Poor old Jenson Button. Despite winning the F1 title last year, he still doesn’t seem to get the respect or recognition that he really deserves. Superstars V8 Next Challenge is much the same. Last year, Black Bean Studios released Superstars V8 Racing to absolutely no fanfare and minimal sales. Yet, despite its budget title presentation and lack of marketing clout, the game was a solid racer. Sure, the online was a bit fudged, the menu system was clunky and despite being an official game of the Superstars series, it didn’t have all the car licences, but the fundamentals were there. The AI was aggressive and the driving just felt right.
Well, developers Milestone have had 12 months to polish the title and have had a second shot at making a successful racing game. In much the same way as the last game, the way the cars handle is the key appeal of the title. In fact they behave in exactly the same way, which is no bad thing. The cars feel like they have real weight and every little tweak of the settings means a distinct change in character to how they behave. Every bump on the track and every curb are felt, not only through the pads vibration, but through the way the cars move and react.
There is now a proper interior view, which each car having a different (and fully functioning) dashboard, which is a definite step up from the last game. Likewise, all the cars in the game are now fully licensed. Before, some models had fake names. For example, instead of Cadillac you got to drive the “Mustard” (seriously). When you do hit the track, you will also find the computer controlled rival vehicles are keen to actually overtake you. Not just go past you if you run wide or go off course but properly dice for position, defend their line and occasionally sneak a move down your inside. The weather system is also dynamic. If you do a long race in the rain, as the laps count down, the track slowly begins to dry up which is a really nice effect that heightens the realism of the racing.
A bunch of modes are included to occupy your time too. There’s the basic Time Trail, Quick Race, Race Weekend and a full Championship. Alongside these sit the Superstars Licences, which are a set of challenges such as overtaking a certain number of cars in a lap, or setting a quick time around Imola. However, I would prefer a full-blown driving school to help out newcomers as I feel the existing challenges don’t ease you in to the game too well, especially if you’re not in to sim racing games. Despite the large variety in modes though, completing them all takes a surprisingly short amount of time as I managed to finish the entire game in 3 days.
When you have finished them though, you can take your racing skills online. There is the option of a Quick Race, a Time Trail and even a full Championship. Once connected, the frame rate is stable, the racing relatively lag free and the competition fierce. But trying to find a game is a nightmare. Either literally no one in the world is playing the game, or there are some issues with how the game searches for a matching. It took me an hour to find an online Time Trail on one particular attempt. Not only is it difficult to find a game online but when you do, more often than not, the sever connection times out. This is a major pain if you are trying to complete an online Championship, meaning you have to start from the very beginning again.
Unfortunately, the list of little niggles isn’t limited to the online gameplay. While it is a step up from last year’s game, some of my frustrations with the previous title remain. The game has the annoying habit of saving data, not once but twice, every time you return to the menu screen. It may not sound like a major issue, but it gets very tiresome and makes navigating the menus a very cumbersome experience. The music used throughout is also fairly terrible and grates easily. There also seems to be a disparity between how quick the A.I. controlled drivers are between qualifying and the race itself. Sometimes I could struggle to qualify 15th on the grid, yet breeze past my opponents come the main race. In addition, the game is all too easy for most people who have spent a decent amount of time playing racing games. After a few races I found that I had to race on Legend difficulty to get any sort of challenge from the racing.
- Brilliant handling that inspires confidence and gives the player proper feedback.
- Competitive racing, with A.I. that enjoys overtaking.
- Graphically quite impressive, especially considering its budget tile status.
- Online mode is fun, when it works.
- The game is too short and lacks replayability.
- Will almost certainly only appeal to people who are real racing fans.
Overall, it lacks the polish and variety seen in Forza 3, the brilliant online of GRiD or the way DiRT 2 caters for the hardcore and newcomers alike. In order to get the maximum enjoyment out of V8 Superstars Next Challenge, you have to be a racing fan and a pretty serious driving game nut. People who would normally buy the latest Need for Speed will simply turn it off after 10 minutes. Let us not forget that this is a budget title though and if you like racing on the more serious side of things, more about learning racing lines and making the correct suspension settings, then you will enjoy V8 Superstars Next Challenge. I for one, fall into the later. Hopefully this time I am not alone.