike any other racing game where it pays to be ahead, in G1 Jockey you’ve got to employ methods of hanging back in the field and maintaining your strength for the final stretch, so you’re rarely left with an easy win.
Although the pacing issue adds some depth to the game, horse racing is pretty monotonous and the soundtrack does nothing to improve the situation (irritating, repetitive, overpowering – take your pick), and once you turn it off you’re left with monotonous horse gallops and the most unusual hedgerow jumping noise. Thankfully the same can’t be said for the game’s dialogue and while there’s nothing particularly captivating in story mode (it’s a simple text-based affair) trainers will always provide you with useful post-race feedback. Why wasn’t your finish strong enough? Which tutorials should you attempt to improve it? And rather brilliantly, a positive note on what you did well. It’s worth noting that there’s a large number of trainers to choose from, each yielding different reactions to your performance with a different selection of horses in their stables to boot.
The depth continues once you’re able to train and race your own horse, as training sessions are limited during each year, you’ll have to encourage the horse to perform its best when you have the chance, allowing you to improve in 20 different areas of ability. The horses aren’t treated like a standard vehicle that can constantly be edited and improved, they’ve got a lifetime that equates to about 30 hours of play, so if you’re serious about progressing to G1 standard you’ll have to work hard in all areas.
Despite strong attempts to be intuitive, you’ll be falling flat on your face if you don’t have any prior horse racing knowledge. Similarly, if you’ve never played a horse racing game, the prospect of lapping relatively slowly round an oval has little appeal, and as previously mentioned you’ll have to endure failure and confusion before it all falls into place. The game may have a huge lifespan with its long story mode, career advancement and horse training, but it counts for nothing if you’ve got no interest in horses in the first place.