Release Date: February 17, 2009
Let's be honest here: Most racing games aren't realistic. They tout real cars or real tracks or real drivers or what have you, but at the end of the day, they're not going to mimic reality when it means sacrificing ease of play. Games like Burnout and even semi-realistic racers like Forza tend to focus more on allowing anyone to pick up and play the game instead of the grittier elements of racing. Even simulation racing titles tend to be focused on the customization of the racers instead of the car physics and AI reactions. SimBin, makers of the popular GTR racing series on the PC, is looking to shake things up with their first console offering, Race Pro for the Xbox 360.
Honestly, Race Pro is not a game for casual players because it's focused on realism to a stunning extent. As with most racing games, your goal is to cross the finish line, and you must do so before other racers. The catch here is that your cars have realistic physics and weight, and a lot of effort was clearly put into making them handle like real cars. If you really want to succeed, you have to be a lot more diligent about braking and shifting gears, even on the easiest difficulty mode. The game even gives you complete customization over your controls to make this easier on you. You don't just customize the buttons themselves; you even control aspects of the buttons, such as how much pressure you need to put on a button for it to activate, or how large the dead zone should be for your thumbstick. While most players will probably be OK with the default controls, Race Pro does everything it can to make sure that your own mistakes, and not the controls, are to blame when you lose a race.
Even car damage is realistically modeled. Bump into obstacles, and other cars and your own vehicle will get scuffed and damaged. Plow headfirst into a wall, and you're going to risk crushing your engine. The more damage your car takes, the more your engine begins to sputter, choke and stall out. Suffer too much damage, and you'll be limping along at a snail's pace, which is going to make winning a little difficult. Damage isn't 100 percent realistic, and you're not going to witness your driver meet a gruesome fate if you speed into a wall at 100 mph. However, a dire crash means you're probably not going to be winning a race either. It might be painful to wipe out in a crash, but in some ways, limping along and trying to reach the finish line is even worse.
The AI in Race Pro also skews a bit closer to realism when compared to most racing games. While it seems to feature the usual "rubber band" mechanic that a lot of racing games include, it does so in addition to featuring a more realistic AI that reacts in believable ways to the racing world. Sometimes racers will screw up, make a wrong turn or simply fail. I had one race where my opponent accidentally tried to scoot around me during a turn and ended up crashing headfirst into a guard wall, which took him out of the race and made winning a whole lot easier. While it may sound a little silly to hear that a computer opponent took himself out of the race, it actually made it a bit more satisfying to race against opponents who were closer to actual drivers instead of infallible racing robots.
Race Pro offers a handful of game modes to keep players busy. The primary mode will be Career, where players join a team begin their racing career. Joining a team costs credits and requires you to pass a preliminary trial because no team wants an inept racer, no matter how much fictional money they have. If you pass the trial, you can race for that team, using their custom cars and earning credits. More credits allow you to buy access to more teams, which in turn unlocks more cars and more difficult races. Someone seeking to unlock everything will have some pretty tough challenges ahead in Career mode, as each team has different cars, with different quirks, which you'll have to learn if you want to win races.
Beyond the Career mode, Race Pro also offers a bundle of various single- and multiplayer modes. None of these features are particularly new or surprising, especially to veterans of the racing genre, but it's good to have them available. For those looking for an extended single-player experience, you'll be able to do single races or compete in the more challenging Championships, which require you to win a series of races in a row. Those looking for multiplayer action can play either online or by using Hot Seat gameplay to race on the same console. Perhaps the most unique mode is the Mini-Cooper Challenge, which is a quick and accessible game mode for those looking for something a bit more casual to play. Unsurprisingly, Mini-Cooper Challenge puts you in control of a Mini-Cooper, which is much friendlier to control than the usual racers.
In some ways, there isn't a lot to say about Race Pro. It's a racing game through and through, and it offers a far more realistic racing experience than most titles on the Xbox 360. Gamers who are tired of the more arcade-style action of most racing titles will be pleased. It won't be a game for everyone, but if the concept of having to alter your controls and learn the weight and physics of various cars sounds appealing to you, then Race Pro may be just up your alley. Racing enthusiasts will want to keep an eye out for Race Pro when it speeds into stores this April.
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