The “Prancing Stallion” shows its horsepower… and its freedom from physics.
Like an impressionist painting of the 24 Hours of Le Mans race, Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli has all of the broad strokes and suggestions of a great racing game, but with none of the minute and necessary details. As any fan of racing games knows, details are the heart and soul of simulation racing games.
In Ferrari Challenge, you’ll have the chance to race in quite a few Ferraris from throughout the automaker’s history. For any Ferrari fan, this alone could be enough to justify a purchase. But if you also expect a demanding and nuanced racing simulation, I suggest you look elsewhere. Ultimately, this game takes all of the boring aspects of simulation racing (like long events) and all of the obnoxiously forgiving aspects of arcade racing (like hair-brained physics) and combines them into an unsurprisingly spotty racing experience.
You can race in a number of different modes, unlocking different Ferraris along the way. But you start out the game in a Ferrari F430, so I’m not sure why you would even want anything else. You earn cash for completing events, but since you have to unlock a car before you can buy it and since there are no after-market parts to purchase, there’s no point to earning money.
Much of your time will be spent competing in the over-long racing events. Most consist of a timed race around a course, usually at least fifteen minutes or more in length. This might not seem very long, but if you consider that a single lap around most of the game’s courses is under two minutes, you can see how tedious this can get. It might be more true to life, but it isn’t very fun. Worse still, some of the game modes ask you to play through a series of four full events with no opportunity to quit between events and return later. This equals close to an hour and a half of non-stop racing with no chance to take a break to shop for new cars, play other modes, or modify your livery.
Ferrari Challenge includes a number of different racing modes, each with its own set of rewards. But none of the modes are distinct enough from any of the others to warrant an entirely different mode. These additional modes end up feeling like cheap attempts to make the game seem more detailed and varied than it actually is. Since all you’re doing is racing Ferraris, there are no different classes or make-specific races to mix it up. As good ol’ Gerty says, a rose is a rose is a rose is a rose.
If there’s one thing I learned from watching mountains of Hong Kong martial arts flicks over the years, it’s that gravity is just a state of mind. Long before Neo learned that cochlear flatware does not exist and that he could fly, kung fu adepts had already disproved the existence of gravity. Apparently, the makers of Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli have been watching too many kung fu movies and not enough auto-racing.
Recreating the experience of gravity is essential to any racing sim. Only in the more outrageous arcade-style racers like San Francisco Rush or Burnout Paradise do we expect extraterrestrial gravity, but a racing sim is meant to adhere to the much more mundane details of weight and inertia that we all deal with in the real world on a daily basis. Everything in a racing sim from handling and speed to acceleration and braking all depend on a convincing recreation of the basic laws of physics. It’s not that you’ll actually be flying through the air in Ferrari Challenge, but let’s just say that the laws of gravity seem to have been “diminished”.
Especially once you turn off the driving assists, you’ll notice just how wrong it all feels. Even with traction and steering controls turned off, you can misjudge just about any turn and still come out of it fine. You can take late hairpins at nearly top speed with little risk of understeer. Likewise, you can steer sharply to your heart’s content and almost never lose your grip on the tarmac. The cars might look realistic, but they definitely don’t drive realistically. It’s a bit like getting behind the wheel of what you thought was a Ferrari, only to discover that beneath the pretty veneer is actually an AMC Pacer.
Opponent A.I. doesn’t help matters. Other cars will do absolutely anything to stay on their driving line—even if it costs them the race. They’ll ram you, push you, shove you, bump you, anything and everything short of pulling a shotgun on you in order to stay on their line. Making matters worse, the sound effect for two cars colliding sounds like putting the game disc into a food processor. You will also suffer no penalty for colliding nor will you lose any speed. Ram as much as you want - just remember that these guys ram back. Online opponents offer more intelligent competition, but during none of my dozens of online games did my opponents stick around to finish the race. A single event is just too long for most people to stick around when they’re losing.
Broadly speaking, however, this game gets the racing essentials right: You drive fast cars through different events in a variety of locales. If you don’t mind your driving physics closer to Burnout than to Gran Turismo, there’s enough here to make it worth a look. But sim racing fans will find it sorely lacking in key details, and arcade racing fans will find the game far too boring and long-winded for their taste. Within just a few races, you’ll have experienced most of what this game has to offer. If the devil’s in the details, this game is as saintly as Princess Peach’s chastity belt.