2009 is fast becoming one of the greatest ever years for racing fans, but surely it's now an unenviable time for publishers and developers as development costs rise and rivals eat up potential market share? In particular on the PS3, we have the looming cloud of Gran Turismo 5 hovering over the horizon, and it's highly likely that the racing landscape will change significantly once it arrives.
It's also tough for the smaller developers. Last year, System 3 released Ferrari Challenge as a exclusive for the Playstation 3 console, and with little or no direct competition, the title fared well, receiving critical acclaim. It was a solid, well constructed racer and was supported with regular DLC.
The plan this year is to recapture that success with Supercar Challenge: similar in structure to FC, but adding a wide range of new motor manufacturers.
VVV Gamer has had a lengthy hands-on with an almost final build, again with a polished and classy front end backed up with the usual rousing soundtrack taking you into the initial menu options. Moving swiftly into the racing, and of course handling is always key – in many respects, it's a similar feel to Ferrari Challenge but with fine tuning. Again, we'll be looking at this in more detail, but FC did a decent job at conveying weight and we'll expect this to do the same.
For those of you new to the genre, this feel is critical in the way the car reacts under braking , giving the handling more depth and enabling expert players to find new limits within any given car's performance.
Enter the System 3 games room and you're faced with a pretty impressive set-up: 60" TV, playseat and G25 steering wheel. It gave a great opportunity to test the real racing pedigree of this new contender. Alas, the gearstick wasn't attached on this occasion and with limited time to alter button configurations, I opted for automatic gears.
Kicking off with the Time Trial Mode, jumping into a Zonda and hitting the F1 Nurburgring Circuit, it was initially an uphill challenge. The Zonda suffered massive understeer when any power is applied, the brakes were, quite frankly, rubbish at slowing down the car from the speeds it could do and there was terrible understeer at slower speeds.
Very much a tip toeing experience, but after switching the wheel to a higher sensitivity, the game started to yield greater results and, as a result, my lap times improved. However, on these initial impressions, it was still a might and somewhat frustrating challenge.
Following a few installation laps, I hit the arcade mode and swapped to an Aston Martin DBR9, (with ABS, TRC, and STC on) on Monza. Turn 1 resulted in the usual 1 mph carnage, but it swiftly sorted itself out as we got up to speed. However, the difference in handling was profound: better grip, more control and all-in-all more fun to drive. The wheel combined with a decent car suddenly brought Supercar Challenge to life.
Through the chicane, then the long right-hander before the second chicane, this being an area that many FC owners will be aware that a great line here with an aggressive exit can get you through at truly mighty speeds. Towards the end of the lap, the biggest challenge and weakness at this stage was keeping the DBR9 straight at high speed – the car began to feel light and twitchy, creating an imbalance.
This makes for some bumpy or off camber braking zones, which were very difficult to master in the short time I was given, though the general rule of "slow in, fast out" will usually keep you on the road, along with eeping the car as straight and balanced as possible under braking.
It's worth bearing in mind that this was all done on a stock setup, so there's a possibility that greater performance can be unleashed with some pre-race tuning.
Further testing revealed that the 599XX was the car of choice on this occasion. Great power, controllable power-slides, more stable down the straights than either the Zonda or the Aston, and simply fantastic in Simulation mode. Choosing the right car will clearly be critical to your enjoyment of the gaming experience.
As for the graphical approach, there have been a range of alterations, though it's debatable at this stage whether they will be better or not. They certainly are solid, but some course representations still appear to lack vital undulation and gradient changes. Car models are again decent representations, but lack some of the polished shine that you see in potential rivals , notably lacking in metallic and alloys.
However, effects such as smoke, dust and rain have real impact and I look forward to testing more in our final review. The sound too was very impressive: accurate and individual engine sounds with a range of gear changing effects,which is supported by detailed ambient sound including both crowd and trackside commentator effects.
A possible jewel in the crown is the inclusion of 16 player online racing. SuperCar Challenge is the first racing title for this console generation to be so ambitious and, as a daring step, it step should be applauded. But the big question is: "Will it work?"
Over the last 6 months, System 3 has been running a beta test for the title and everything seems to be going well so far. Of course, we'll have to wait for the finished game to see how this stands up to the pressures of mass demand.
Not too much more to add till we play the title again, but expect a detailed review of the final release, along with handling analysis and interviews with key figures involved in the project. In the meantime, the official System 3 press release is added below, featuring many of the keys aspects you can expect to find.
Supercar Challenge is released in the UK on the 4th September.
Over 40 cars will be available to throw around the most celebrated corners on the racing calendar. Experience the thrills and spills that come with harnessing the full grunt of an Aston Martin DB9, the Lamborghini Murcielago RGT, the McLaren F1 and many more. Of course, the game caters for the Ferrari fans too with a selection of favourites making the cut from 2008’s Ferrari Challenge.
More than 20 tracks will also be available, with old favourites such as Silverstone and Spa mixed in with the joys of Nürbergring. Several fictional circuits are also available such as the French ‘Riviera’ street circuit.
Assist Mode, race with all the assists switched onto full. An amazing way to learn how to drive a supercar and learn the track, but also just great fun. Tear around a track without fear of screwing things up because you forgot to brake at just the right time. This makes the game accessible to so many more people and will even see your gran cruising around Silverstone on a Sunday afternoon with a smile on her face!
Arcade, the power of a supercar with forgiving handling and more powerful brakes. Performance off road will be less but nowhere near as much as in Simulation mode. Breaking into corners and accelerating out of corners is far more straightforward and there’s no need to worry about spinning out all the time. You can REALLY throw your car around a corner and have fun whilst doing it. Don’t forget though – your opponents will be just as aggressive!
Simulation, the critically acclaimed handling returns. Drop your concentration for one second and it could mean you’re out of the race! For the hardcore simulation fans only, albeit with the option to change any of the assist settings.
Advanced Artificial Intelligence has also been completely rewritten with a brand new Dynamic AI setting allowing the game to change the challenge you receive based on how well or badly your career is going. Of course, if you fancy a real challenge you can always set the AI to Legendary… strap yourselves in tightly though because it won’t be an easy ride!