Release Date: August 26, 2008
It's no surprise that the Ferrari license has been used in decades of racing games. The Ferrari name invokes a sense of Italian craftsmanship that marries good looks with raw, powerful speed, and almost everyone knows the name. Most people have dreamed about driving a Ferrari, while a select few have actually had that privilege. Since video games began, just about every system has had racing games that have either exclusively featured the Ferrari line of cars or had them alongside other cars from other manufacturers. Now the PS3 gets a chance at racing with this legendary line of cars in Ferrari Challenge: Trofeo Pirelli, and the experience does not disappoint. For racing simulation fans, this is a game to get, but it's not a good recommendation for those looking for a more arcade experience.
Ferrari Challenge features several single-player modes, but one of the most impressive modes is something that no one expected. Tutorial mode takes you behind the wheel of a Ferrari F450 and lets you drive two laps in the Ferrari test track at Fiorano. Riding shotgun with you is Tiff Needel, host of famous UK car shows such as "Top Gear" and "Fifth Gear." The objective here isn't to teach you the basic controls of the game but how to drive in a fast but controlled manner. During the two-lap drive, Tiff will give you advice on your speed, turning and braking. At the end of the two laps, you get graded on how well you did and on which areas of racing you could improve. For the first time in a long time, a game gives you directions on how you should race a fast car in real life. It's commendable to see a mode as helpful as this appear in a hardcore racing sim game.
Arcade mode follows the tradition set by just about every other racing game out there. You have 16 tracks, each progressing in difficulty, and each track has a set number of laps where you have to go from last to first before moving on to the next course. Here you can unlock and use different Ferrari cars from different eras, making it interesting to see exactly which era's Ferrari is best — if each one were running in peak condition.
Challenge is the heart of the game. Here you race through a virtual regional season of the Ferrari F430 Challenge, an event where only one type of Ferrari is used for racing. You start off each track by trying to complete a qualifying session. From here, you go through two15-minute racing sessions before you can win and move to the next track, 16 in all (the same ones seen in Arcade). It's a very different way of racing compared to the Arcade mode, but it accurately mirrors the real-life event.
Time Trial is where you try to get the fastest single lap in any of the courses you've unlocked, while Quick Race is where you go up against other CPU racers for first place in a given number of laps. These two modes aren't anything special, but it would be amiss if they went missing from any racing game.
The final single-player mode is Collector Card Battle. Here you can choose to play with either a full deck or half a deck of cards that feature different Ferrari models with various attributes, such as weight, speed and year manufactured. The objective of the game is to take away all of your opponent's cards by drawing a random card and selecting an attribute that would trump that of your opponent's card. This is the weakest mode in Ferrari Challenge. The user might be able to figure out some type of strategy for winning, but if just one slip-up is made, the computer will seemingly take advantage of that mistake, win the round, and consistently win for 10 or so card matches before intentionally losing to give you control again. Half-deck matches can last for 30 minutes because of this, and full deck matches are much, much longer. While nothing seems to be gained from winning in this mode, what makes it even more unbearable is that this is only a single-player mode. It could have had a little more pizzazz if it were offered as a multiplayer online mode, but seeing how it is restricted to matches against the computer, the user will check it out once, quit in the middle of the match and never come back.
Showroom is where you can take a closer look at the cars you own and where you can modify any car-related aesthetics, such as car color and a livery, where you can add or modify decals. However, unlike Challenge mode, you can't add or modify anything related to the performance of your selected vehicle. While some Ferrari aficionados would scoff at the thought of tweaking anything related to the performance of the car, other sim gamers would miss the option, especially since other sim racing games, and even some arcade racing games, contain this feature.
The multiplayer is split into two categories: LAN and online. As expected, LAN play is lag-free and has the same features as the online portion. Online races are available on every track, supporting up to 16 players and featuring voice chat. Getting into online games is easy, though, there isn't exactly a huge amount of people playing at any given time. The good news is that the racing online is relatively lag-free, even with the voice chat. The option to create a racing team is here too, though there aren't any apparent bonuses for forming a racing team online. Aside from the large text bubble indicating who is in which car, one would be hard-pressed to find a visible difference between an on- and offline game.
Graphically, Ferrari Challenge is very tight. The car models, as expected, look amazing. This is especially true for the dashboards, which feature an amazing amount of detail in each and every car. The same can be said for the drivers who have a great amount of detail in their clothing. For a PS3 racing sim, this is one of the few times you get to see car dust and damage on your vehicle. Thankfully, the damage is modeled as well as the car itself. Even though you can't completely destroy the car, you can add scratches to the body and dust when you start driving off the road. Bumpers get cracked, and both the bumpers and the hood can fall off of the car if you get reckless enough. This all looks wonderful and heartbreaking for those who love the beauty of the cars themselves. The tracks look good, and while they can't necessarily match the detail placed on the cars, they don't detract from them either. The weather effects are just the icing on the cake. Like the tracks, they look good but not as good as the vehicles. Still, seeing the rain effect for the first time while you're driving won't leave you with much to complain about.
The sound in Ferrari Challenge is a mix of both good and bad elements. The sound effects are absolutely amazing. The roar of the engine and the squeal of the tires come through clearly in Dolby Digital. This is especially evident when you're in a pack of 16 cars and you can distinctly make out the sounds from each and every on-screen car. The noise of the crowd is nice, too, and gets you pumped to cross that finish line. While the effects shine through the speakers, the music does not. The opening menu theme is the exception, though. The haunting vocals of the choir and pitch of the music make you feel like you're about to embark on an epic automotive journey. It's a great mood setter for a racing title that bears the Ferrari name. Unfortunately, once this music stops playing, you get bombarded with uninspired generic music during all of the menus. Worse yet, the bland musical score continues in each race, with a medley of low-grade techno, rock and rap music that plays too low and seems out of place. Unless a patch comes by that allows you to incorporate a custom soundtrack, most players will find themselves turning off the music in Ferrari Challenge.
The controls prove to be very intuitive for trigger fans and button fans. The R2 and X buttons are for gas, while L2 and Square are for brake. This default setup ensures that players will spend less time fiddling with options for controls and more time driving. If they will go for the options screen, it will be to fine-tune the driving aids, such as assisted braking or visible guidelines in the road. All of this will help you against the AI in the game, which can be ruthless. Racing against it, you get the feeling that they aren't all following the same line, giving it a dynamic experience compared to other sims. You will notice, however, that they were built for expert drivers in mind. Don't be surprised to see yourself fail a few times on the first track before you even crack the top 10 finishers. In case you were wondering, a recent patch gives this game Trophy support, something only a scant few third-party games do nowadays.
Ferrari Challenge: Trofeo Pirelli is a very tough, rewarding game that caters to a more hardcore audience. Racing simulation addicts and car buffs will love the way the title looks and handles. They will also love the large number of modes and vast library of cars available from one of the legendary car manufacturers. Those who lean toward more arcade racing will find that Ferrari Challenge still looks good and moves fast but becomes brutal for those who make even the slightest mistake. If you want a racing game that gives you room to make a few minor mistakes, look elsewhere unless you like breaking a few controllers. If you want something that will challenge you and even teach you how to drive fast, Ferrari Challenge is your game.
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