Release Date: February 17, 2009
With the next possible Forza Motorsport entry still a long ways off (and not even officially announced), racing sim fans who own an Xbox 360 have a great deal of time to kill before they get their next franchise fix. Naturally, it's a good thing that Atari came along with Race Pro to help tide us over. Thanks to an overall middle-of-the-road package, Race Pro will probably amount to little more than the role of substitute until the next big racing sim hits, rather than stand up as a serious competitor to any major series.
For a $40 game, Race Pro brings a pretty decent driving experience to the table, and it should especially appease fans of the World Touring Car Championship by supplying exclusive car models from Alfa Romeo, BMW and Chevrolet for the first time on the 360. The game comes with the usual setup of single races and time attack, as well as career and championship modes. In career mode, players will be tasked with building up credits, which can be used to participate in over 30 different contracts, all of which take place over a range of championships including the Formula 3000, Formula BMW and WTCC. Performing well in races will open up higher-paying gigs, along with higher-quality wheels that make for a total of 48 different models. Some choice examples include the Audi R8, Corvette C6R and Dodge Viper SRT10.
Unfortunately, the career mode doesn't amount to much more than a laboring process of unlocking cars. Ascending the ranks is merely a case of going from one contract to the next in a linear order, with no options for choosing sponsors or buying better parts to increase the performance of cars. For a game that advertises itself as an in-depth racing sim, I would have expected a few more options in its career mode.
A championship mode is also available that provides a simple run-through of 11 events, and for those who like to master each track, a time attack mode is available. Here, users can check online leaderboards to see the best times for each of the game's 13 tracks, but sadly, it's not possible to download the ghosts of other players. Having the opportunity to test yourself against the best players in the world is always a masochistic treat, and it's a feature that's been seen before in other racers, so why not here?
Getting into the actual racing, I just have to say that for developer SimBin's first console racer, the controls handle quite comfortably and in a pretty realistic fashion. In unfavorable weather conditions or when you're veering off the track, the difference in handling is very noticeable, as it is when you're behind the wheel of one of the varying classes of cars. The standard layout of Race Pro's controls cannot be changed, but the feel can be customized to a user's liking, with options ranging from brake reaction to steering sensitivity.
Although it is unabashedly a simulator, Race Pro actually makes some good concessions for those more inclined to running over aliens with bouncy jeeps as opposed to the art of precision driving. Car handling handicaps are included with the lower-tier difficulty modes, and there's an option to put a race line on each track, which gives the player a path when learning to handle corners with proper braking. Not only is it a good tool for beginners, but it's also a boon for those who want to know the ins and outs of a track before a competition.
In terms of catering to the gearheads, Race Pro offers an incredible wealth of options that allow you to intricately tweak just about every feature of a car such as suspension, gear ratios, aerodynamics, tire pressure and many more. Multiple setups can be saved for each car model in case drivers like to have a certain calibration for a particular track, and the car options can be changed in the middle of a race. Race Pro claims to provide a realistic damage system that goes beyond cosmetic dents and actually affects handling, but I found little difference in my vehicle's performance after repeatedly smashing into barriers, even on the game's highest difficulty setting.
While there's usually good potential for a racing sim to create an immersive and complex online environment, Race Pro carries on where the single-player left off by presenting the user with a shallow multiplayer component. Up to 12 players can take part in ranked and unranked matches, but the general racing options are fairly limited. There are no other multiplayer modes besides the straight-up race variant, and the only options available to alter the experience come down to standard tweaks, like lap numbers and adding a qualifying round. In my play sessions, finding a race with even a couple of opponents was no easy feat, which is a shame since the online performance of Race Pro is quite solid, and to its credit does allow everyone to stick together after the race is over.
There's no real split-screen multiplayer of which to speak. Instead, couch companions will have to settle for Hot Seat, which basically allows two players to take turns driving separate cars during a race. Perhaps SimBin felt obligated to include some kind of local play, but someone should have told them the Hot Seat game has been around for quite a while, but it now goes by the name of "pass the controller."
While Race Pro is average, it consistently delivers its mediocrity on all fronts, including graphics. The visuals are by no means terrible, but it's clear that Race Pro doesn't stack up to its peers in the genre. Vehicle models aren't packing the polygon counts seen in other racers, and the lighting tends to fall on them in an overtly shiny and unrealistic fashion.
The tracks look far worse, with bland backgrounds and sparse static crowds that any game in this day and age can do better. There's not much of a soundtrack to speak of either, so users who like to groove when surfing the asphalt will have to make use of the 360's custom soundtrack settings. Getting back to the core sim elements, which SimBin seems to be best at, the sounds of the cars' engines and tires peeling away on the track do sound quite authentic.
As I stated at the beginning of the review, Race Pro might briefly distract 360 gamers from other series such as Forza, but it certainly won't cause them to forget. Although the game has a well-designed and highly customizable driving system, it fails to build upon the gameplay with quality surrounding features, like compelling online play or an extensive career mode. Race Pro is far from being a bad racing sim given its low price point, which must be taken into account, and it should interest fans of the WTCC and other championships that can't be found on other console offerings. That range of appeal is pretty narrow, though, so the more casual fans may want to take Race Pro for a quick test drive but keep waiting for the next installment in their favorite racing franchise.
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