I’ll hold my hands up: I never played Ferrari Challenge. I heard mixed reports about it though, the majority of people I heard talk about it were largely critical but there was the odd grubby-fingered madman who insisted that those people ‘just didn’t understand the game’. They were adamant that it was pure class and anybody who didn’t like it just wasn’t playing it right.
So when System3’s (PlayStation 3 exclusive) sequel landed on my doormat I was hugely sceptical. Those few insistent lunatics had never come close to convincing me that Ferrari Challenge was worth the purchase price and the sequel had received very little warm-up hype. So I breathed a sigh of trepidation and slid the disc into my PlayStation3. The next few hours were enough to convince me that this was a game which should not be overlooked by any racing fan. I wrote a quick “First Level” to let you all know that a review was on the way (and worth looking out for) and then I went right back to it. Aside from mealtimes I spent the rest of the day trying to perfect my braking and cornering. I didn’t notice the time disappearing through my rear-view mirror.
Whilst the initially underwhelming look of the box art had served to lower expectations for the presentation of the rest of the game, those expectations were soon blown away by the simple, slick and intuitive menu system and rousing operatic background music. The front-end of this package is both functional and attractive and allows swift movement from the virtual pit-lane to the starting grid. Unfortunately the in-game sound is a little below-par with crowd noise and collision sound seeming a little old fashioned and stop-start. The engine noises are brilliant though, with plenty of variation and realism depending on the type of car and clear, loud and punchy sound. It’s just a shame that they aren’t noticeably affected by the environment; no discernable echo inside tunnels was a glaring oversight by the sound designers.
The graphical look of the game is strong, with realism obviously high on the list of priorities. I would suggest that the colours are perhaps slightly over-saturated but nothing that a few seconds with your TV remote won’t rectify and in all honesty it might just have been my set-up. In comparison to the big name of the genre (at least on this platform) Gran Turismo 5, this is a little way off visually but the differences are so minor that it would not upset anyone’s enjoyment of the game – the 1080p output never drops a frame and roars along smoothly. Online play was impossible to test until the game is released to the public on September 4th but the aims of sixteen-strong grids are ambitious and the wealth of options on offer will hopefully ensure that all tastes are catered-for online.
Where this game excels, though, is in its realism. Gran Turismo has always claimed to be the “Real Driving Simulator” but Supercar Challenge genuinely feels like a real racing simulation, something I had previously only experienced on a PC. The handling is totally unforgiving and if you’re late on the brakes going into a corner you will end up in serious trouble very quickly. Even the slightest error in racing line can add seconds to your lap times as you lose all the speed on a corner and have to totally readjust for your entry to the next. More excessive failure has consequences too with a comprehensive damage system putting certain other racers to shame.
More than any other racing game I’ve ever played, this feels realistic. Playing this game with a decent racing wheel-and-seat set-up would be as close as you could hope to get to actually taking a super car around one of the world’s most famous racetracks. The only thing missing is the danger of wrapping yourself and two hundred thousand pounds worth of precision engineering around a crash-barrier. Of course, the weather also realistically affects the way you approach a lap, playing a much bigger part in track-conditions than I can recall in other games.
Racing high-powered cars in real life isn’t easy though, so a simulation might not be to everyone’s tastes. Luckily System3 have predicted the difficulties involved and included some game-play mechanics to make the game much more approachable. Driving in “Assisted Mode” will turn on racing lines and braking assist – essentially the game brakes for you. Think of it like automatic gearing but for your brake pedal. This makes it so much easier to play and will go a long way to giving you a leg up the, otherwise, dauntingly-steep learning-curve. When you’re confident on the tracks you can switch the assists off and step up the level of realism.
Another feature to note is just how different each of the cars is. If you will permit me a slight digression I’ll tell you a story: when I was younger, before I learnt to drive, my dad used to comment every time he took his car to be serviced. He used to say how it handled differently, felt smoother and more responsive and was sharper on the brakes. I used to joke about how he must be imagining things because a bit of oil and some new brake pads couldn’t make that much of a difference. When I bought my first car and, after a year, took it for its first service I was astounded. All those years of light-heartedly mocking my dad had been misdirected: you really can feel a difference.
Never before in a racing game had I sensed that sort of change in moving from one car to another but Supercar Challenge has it. Not just the big differences that most racers these days can accomplish. Not just differences in top speed, acceleration and handling but smaller, almost imperceptible differences that are impossible to put your finger on. Each car just feels different. That’s no small feat since there are forty-four different super cars in the game. That may sound like a low number when soon-to-be-released competitors are talking about cars numbering in the hundreds but when you consider that Supercar Challenge only features the cream of GT racers and high-powered super cars it is a much more respectable figure. There is no filler here, no hot-hatches or tuned saloons. This isn’t a driving simulation, it’s a racing simulation.
There are over 20 licensed tracks and several designed by the developers. There is a good spread of tight street-circuits (the game’s Riviera track is very similar to Monaco’s F1 circuit), wide American circuits (including the essential ovals) and winding European circuits (yes, Nurburgring and Silverstone are represented).
When quoting numbers for cars and track content it is important to remember that SuperCar Challenge is not about giving a massive variety of options, although there are still plenty of decisions to make (including in the paint shop and with vinyls). It’s about focus and precision. What this game attempts is to do is be the most accurate simulation of super car racing available on a console. A goal it achieves easily and one which I honestly don’t think will be bettered by the raft of other racing games which are tuning up for release.
This is certainly not a game for everyone, those racers who prefer Burnout to Gran Turismo will be scratching their heads and looking for a boost button before they’ve cleared the starting grid. If you’re the kind of racing fan that plays Gran Turismo and wishes it wasn’t so easy to throw your vehicle around the corners then this is going to be perfect. In fact, even if you are comfortable with the level of realism on offer elsewhere it is worth picking this up too and easing yourself in with the assisted driving modes. Simply put, there isn’t a more accurate representation of super car racing available and even with the assists all turned on this stands as a very enjoyable and well-presented game with only a few minor issues to detract from the quality. Those issues would be easily patched out and that would ensure that this game is the best serious racer available and set an extremely high bar for the upcoming releases.
It might be possible in the coming months to find a realistic racing game that is more fun, there will certainly be more approachable racers before the end of the year. If you want unapologetic realism and inclusive simulation then Supercar Challenge is the only game you should be considering.