Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends|
Iíve been racing all my life, both in the real world and in video games. With the exception of off-road rally cars, Iíve been behind the wheel of just about everything from a soapbox derby car, kart racer, NASCAR, Indy Car, and just last year, a Formula One machine, which is about as close as you can get to becoming a fighter pilot while staying on the ground. During that time Iíve had the pleasure (nay, the privilege) of driving a few Ferraris, and Iím not talking the kind you find on the showroom floor. Ferrari has become synonymous with professional racing, and Atari pays tribute to that legacy with their latest racing game, Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends.
Ferrari Racing Legends is loaded with content including 50+ cars spanning the entire history of Ferrari, 39 tracks (or variations of tracks), all but one of which are taken right from the real world and from historic race events, and a career mode so daunting youíll need to be trapped on a desert island for a year before youíll ever complete it. The main career is divided into three Era's; Golden (1947-1973) with 58 events, Silver (1974-1990) with 53 events, and Modern (1990-2011) with a whopping 105 events; each one playable on either Easy, Medium, or Hard. When you need to step away from the career mode for a while you can enjoy a Quick Race, Phantom Time Trial, or head online for some 8-player racing action with real drivers, although even after two weeks since its release, there aren't a lot of people playing.
Itís disappointing that with so much content, the developers have chosen to lock it all down fairly tight. Out of the box you can play the first event in any era, and winning that event will unlock the next event and possibly a new car, but the real problems surface 5-7 hours into the game when you start coming to events with seemingly impossible objectives or incredibly hard difficulty. These can stall your career faster than an improper fuel mixture, and since your ability to continue to new events is based on your ability to complete existing ones, some racers may not be able to fully explore all the events or unlock the entire garage of historic Ferrari vehicles, even after taking it down to the Easy setting.
Itís important to know that Ferrari Racing Legends is much more a simulation than anything currently out there (Gran Turismo on the PS3 notwithstanding), so casual racers from the NFS, Forza, or DiRT franchises may want to rethink their purchase. You are really going to need patience and dedication and hopefully a good steering wheel to make the most of this game Ė a true love of Ferraris and the color red would also help. The game is loaded with driving assists, but rather than allowing you to toggle them individually they are grouped together under various race modes. You can set this assist level independent of the difficulty, so finding the proper mix is crucial to getting through the tougher races.
Ferrari Racing Legends is very light on presentation. The 200+ events are a menu-driven series of challenges, each with a primary and a bonus objective like setting a lap record, chasing a teammate without falling behind, or placing in the top three or coming in first place. Each event has a page of text to put the race in the proper timeline and in context with your slowly evolving career as a profession factory test driver turned racer.
The game is also lacking in several other key areas. There is no car damage, so wrecks look almost comical as these indestructible metal Italian sculptures bounce off a wall, another car, or tumble down the tarmac landing wheels-down so you can resume the race Ė often in last place. Obviously Ferrari didnít want their brand tarnished by showing their cars in anything less than showroom condition. Another glaring oversight is that there is no rain, so you have no wet racing; just the occasionally overcast day to break-up what is otherwise a sunny racing game.
The car models look fantastic, dating back to the days where youíd be hard pressed to tell these roadsters were even Ferraris. Some of the earliest racers actually do look like soapbox derby cars, no wider than the driver himself. You are free to choose from various cameras including chase, dash, and hood camera that reflects trackside objects in its red reflective surface. The dash cam is especially immersive if you are using a wheel, but I found myself often returning to the hood cam for the better view angle and realistic sensation of speed. You can use the right stick to look into your turns, which only made me miss the Kinect head-tracking from Forza. Tracks range from the barren forests of the Golden Era to the more traditional stadium seating of the Modern. There isnít a huge amount of detail or added flair, but you need to keep your eyes on the road anyway.
As expected, there isnít much in the way of audio. Rather than wasting money and annoying us with a library of licensed tunes we have some fitting menu music, a rather pleasant narrator that will coach you through the career, and a lot of signature Ferrari engine sounds that will adjust their scream as you hammer down on the throttle or downshift into a tight turn. On those rare instances when you get close to the other racers you get a cool harmonizing effect with all the engines.
Ferrari Racing Legends could have been an outstanding achievement in sim racing on the console, but in trying to keep it ďrealĒ they also kept it boring. Trudging through a seemingly endless series of events turns into a grind; a necessary grind if you want to unlock cars and tracks for any other mode in the game or simply advance the career. And with the intimidating difficulty and good chance of getting hung up on a single event, itís a shame the designers didnít go with the unlock model of DiRT Showdown and unlock two events per win. 200+ events is a lot of content, even if most of the events are 2-5 laps, but I really wish they had buried them in something that resembles a simulated game career rather than a Ferrari documentary on the History Channel.
True racing sim purists will appreciate the level of sophistication in the driving model, accurate non-crash-related physics, and the sheer wealth of Ferrari history taking place in this game, both in the cars and the tracks. Then again, sim purists tend to play their games on the PC. Ferrari Racing Legends is coming to the PC and it may address a few of the issues I have with the console version, but at the end of the day, itís going to take a mammoth effort to topple the reigning PC champ, Papyrusí 1998ís Grand Prix Legends Ė 14 years old and still going stronger than ever. Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends doesn't finish first, but it does shine a new light on console racing sims and is guaranteed to challenge all who attempt to conquer is mammoth offering of content.