Ditching Licensed Cars Is the Secret to Preserving Retro Racing Games

World Racing 2: Champion Edition proves that brand licenses don't always need to stand in the way of remastering old racers.

We may earn a commission from links on this page.
Screenshot of roadsters on a starting grid in a race in World Racing 2: Champion Edition.
Screenshot: UniqueGames Publishing GmbH

Just before the new year, World Racing 2: Champion Edition — a new version of the 2005 racing game from the defunct German developer Synetic — found its way onto Steam. Available for the low, low price of $10, it was never going to set the storefront ablaze. But it’s a very important rerelease nonetheless, because it demonstrates how classic racers, often mired in the chains of expired licenses, can return the same way games of other genres do. It’s really quite simple: patch out the licenses.

This was one of the many changes implemented when UniqueGames, the current rights holder, relisted WR2 back on Steam a few weeks back. The original title included more than 80 cars from real brands, including Mercedes-Benz, Volkswagen and Skoda. For Champion Edition, the car models have been preserved largely unaltered, with slight editing to remove badges and just barely differentiate the vehicles from their real-life counterparts.

Screenshot of a yellow supercar on a road in World Racing 2: Champion Edition.
This Volkswagen W12 now has Maserati 3200 GT taillights, and the mashup actually kind of works.
Screenshot: UniqueGames Publishing GmbH
Advertisement

The four-person conversion team implemented a slew of other enhancements and bug fixes, including support for modern gamepads, Steam Workshop modding and remote play (so friends can play split-screen style over the internet without each owning the game). WR2's Photo Mode has been fleshed out, and there’s even achievements now. It’s nice to see a classic racer get this sort of love, ensuring it’ll be available to play easily on modern PCs for years to come.

Now I should be clear: I don’t like this game. I was provided with a code for WR2:CE by the publisher, and I’ve dipped into it several times over the past few weeks. The handling’s weird, the artificial intelligence is obnoxious, the career is boring and also doesn’t make sense and the music’s bad. No memories of the original game exist in my brain, so the favorable lens of nostalgia can’t save it here. I was not one of the people clamoring for WR2 to be saved from licensing hell, though there are a couple of retro racers I’d sacrifice a year or two of my life to see come back.

Advertisement
The AI in this game has a real hard time with corners and traffic, which is a problem because its tracks tend to have many corners and lots of traffic.
Gif: Adam Ismail

However, I do love to see old racing games wind up on modern storefronts, no matter how bad they were. Too many include real cars so they’re never remastered or remade, lest a publisher have to cough up fees to automakers a second time. The lone exception that comes to mind is Criterion’s Need For Speed Hot Pursuit, which originally released in 2010 and was ported to modern platforms by Stellar Entertainment in 2020. It’s missing only the Mercedes-Benz SLR McLaren 722 and Stirling Moss, but the rest of the roster was amazingly kept intact, badges and all.

Advertisement

Indeed, it’s not always possible to expunge licenses from old games. I’d never try to do it in an old Gran Turismo for example; there are so many makes and models it’d be a fool’s errand, and the franchise’s whole raison d’être is its real-world accuracy. But you could get away with it in Sega Rally Championship, which originally had two low-poly cars. Or 1986's Out Run. In fact, Sega’s done exactly that with Out Run multiple times, most recently for the Sega Ages version on Nintendo Switch, ported by M2.

Screenshot of rally cars on a gravel road in World Racing 2: Champion Edition.
Screenshot: UniqueGames Publishing GmbH
Advertisement

In other words, while World Racing 2 is not the racing game I would’ve personally chosen to receive this meticulous treatment, I’m nevertheless happy it happened, for the sake of preservation. Ideally it’s far from the last; if anything, let’s hope this forgotten racer kicks off a trend.