Preview: Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli
Some racing games tread the fine line between realism and fun. If it's too realistic you need to be Hamilton to get around the course without writing off your motor, and if its too forgiving, hardcore gamers cast it away as arcadey.
But it's this balance that Ferrari Challenge seems to have struck just right. When you slam down the accelerator, the eruption of the engine and the speed on screen gives you a great sense that you're powering along in a super car. It's that feeling of raw speed sims like Gran Turismo usually lack.
In that sense, it's a thrilling racing game that the not-so-serious gamer can get a real kick from. But then, the more hardcore of you will get kicks from its other handling intricacies, like the need to break really early to make it around bends. The game is relentlessly realistic in its approach to how long it takes in bringing a ton of metal down from 180mph.
You slam on the brakes and feel the weight of the car lunge forward as the rear becomes unsettled as you throw it into the apex. Then, on the exit of the corner you've got to nurse the car's 500 horses slowly into the rear wheels. Slam the accelerator while you're still turning and you be going sideways - not the fastest way to go.
You can feel all that happening in the pad and it's good. It feels like a proper racing game that'll make an excellent time trail racer. You can change settings on your car too, like brake bias, dampers, ride height and other titbits, which the more hardcore will do to improve their times.
And yet, it's not overly punishing like other sims. If you brake a little late, put a wheel on the grass or hit that accelerator a little early out of a bend, with reasonable reactions you can usually recover the situation.
You still lose time - it's not Burnout - but you won't end up facing the direction you came from at every little slip up. It's friendly. We screamed around unfamiliar courses in the game for an hour with only a few major spin-outs to speak of.
Then you have the CPU cars, which have been programmed to behave more realistically than the usual AI drone that simply follows the same path around a course regardless of what's happening around them.
If they see you coming up in their rear-view mirrors they come off the racing line to block you on straights, guard the line going into bends, and tussle between each other, too. You'll occasionally see plumes of dust kicked up a few hundred feet ahead of you, which you later see is one of CPU cars that has stuffed a turn and ended up in the kitty litter.
All that is great but there was one problem - the AI was too bloody easy to beat. They take corners so slowly that, starting a race in 16th place, we could fight our way to the front in the first lap and be in first place with a five second lead before the end of the second lap. That's in a six-lap race, and we were in the same Ferrari F430 as the rest of the field.
Admittedly, that was with the racing line assistance on - a line in the road that shows you where to steer your car and turns green and red to indicate when to brake and accelerate. With that turned off, it was more of tussle to the front, but once you know a course well enough to hit braking points you'll slaughter these guys.
We'd hope that later stages in the game will turn up the difficulty a fair few notches, but if not the game will be a cakewalk for any competent racer.
That's where we'll be looking to the online racing mode to step in and rescue it. With 16 other racers actually trying to go fast, all shoving into bends and slip-streaming in straights, this could be brilliant. And System 3 CEO Mark Cale promises CVG that it has totally abolished any lag issues already, saying confidently that it'll be silky smooth for all 16 racers. We'll hold you to that.
We'll also see if System 3 can live up to the bold prospect of delivering monthly DLC to the game, shoving new courses and cars into your PS3 until, presumably, every last Ferrari car is in there.
Ferrari Challenge has shaped up nicely. It's more realistic than Race Driver: Grid, and a more complete package than Gran Turismo 5: Prologue.
It seemed a bit on the easy side against CPU players, but with 16-player online racing and regular downloads promised it could be great. More ahead of the game's July release.
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