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R is a racing-sim game featuring over 33 licensed cars, and in-depth customization options such as braking, front wheel stabilizers, and car weight. Other features concerning gameplay include drifts, Nitro adjustments, and individual classes and attributes for every car. The game also features a system referred to as the pressure meter, a fighting game-esque gauge that fills up as the player gets closer to a rival car; the higher the meter, the greater the likelihood that the AI will make a critical mistake.
The game offers a story mode where the player follows the racing career of Rena Hayami as she struggles to deal with the busy life of a professional race car driver and the politics of the sport. The mode features 14 chapters, in which the player earns new cars, RP points for new purchases, and views CG movies proceeding every chapter.
Other modes include the usual racing game fare: single races, time attacks, a versus mode, and car customization.
Rena Hayami is introduced as a Japanese ambulance driver living in a nondescript Western country. On one night, she responds to an accident at a racetrack. Pressed for time, Rena pushes her driving skills to the limit in order to deliver the injured racer to the hospital. Along for the ride with his injured team member, the former racing engineer and now team manager Stephan Garnier is impressed enough to offer Rena a chance to become a racecar driver herself. She accepts and joins Stephan's team, oblivious to the fact that the team is sponsored by a shadowy corporation called GVI. At first, Rena benefits from the company's influence and is given equipment and opportunities to race in major events. However, she quickly develops a bitter rivalry with independent veteran racer Gina Cavalli. It is later revealed that Gina despises GVI, and her contempt for the company spills over to Rena, whom Gina considers to be their pawn. Towards the end of Rena's rookie season, her mechanic Eddie comes up with a plan to leave GVI with Stephan and Rena. They form a new team without GVI's influence and Gina finds new respect for Rena and the two become friends while continuing their rivalry on the racetrack.
The soundtrack of the game was composed by Yū Miyake, Satoru Kōsaki, and other musicians who specialize in electronica.
The original Japanese box cover displayed a De Tomaso Pantera GT5. For the North American release, the box art was tailored to the domestic audience by changing the image to a Dodge Viper. Similarly, for the European release the image was again changed to a regional supercar, the McLaren F1 GTR.
The game received aggregate scores in the 70% range, varying slightly by platform. The gameplay was described as a compromise between simulation and arcade. The story was considered interesting enough to keep the player interested in an otherwise dull series of races. Graphically, the game was more or less identical on all platforms, but the GameCube and Xbox versions had better analog button control. On the other hand, the game was found lacking in comparison to other racing titles on the Xbox.