As we all know the racing genre is ever expanding in its importance to any modern console. Strange then that it’s taken over 3 years of the Xbox 360’s life before we finally see a racing simulator that directly appeals to the hardcore market. A whole section of the said market which has been missed or ignored in its entirety, so it came as refreshing news that a maker of some of the finest racing simulators on the PC format was to finally make their long-awaited leap to console.
As we’ve discovered in the VVV Gamer interview with Henrik Roos; Simbin is clearly dedicated to the racing genre and has made it clear that they are committed to taking on the console market while developing their own in-house technology entitled the Lizard engine. With a well-known heritage behind them of quality racing titles and an established fanbase, the anticipation of Race Pro has been considerable.
The drought of 2008 is finally over, Race Pro is here and Team VVV has been keen to get beneath the bonnet and have a poke around. Originally due for release in 2006 via THQ Race Pro has featured an extended and sometimes bumpy development process, this situation appeared no less tentative when Atari took over the publishing rights to the title resulting in last minute delays pushing the release till 2009, this did aid Race Pro in avoiding the Christmas rush of releases but has that additional time been used to good effect?
Insert the disc and you will find the presentation in Race Pro is near nonexistent, it’s functional at best and this gives an initial impression of a rushed feel, lacking in design. Entering the menu reveals a range of predictable options, with the core of the 1 player experience focusing initially on the career mode. This mode sees the player beginning their career in a Mini and working their way up through the speed classes into the ever more powerful vehicles. These vehicles are divided into classes, each with varying and highly individual handling characteristics.
Loading up the first track and its clear Race Pro certainly isn’t a looker, graphics though solid are well below par for this generation. The whole visual approach makes this feel very much like TOCA on the Xbox 1 but at half the frame rate. However on extended play the graphics really do grow, more than just functional and in particular the road textures really do convey a great feeling of speed, thus making the 1 player experience highly enjoyable, but the low frame rate, lack of general detail, graphical tearing and non-existent anti-aliasing make for a rougher experience than we would have preferred and the lack of these effects on a system over 3 years into its life cycle simply can’t be overlooked.
Upon getting behind the wheel for the first time it’s immediately apparent that Simbin has been very forgiving on the initial difficulty curve including a range of assists, these assists cover Traction Control, ABS, Stability Control and the now obligatory Racing Line indicator. These enable players of any skill to enjoy the game but if you really want the true Race Pro experience these need to be turned off. Options relating to this include the basic selection of Novice, Semi-Pro or Professional handling options with many players opting for the latter, however with the Time Trial scoreboards failing to list the assists being used its possible that in some cases the Semi-Pro selection may, in fact, be quicker on some circuits or classes.
Handling options are aided by a wealth of controller settings; everything can be altered on either a standard controller or steering wheel. Simbin has taken great care in producing undoubtedly the finest wheel support in a console racing game, if you have a wheel then Race Pro is the chance to use it and play the game in the way it was meant to be played. Now, all we need is Microsoft to be more relaxed on the use of 3rd party wheels including those made popular by companies such as Logitech, again another and significant step forward for the genre and another stunning indication of the superb work Simbin have made on their first console development.
As players progress it becomes ever more apparent that the time spent at Simbin refining the handling has gone to good effect and with fantastic execution. The handling for Race Pro is sublime, bumps are well conveyed with traction and inertia implemented effectively. Cars do exactly what you expect them to do and that’s the beauty of this title, it feels just right. This detail giving each car its own unique driving style, Carterhams like to slide into corners with an aggressive driving style, lacking grip often over-steering into slow corners but conversely under-steering into high-speed corners due to their obvious lack of down-force. Conversely, the F3000 cars being the complete opposite, with full down-force settings, this requires a smooth and committed driving style combined with the obvious increase in speed.
Set-ups are a key selling point for this game with the developer’s claims that these will do what they are supposed to do and work realistically in affecting both the car balance and handling. Bold claims given titles such as Forza 2 have failed to succeed but with fully working examples on the PC nobody was likely to argue. On this case Simbin appears to have succeeded with the subtle changes appearing to work as expected, no doubt a long-term process for players to refine but early testing has been positive giving their title a significant boost in its longevity.
It should also be noted that the challenge of the 1 player experience can be considerable, requiring deep concentration for every lap. CPU controlled cars feature startling AI of a quality never before witnessed in a console racing title and will battle for every opportunity. Indeed the entire field are usually in close contact, this resulting in a hero to zero scenario should you make a mistake. Online on the professional setting and things get even tougher, aggressive racing requiring total commitment. This redefines the quality of the 1 player experience, a step forward for the genre and a benchmark for others to follow.
In testing the many cars available its quite possible many players will opt to use different racing viewpoints to suit their driving style. These range between in-car, bonnet, bumper and behind the car with all views being surprisingly playable from the off. Indeed as an in-car player myself; I found the outside car view highly playable from the get-go, so playable in fact that I was able to actively change viewpoints without seemingly affecting my driving style? But again for that full Race Pro experience you really need to play this game from the in-car viewpoint, both intense and satisfying in its execution.
If you do ever become bored of the 1 player experience there is always the 2 player Hot
Seat mode which involves changing from one player to the next, its good fun if a tad gimmicky but given most Race Pro players will probably only play the multiplayer online it’s a bit of a missed opportunity resulting in a largely redundant mode. The game also features a range of faults, glitches and curious issues such as cars spinning before giving the player control, spins at the end of races amongst a range of scoreboard failures and lag issues.
Online is the future of Race Pro if it’s to hold onto its audience and it’s here that this game manages to both succeed and fail with equal aplomb. Giving the predictable option of both Ranked or Player matches the lobby system is simply inspired, rather than listing the player names it is an actual practice session, you select the drive option and drive out of the pits, it feels just right and builds a totally relaxed racing environment giving everyone a chance to really find their feet with any given car. You can race with friends, tune your car or chill out in the pits watching the Race Monitor which display live coverage of the on-track action from a range of TV camera viewpoints.
Overall, Race Pro is a fantastic racing simulator and a thoroughly enjoyable racing experience, for the most part, it does what it says on the box and though more forgiving than its PC counterpart this provides, without doubt, the finest racing physics on the XB360 and for a first console title Simbin have succeeded in many of their initial goals. But the faults cannot be overlooked, despite the excellent gameplay at its core there are scores of bugs which require urgent attention, simple options missed giving the package an incomplete and untested feel.
This resulting in an experience that’s rough around the edges and while we could let Simbin off for a whole host of budget restricting reasons it’s important to the future of the franchise that these are addressed an acknowledged. Race Pro could evolve to become a market leader, right now it has reserved its place within the hardcore but poor graphics and a wealth of bugs mean the mass market will stay elusive. All considered this leaves Race Pro a flawed masterpiece, not without merit but surely this is only the beginning and we look forward keenly to future developments.
Race Pro is a fantastic racing simulator and a thoroughly enjoyable racing experience, and though more forgiving than its PC counterpart this provides without doubt the finest racing physics on the XB360. But the faults cannot be overlooked, despite the excellent gameplay at its core there are scores of bugs, simple options missed giving the package an incomplete and untested feel. This resulting in an experience that’s rough around the edges and while we could let Simbin off for a whole host of budget restricting reasons it’s important to the future of the franchise that these are addressed an acknowledged. All considered this leaves Race Pro a flawed masterpiece, not without merit but surely this is only the beginning and we look forward keenly to future developments.