As I write this the Formula 1 season approaches its climax and this weekend brings us the Belgian Grand Prix, for me the Spa circuit has always been one of the highlights of the F1 calendar and after a few laps around it on Supercar Challenge you’ll begin to see why, high speed and low-speed corners, early and late apex’s, committed driving required.
Of course, another climax is the upcoming release of Supercar Challenge, hotly anticipated by the fans it’s traveled a somewhat bumpy road getting here. Not unlike its predecessor which was due for release a full year before it eventually hit the market. Supercar Challenge now includes a far wider range of car manufacturers and was originally due out around February 2009; this following a reportedly successful Beta of the online aspects, but all then went quiet? This never gives huge confidence as to the state of development but in the case of Eutechnyx its nothing we haven’t seen before, and again they appear to have come storming out of the abyss.
Onto the game and we open with the usual polished menu options, much will be very familiar to Ferrari Challenge fans but now with the aforementioned expanded range of cars. Race modes include the Quick Race, Arcade Mode, Challenge Mode or you can kick off with the tutorial, voiced by Tiff Needell it’s a handy introduction and gives the opportunity to try out a range of the cars and courses available. However missing from this game is the Challenge cards, a curious but surprisingly addictive mini-game found in FC, not a major loss but its novelty value means it will be missed by fans of the prequel.
Sitting down to play I expected Ferrari Challenge with more cars and indeed that was initially the feeling, the handling being similar which is no bad thing making me feel immediately at home. For those new to the genre it’s a relatively convincing model, weight conveyed well under braking, gradients and cambers having a significant effect on the cars handling and performance, this making straight balanced braking essential if you are to accurately control the car.
All of this combining for a solid racing experience if unspectacular, however, add a steering wheel and Supercar suddenly explodes into life, now it feels far more like a real racing car, the weight model working well, the physics tying together nicely, though at this stage I’m still uncertain if the wheel can match the pad in lap times? Wheel calibration options are also a tad limited but I found the defaults suited my driving style, adequate but lots of room for improvement.
Of course, all is certainly not perfect; cars vary massively in their handling characteristics, from great balance to barely drivable. This left some of the worlds most advanced sports cars being nothing more than fillers in the options menu. It’s a real shame that some models seem to have been tested and tuned more than others, in effect it’s about finding the right cars that really suit your driving style, wasting some fantastic automotive milestones in the process.
There is also a range of tuning options and it’s possible that tuning can aid this situation, but achieving the right handling balance will take considerable mileage. Aiding this are 3 handling models, Assisted, Arcade and Simulation though most players will almost certainly opt for the latter. Players also have the opportunity to customise their car with a decent range of paint options, I confess I’m rubbish at painting but its all pretty familiar and as ever I’m sure those budding artists will come up with some mesmerising masterpieces.
One thing you begin to realise early on is that Supercar Challenge is tough and I mean rock hard! Even on the beginner difficulty getting to the front as quickly as possible is critical, a good qualifying place in the Challenge mode is essential to success, make one mistake and you can kiss that race win goodbye. This is due largely to the pace of the AI cars, once through the first couple of corners they race at real-time pace, of course there are always the corners where they are slow or you are slow but on the whole catching is tough, getting past unscathed is another thing entirely, especially when simulation damage is applied. Adding rain to the mix piles on the difficulty yet another stage, this mode is for experts only.
Progressing through the Challenge mode you will gain the opportunity to earn additional Supercars, win the race and the car is yours. The difficulty is ramped up again for these races, they may only feature 8 cars but with only 3 laps to get from 8th to 1st it’s a mighty challenge and for many players a race too far. The difficulty curve is both its strength and its weakness, on the positive side a tough challenge suits the experienced sim racer who is prepared to really commit to finding that level of perfection but for those new to the genre, it could potentially be very off-putting, demoralising and ultimately frustrating.
This extends to the amount that is locked away, unlocking cars and tracks is laborious and often tedious, this combined with the exceptionally high difficulty will leave many players unlikely to unlock the much of the game’s content. Of course, there is the opportunity to try out many of the game’s cars even if you can afford to buy them in the car showroom, this offers a range of motors, for in-game credits you can buy a test drive. Unfortunately, you can’t choose what circuit or weather conditions, this often resulting in wet races on circuits a player may not be familiar with, making for an often unenjoyable drive while wasting valuable credits in the process.
The course offering has also expanded and includes a wide selection of great courses not available in a range of other racing products. However the accuracy of these courses is arguable, some courses appear slightly squashed, gradients incorrect or corners that appear tighter than the common interpretation. SC also features its new artificial course called Riviera and credit must also go to its excellent design, basically its Monaco without being called Monaco and (I’m sticking my neck out here) a better circuit too.
It contains just about every type of corner you’re ever likely to encounter while being an absolute joy to drive and you’ll see that in our video below even if visually it’s a tad on the grey side, Bernie should be talking to these guys about designing F1 street circuits, I’m sure Mark Webber wouldn’t complain especially after he commented on Valencia being akin to “racing round a Tesco car park”.
Online there are standard race options but waiting in a lobby is still as sterile as FC, Eutechnyx really needs to include a TV-style cam to keep players interested or at least some detailed racing information. Of course the big plus here is the 16 player online racing which appears to work well so far, however we will need to wait for the final release to decide on how well this option is likely to work, yes its great in a closed beta but when the weight of thousands of players comes down it’s a different matter entirely, either way it’s a daring inclusion and one that will be loved by serious racing fans making long-distance races ever more challenging and entertaining.
Overall Supercar Challenge has exceeded my expectations; though graphically limited it’s solid and despite the limited funding of a smaller developer, this title is impressive in scale, with a long-term and unwavering challenge. However to gain maximum enjoyment the use of a decent wheel is key! The quality of the implementation of this aspect alone pushes up our score an additional point.
Our G25 wheel meeting a thorough workout, this bringing the experience to a new level, while the inclusion of the excellent handling Ferrari 599XX is a great bonus. But its the driving experience that really does it for me, when you find that car that handles perfectly, the one that lets you push, the driving becomes a joy, laps begin to flow into each other as the times drop and you find new limits. This is the strength of Supercar Challenge, the joy of the drive and if you can find that experience there’s a mighty package here for anyone.
Supercar Challenge simply demands a place in the collection of any serious racing fan; it punches well above its weight while providing a visceral and gritty racing experience that surpasses the clinical safety of GT5p, giving a great feel in the process. It’s tough and unrelenting but rewarding with practice. Supercar Challenge takes its rightful place on the grid on September 4th.
Supercar Challenge has exceeded my expectations, though graphically limited it’s solid and despite the limited funding of a smaller developer this title is impressive in scale, with a long-term and unwavering challenge. However, to gain maximum enjoyment the use of a decent wheel is key, this bringing the experience to a new level, while the inclusion of the excellent handling Ferrari 599XX is a great bonus. But it’s the driving experience that really does it for me, when you find that car that handles perfectly, the one that lets you push, the driving becomes a joy, laps begin to flow into each other as the times drop and you find new limits. This is the strength of Supercar Challenge, the joy of the drive and if you can find that experience there’s a mighty package here for anyone. Supercar Challenge punches well above its weight while providing a visceral and gritty racing experience that surpasses the clinical safety of GT5 Prologue, giving a great feel in the process. It’s tough and unrelenting but rewarding with practice.