Ferrari Challenge

Preview: CVG takes System 3's racer for a test drive

Usually, this is the point when you might expect us to say this is the nearest we're ever going to get to spanking around in a Ferrari, but System 3 took us to Italy to drive real Ferraris so that one's out the window.

System 3 has high hopes for Ferrari Challenge, the company CEO, Mark Cale, determined to create the best racing game yet for PS3. Surrounded by lush Ferrari 360s in the garages of Mugello race course in Italy, CVG got stuck into an early build of the PS3 and DS versions of the game.

The agenda of the day was to have a bit of a thrash around in the real car, then play the PS3 game to see how well it replicates the handling. Our conclusion? We can confirm that playing a racing game - any racing game - feels nothing like being thrown around corners at silly speeds in a 500bhp super car. You're not afraid of dying, and your eyes don't feel like they're about to pop right out of your head. On a more serious note though, FC is coming along nicely.

Dreamcast or arcade fans may remember Sega's Ferrari 355 Challenge; an ultra-realistic racing sim that tried to be so real its extreme difficulty made it a notoriously tough game to play. It was great for complete petrol heads, but not much fun for anyone else. Despite System 3's game being a spiritual successor to Sega's effort, it's nothing like that.

Striking a balance
FC goes for a more playable, fun approach. It maintains a reasonable level of realism without being overly punishing or technical. Sitting somewhere between PGR and Gran Turismo, it's easy to play but feels more on the realistic side than Bizarre's all-out arcade racer, with GT-like technical options such as traction control, ABS, and other such things that PGR refuses to deal with.

System 3 is taking the handling very seriously, and has even gone to the effort of drafting in the help of race driver Bruno Senna (F1 driver Ayrton Senna's nephew) to help them genuinely nail the true feel of a Ferrari.

"I have a lot of experience with the real cars," Senna told CVG. "I help to make the game feel as real as possible without losing the enjoyment. The real objective is to make a game that everyone can play, but still represent how the physics really are."

He seems to be doing a great job. The cars have a convincing feeling of weight - they feel heavier than the cars in PGR, which can be thrown around at ridiculous speeds. Just like in real life, balancing this weight is necessary for the best cornering, and you can see the cars leaning as they're thrown into turns and chicanes at high speed.

This heaviness means you have to break far earlier than you think. This can be deceiving; just like in Forza, FC doesn't use any optical tricks to amplify the illusion of speed (most racers stretch the edges of your view to achieve this), so you feel like you're going a lot slower than you really are. It takes some getting used to.

Technicalities aside, FC succeeds on feeling convincing enough while maintaining a level of forgiveness. So, you won't spin out instantly for putting one wheel on the grass (as you would in real life), you won't have to fight with stubborn handling as you turn corners (we're looking at you, Forza) and even though there's visual damage (a first for Ferrari), there's no technical crash damage, so no totalling your car after one crash.

The fact that there are 16 cars on the course is also a bonus in the fun stakes. Eight cars in Forza is cool enough, but with twice that number these races feel like a proper grand prix battles. The AI-controlled cars are competitive and convincing enough to actually make mistakes from time to time. But we did find them occasionally frustrating when they would pull in front of us on a long, high-speed straight and slam on their breaks to slow us down which, of course, slows them down, too. That's just cheap.

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