Reviews

Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends – Review

Platforms: PC, PS3, Xbox 360 (Reviewed)
Release Date: Out Now!
Developer: Slight Mad Studios
Publisher: Atari
Singleplayer: Yes
Multiplayer: Yes
PEGI: 3+

Thanks to Atari for providing a copy of this game for review.

For all of us petrolheads out there, for all of us that love the sound of an engine, the squeal of tyres and the simple beauty of cars, there’s actually very few of us that ever get to drive some of the exotic beasts that we covet so much. I love cars, but it’s highly unlikely that I’ll ever get to take a Ferrari F40 around the Nürburgring, or an Aston Martin One-77 around the streets of the Monoco F1 circuit. It’s this that makes racing simulations such a tempting prospect to us : it gives people like me the chance the experience those things. It’s a pale shadow of the real thing, of course, but games like Forza give us a chance to see what these cars handle like, to hear the roar of their engine, and to be the one making the tyres squeal in protest.

 

So when a new sim racer gets released there’s an understandable current of electricity that runs through the racing game community: we all want it to be good so that we can live out our fantasies. But this new title in the Test Drive series, which shouldn’t be confused with the open world Test Drive: Unlimited sub-series, is something different from what we usually see on the racing scene: it’s focused on just one manufacturer, the legendary Ferrari, a name that practically everyone is familiar with. With this focus on just a single brand comes a sort of expectation that Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends should be a love letter to Ferrari, a in-depth look at the storied history of the famous Prancing Horse and a passionate recreation of how its many cars perform on the track so that we can all finally get some idea of what it would have been like to drive the old classics, as well as the modern greats. It kind of sucks, then, that Slightly Mad Studios, who brought us the rather excellent Shift games, only really got the on-track bit right.

Don’t be fooled, it looks better in screenshots

It all starts out well enough on paper: Slightly Mad Studios and Ferrari have gotten together to bring us over 50 of their iconic cars to play with, from the their early road cars right up to modern-day Grand Prix machines that’ll have your eyes bulging from sheer cornering speed. While there are one or two notable exceptions,  Test Drive: Ferrari boasts a selection of Ferraris both old and new that is hard to find fault with. Of course the simple fact that this game features just one manufacturer might put off some gamers, and let’s be honest, that’s a valid complaint: you’ll race in nothing but Ferraris and race against nothing but Ferraris. For some this may simply seem dull in comparison to Forza or Gran Turismo’s array of rides to choose from, but don’t be fooled, each and every car in this game has a distinct personality and character, and so it’s surprisingly easy to forget that they all come from the same company. Each of the cars is also modeled quite well, though make no mistake,this is once again no Forza when it comes to the graphics. Rather Test Drive: Ferrari has a distinctly “budget title” feel, something which actually applies to a lot of the game, but we’ll get  back to the that later. While the cars feature nice models and decent detailing in the cockpits, practically everything else looks sub-par: in particular, trackside detail is very low and you’ll constantly note things in the distance popping into existence like some artist was hurriedly drawing them in after having woken up from a long night on the town.

Coupled with the drool-worthy selection of cars is  a grand total of 36 tracks from across the years that serve as outstanding playgrounds on which to drive. Some of the usual suspects are here: Spa, Monza, and Silverstone are all present and correct, but thrown into the mix are some of the lesser known but just as enjoyable circuits and test tracks that don’t usually get featured in racing games, such as Enna Pergussa in Italy or Casino Riviera-Côte d’Azur in France. This helps to separate Test Drive: Ferrari from the pack a little, letting you chuck cars around tracks you simply normally don’t get to. Even better, some the familiar tracks presented here have a little twist to them as you’ll actually get to race on different version of them from throughout the years, letting you see how they changed and evolved as time went on. The Silverstone GP circuit is a prime example: during the course of the games career, which we’ll be getting to shortly, you’ll tackle the 1959, 1975 and 2009 versions of the track, and you’ll also race on the International and National versions of the circuit. Special mention should also go to the single fictitious: Loch Misty. Slightly Mad Studios have crafted a completely unique and awesome track in Loch Misty that is a joy to drive around, especially in the older Ferraris. It’s twisty, bumpy, fast and has plenty of lovely corners and elevation changes. It makes me wish that they’d created a few more imaginary tracks, because they really know how to do it. 

Of course the main place you’ll encounter all these tracks and drive all these cars is the games surprisingly chunky campaign. Boasting over 200 events split into the Gold, Silver and Modern Eras of Ferrari, this is a campaign that should take you over 20-hours to complete, which ain’t to be sneezed at, for sure. Splitting the campaign into three distinct eras was a smart choice, that’s for sure, allowing you to jump from the old classics to speedy modern cars at any point you desire. The second thing that Slightly Mad Studios did right was the inclusion of scenarios in the three eras to keep things interesting. Each event in each era comes with a short bit of text that provides a basic bit of narrative and a description of what’s going on at that point in time, which sets up the scenario for the race event itself. These scenarios range from the basic, simply telling you that you’re doing a qualifying run or that you’ll  be starting 6th on the grid, to more interesting, like your running an endurance race and your team-mate blew a tire but managed to get it back to the pits so now you’ve got just a few laps to catch up. The game even occasionally throws in even more outlandish concepts, like on the last few laps of a race you’ll suddenly develop cramp and be unable to change gears, or that you’re doing a PR event and have to do certain things like pass X amount of cars in two laps. admittedly there’s only so many scenarios that you can actually be based around driving a car really fast around a track, so the basics of what you’re doing will always be the same, but it does help add a little depth to it all. On occasion it does even try to throw in some narrative to the proceedings, of which the Silver Era tale is by far the best, though that’s hardly saying much. It’s no surprise, then, that this brief little excursions into the land of storytelling really don’t add anything to the game. They’re entirely text-based and due to the shortness of each entry there’s absolutely zero chance of you giving a toss about anybody involved in them. However, on the other side of the coin these little tales don’t hurt the game, either. It’s not like you’re going to curse the Heavens and developers for including them or anything. And if you do, then don’t you think that’s a little extreme for just a few bits of text?

On the face of it then, the campaign sounds like it’s pretty damn good, what with its different eras, scenarios and massive amount of content and suchlike. However, the entire thing is let down by several flaws and several more disappointments. First and foremost is how the campaigns use the games otherwise fantastic track selection, which it to say that it often makes you replay the same track constantly for fairly long periods of time. The first few hours of the game, assuming you’ve started with the Gold era, is a prime example, forcing you to play just a few tracks over and over with the same cars. The trend continues across all three Eras with you often finding yourself treading familiar ground. Now, while there’s nothing wrong with replaying tracks to master their corners, it does get frustrating and dull to keep racing the same circuits over and over. Nor does the campaign handle its pacing  very well when it comes to the cars and when you get to drive ’em. Three-quarters of the way through an era you might find yourself in the seat of a Grand Prix car, a beast that gets the blood pumping, before finding yourself in a car barely capable of doing over 100MPH for the final batch of races. It’s an anti-climatic end to an era. I don’t want to finish up in a slow car, I want to finish in style! Throughout the eras there just doesn’t feel like there’s a nice flow to the changing of cars.

The second big problem is that of difficulty: it’s wildly inconsistent. For the most part Test Drive: Ferrari is an almost insultingly easy game to play through. Even with the difficulty setting ramped up to highest and the driving level set to professional, which turns off the driving aids, the primary goals and secondary goals of events are extremely easy to achieve, and finishing up 30-seconds to a minute ahead of the field is a common occurrence. But every now and then the game suddenly goes a little mad and objectives can become incredibly tough to complete, and since you can’t actually skip past events you’re forced to keep playing that one annoying event until you either manage to beat it or you simply give. It sort of feels like you’re hitting a brick wall at a 180-MPH. Now, there’s nothing wrong with hard events that challenge your driving skills, in fact, that’s what they should all be, but these go from absurdly easy to stupidly tough and back again in a flash, and with no way of skipping them there’s a distinct possibility that some gamers may find themselves unable to progress simply because they’ve hit their personal skill ceiling, which seems to me to be a severe flaw in the campaigns design.  The AI themselves also play their part in this: at times they show flashes of brilliance, such as actually defending their lines, and act like real racers, overtaking each and making mistakes, but at other times they exhibit strange behavior, like seemingly not going flat-out on straights. You can pass AI cars on the straights like they’re standing still, despite the fact that they’re in the same damn car as you. It’s also bafflingly easy to outbreak them, like they’re sort of freaking out about a corner and panic-breaking about a mile away from the thing. Hell, maybe they are freaking out – it would certainly explain the occasional moments when they decide to smash in to you for no reason. Thankfully such moments don’t happen in every race, yet they do happen with enough consistency to be a little bit annoying.

And then we move onto the disappointments of the campaign. As I mentioned earlier, as a game based around a single manufacturer this feels like it should act as a love letter to Ferrari, a journey that aims to immerse you in the history of the company and, more importantly, in its cars, and yet the campaign misses plenty of opportunities to do such. For example, each time you get an opportunity to drive a new Ferrari the game should make it a big deal and present you with information and facts about your new ride. Sure, you can go to Wikipedia to find such things, but just imagine how cool it would have been to have all this information presented during your playthrough? In the very first race, in the 125 S, I wanted to learn about the car! It was the very first Ferrari made, imagine the cool facts and details behind that lovingly crafted piece of machinery. Even unlocking new cars is disappointing. As you go into an event the game will tell you via a little bit of text whether completing the event will unlock a new car and what it is, but that’s it. Unlike something like Forza which makes a big deal out of ever new car earned, proudly presenting you with a rotating model of your shiny new car to admire, Test Drive: Ferrari does absolutely nothing. Complete an event and you get nothing to celebrate the fact that you’ve just unlocked a new car to play. You know you’ve unlocked a car, because the text prior to entering the event told you that you would should you win, but you don’t get to see it, you don’t get to admire it, there’s no facts presented about it: it’s just unlocked. This may seem like a small problem, and your right, it is a relatively small problem, but that doesn’t stop it from feeling massively disappointing: I want some fanfare when I unlock a new car to help motivate me to keep going. I want to admire it, drool over it, love it! Damn it, this is a game about Ferrari! Slightly Mad Studios should have been  reveling in ever opportunity to show off these beautiful machines, but they’re not.

Once you actually get on track and experience the handling model, though, Test Drive: Ferrari starts to make a whole lot more sense. The rest of the game may not feel like the passionate love letter to Ferrari  that it arguably should have been, but on the track all of Slightly Mad’s past experience with their Shift series comes flooding back, making this quite the visceral feeling racer, and a fitting tribute to Ferrari. The Shift series captured the intensity of racing far better than other titles like Forza and Gran Turismo ever managed, and Test Drive: Ferrari uses almost the exact same handling system that Slight Mad’s previous work did. This is both good and bad, because on the one hand you could argue that this is simply a Shift game in disguise and as such Test Drive: Ferrari doesn’t have personality of its own, while on the other hand you could argue that there’s nothing wrong with that and because of it Test Drive: Ferrari’s cars have a sense of raw power that few other games can match. Regardless of your or my view on the subject, the cars on offer here are all great fun to drive, especially the older models as they truly feel like they take skill to handle.

This all comes down to a few key aspects. The first is that Test Drive: Ferrari is not a true simulation. While it does certainly lean towards sim racing heavily, there’s a definite bit of arcade splashed in there as well, just enough to  emphasis the power, weight and handling of the cars without ever making it feel like they’re not  modeled on the real thing. The blend of arcade and realism means that there’s just a little bit of give in the handling that allows  you to chuck cars into corners and push the limits of what they can take all of the time, to make it feel like you’re racing on the absolute edge no matter what, while still having more than enough to realism to ensure that they behave exactly like real cars and that if you push it just a smidgen to far you’re going into the wall faster than you can say, “oh sh….”. s Each and every car also has a sense of raw power and speed to it that makes blasting them around the track feel awesome.  This sense of exhilaration is best exhibited when you get hold of the Grand Prix cars: hit the accelerator in those coming out of a corner and it’s like an explosion. Likewise the level of grip they get is insane in comparison to the normal road cars that you spend much of your time driving during the career. This sense of unadulterated power is best displayed in the cockpit view, which is where I highly recommend you spend practically all your time in any racing game that even mentions the word simulation. Sadly the awesome helmet cam from Shift which beautifully replicated the experience of being a racing driver in a car doing insane speeds didn’t make the transition with the handling model, but the cockpit view still does decent justice to flinging cars around the track like a madman.

Things aren’t perfect, though. Some of later cars that have the higher grip, and especially the Grand Prix cars, actually feel rather twitchy to drive. Turn in to a corner in one of the modern F1 cars and it goes from nothing to near full lock turn in a nano-second, making it tough to get smooth and gentle turns from the car. This can be fixed by visiting the options menu and tweaking some of the settings, but it’s still a problem worth mentioning.

The summarise, on the track Test Drive: Ferrari is the love-letter to Ferrari that the rest of the game isn’t. These cars are fun to drive, regardless of the AIs inefficiencies or how easy the objectives usually are. I’ve always imagined that driving a Ferrari, be it an F40 or an 125 S, would be an absolute joy, and Test Drive manages to capture a bit of that. Obviously it’ll never be the real thing, and it’s not as impressive a technical simulation as Forza or Gran Turismo, but it does something neither of those games can: it captures the visceral, raw, powerful, on the edge feeling of racing, and that comes from Slight Mad’s Shift heritage.

But now that we’ve chatted about the actual on-track performance of the game we’re sadly back to the flaws. Gamers who have grown accustomed to the amount of customisation we’re given in most modern racing titles might be disappointed to learn that Test Drive: Ferrari offers very little, in terms of both actual car customisation options and driving aids. Ferrari determined that their cars were perfect upon leaving the factory, and as a result you can’t play around with the setup of your car in any way, shape or form. You can’t tweak the brake bias, change the suspension settings or alter the gearing. Apparently Ferrari have trouble with the concept of personal preference, then. Hell, you can’t even change the color of the bloody cars. These lack of choice extends into the driving aids. We’ve grown used to being able to alter each individual driving aid in modern racers so that we can find a balance of what we like, but in Test Drive: Ferrari you’ve just got three preset driver level options. To say that it feels like a bit of a step backwards is an understatement. Even more bizarre is that the lowest level of the selections actually feels like it makes cars harder to drive rather than easier, inducing oversteer like there’s no bloody tomorrow.

Something also worth mentioning is that Test Drive: Ferrari doesn’t have much in the way of damage modeling, presumably again due to licensing issues.  You can dent up these lovely rides to a small degree, but even massive collisions doesn’t result in too much damage being done.

Other problems also reared their head during my time with the game. One such problem is that occasionally while going over a curb the car would suddenly act like it had hit a solid wall and would get sent spinning wildly along the track or into a wall. Others problems included a warning system for cutting the track that didn’t have a clue what it was doing: there’s massive areas of track that can be cut without fear of penalty, while in other places you could go wide onto gravel, lose a load of time and still be given a warning. Likewise the dangerous driving penalty system didn’t seem to know what it was doing: at one point I was disqualified for reckless driving after being smashed into by an AI opponent. I spent the next while deliberately ramming opponents and driving like a lunatic but was unable to get a reaction from the system, who presumably thought I was driving like an angel or something.

Outside of the career mode the game is a pretty barebones offering. You’ve got  quick race, time trial and online options, and of those do pretty much exactly what they say on the tin. Head on to the online segment and the racing obviously becomes fare more intense and fun, assuming, of course, that you’re racing against people who don’t try to simply smash into you in the first corner. Again, the options here are pretty standard, allowing you to pick cars, tracks and the amount of laps to embark on. The main problem is actually finding people to play with: it’s pretty quiet online at the moment. When you do, though, the racing is pretty darn awesome

In the end Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends feels like it was made on a pretty tight budget. It’s got a lot of flaws and little things that disappoint, and yet when it comes to the handling this is an absolute joy to play.  Outside of the actual racing the game doesn’t do much to impress, but the racing is so fun that you sort of forget about that for a while, and that makes scoring this game pretty tough. Ultimately, though, the driving does outweigh everything else, and so in the end this feels like a game for die-hard racing fans and lovers of Ferrari, though they’ll probably be one and the same.

The Good:
+ Amazing roster of Ferraris
+ Great handling.
+ Awesome track selection.

The Bad:
– Career structure needs work.
– Difficulty spikes.
– Looks and feels like a budget title.

The Score:

Graphics: 6
The car models is pretty good, but everything else looks like a launch title for the Xbox 360.

Sound: 7.5
There’s very little music, but the sounds of the cars themselves are good.

Story: 2
There is actually a few stories in there, but there’s really nothing much to say about them.

Gameplay: 7.5
There are problems, such as the difficulty spikes and career structure, but the cars themselves are a joy to drive.

Lifespan: 8
At 20-25 hours to get through all the events plus multiplayer, this has plenty of content.

The Verdict: 7
Casual racing fans may want to stick to the more polished racers out there, but for racing fanatics this is certainly worth a look. While it never delivers on its own potential, there’s good fun to be had here, especially if you happen to be a Ferrari fan.

Categories: Reviews

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