Highway to the dangerzone.
Racing games on the Dreamcast have come a dime a dozen lately. DC owners have seen it all, ranging from the really good to the really bad. With so much to choose from, race fans have been in heaven. One very popular sports car, however, has eluded any appearances on our little magic box o' fun. That is, until today. Ferrari not only makes its Dreamcast debut with Acclaim's latest racing title, it owns the name on the box.
Unlike many other racing sims, F355 Challenge goes above and beyond the call of duty to bring you the real deal feel of driving your own Ferrari. There will be none of that top speed cornering or pick up and play action for rookies here. All you'll find is a serious, no-nonsense Ferrari simulator that will blow you away.
The first thing you'll notice is the beautiful graphics work that Acclaim put in this game. Each car is highly detailed, showing of the sleek stylishness of the Ferrari line right down to the trademark emblem. The tracks also look great and even the passing clouds in the sky look real. To top it all off, the game blazes along at a perfect 60 FPS with no slowdown. And as good as the actual race looks, you won't get the full effect of the in-game graphics until you witness the replay. Here, the graphics really shine and you'll get to see everything from an outside perspective.
Unfortunately, the limited replay (showing "highlights" rather than the entire race) is the only time you'll be able to have an outside perspective. In keeping with its ultra-simulation qualities, F355 only has one in-game view. You guessed it - first person. Most gamers tend to stick with the third person view that accompanies the majority of race titles, mainly to get a better view of what is going on around them. F355's first person cam narrows your field of vision so much that it is quite difficult to get a lock on your surroundings. It's almost like being a racehorse with blinders on.
The narrow view is especially troubling when a car is trying to pass. The minimal defenses in your arsenal include a rearview mirror and the small radar that picks up cars in your immediate vicinity.
F355's high level of difficulty is addressed through a pair of tutorial modes that take you by the hand and show you exactly what to do. This sort of ruins the surprise of the track, but most drivers won't get very far without it. You start off with the "Training" mode, which lays out the driving line and provides you with audible driving tips, such as when to speed up or slow down. The next step up before the actual race is the "Driving" mode, which gives you a chance to practice the track without any interference from any other cars. These two modes are great training wheels to get you ready to race all by yourself.
Physics have been a speed bump in the road to success for racing titles and F355 is no different. While the driving physics feel very realistic, it begins to break down when you start crashing into things. Bumping into objects keeps your car running much smoother than it should. Even smashing head on into a wall is only a minimal disaster, resulting only in a free spin and some deceleration.
The sound for F355 is a mixed bag. On one hand you've got some pretty decent engine sound effects and tire squeals. On the other hand, you've got some of the cheesiest mood music ever to grace a racing simulation. Think Top Gun with a side of Judas Priest. It just doesn't get any cheesier than this.
F355's two-person multi-player mode gets a bit messy because of the strictly the first-person camera. The rearview mirror is lost and all you have to help negotiate your big blind spots is the little radar. On top of that, your forward view is narrower than before in order to accommodate the split screen.
Like some of the Dreamcast's newer racing titles, F355 allows you to go online and download other player's ghost cars to race against. It's no online play, but this is a nice little touch for those of you that are connected.
While the single car concept isn't as bad as you might think, not having too many options is a definite letdown. Cars can't be tuned much and there are no new performance parts to be gained.
Another little fly in F355's soup is the limited amount of tracks. While you'll spend most of your time conquering the game's six initial courses, it just seems as though there needs to be more places to go.
F355 turns out to be a really good Ferrari simulator, but just an average game. All of the control nuances are there, though the move from arcades to the console is not an easy one. Some extra options for the cars, a few more tracks and a third-person view would improve this game by leaps and bounds. If Ferrari is your passion, this game is not one to miss, but other drivers with a taste for customization may want to look elsewhere before picking up the keys to the F355.