Fans of simulation racing have been sorely ignored by developers this generation. Outside of Forza 2 and Gran Turismo Prologue there hasn’t been much to keep gearheads satisfied on either console. For Xbox 360 owners that has finally changed with Swedish developer SimBin’s latest Race Pro. PC gamers will instantly recognize the pedigree from the company’s previous efforts including the highly-popular GTR series. Bringing this type of hardcore driving sim to consoles is a risky endeavor, but one that will reward players who enjoy the finer aspects of car tuning. Just don’t expect the same type of depth and customization found in titles like Forza.
The first thing you should note before tackling the game is that it is designed for the most dedicated fans of the sport. SimBin has taken realism to a whole new level here and if that type of thing excites you then Race Pro could be your gaming aphrodisiac. There are three difficulty levels and it is quite obvious this title is not for the faint of heart as the default setting is set to Professional; the hardest setting in the game. This removes all assists and forces you to drive the car as meticulously as you would in real life. One quick spin around the test track proved, I am certainly not a race car driver for a reason.
Thankfully you can tone the difficulty down, and unless you have been mastering the nuances of SimBin’s previous titles I would recommend starting on Semi-Pro or even Novice. Anyone who has played Forza will recall the translucent line that littered the track and gave you the best angle to take each turn. This is available when you bump the difficulty down and it makes a world of difference for those of us not schooled on the fine arts of torque and physics. The problem lies in the fact that Race Pro is so perceptibly designed for hardcore sim fans that it lacks even a simple tutorial to aid you with some of its more complicated features.
If you are still with me let me run down a few of the intricacies you will find in Race Pro. While on the surface things may not seem as customizable as a game like Forza, once you take a look under the hood things begin to change. For instance every car has a default setup, but if you are brave (and educated in this type of stuff) you can opt to toy around with a plethora of sliders to enhance the handling of your car. You can tweak the brakes, adjust the gears and even manipulate the control scheme to account for steering dead zones and a host of other options. Needless to say the amount of configurations for each car is massive and knowing how to fine tune each one can be an art form in and of itself.
The bulk of the game will likely be spent in the career mode where you can race for an assortment of contracts. The game is structured in such a way that just about anyone can enjoy it from the outset. You can earn your place on a team by beating a lap time and paying a minimal fee, or simply opt to lay down more cash to buy your way in so to speak. You can also adjust the difficulty on-the-fly as you progress through the career mode. The draw to this is that the game rewards you incrementally for completing races on harder difficulties and with more assists turned off, so it does make you strive to become better at the game.
In addition to the quintessential career mode you also have the standard single race and time attack modes as well as a championship mode to hone your skills without the pressure of winning races. There is also a new mode called Hot Seat that replaces traditional split-screen multi-player with a unique take on playing with your friends locally. As opposed to simply going head-to-head on half of the TV you basically take turns, both cooperatively and competitively, with the same controller. In the co-op mode you will both control the same car sequentially while the competitive mode switches back and forth between you controlling the car, and the AI taking over for you. It actually proves to be more fun than it sounds, but I still feel a conventional split-screen mode would have been more sufficient.
The online portion of the game fares much better than its offline equivalent, but it still lacks certain feature to make it stand out. You can race with up to twelve players and it is virtually lag-free from our test runs. You have the option to play ranked and unranked races as well as keeping with comparable gamers by matching them up based on difficulty assuring everyone is driving with the same assists on. You can also throw AI drivers into the mix to fill up rooms, which is always a plus. The biggest drawback though is there are not tournaments or really any other mode outside of strictly racing. It would have been awesome to setup a professional tier of drivers and then host the race live to other players similarly to Gotham TV. Online is smoother, but much like the rest of the game feels like it is lacking that special something to make it stand out.
My biggest complaint with Race Pro is that it simply fails to deliver the excitement of other racers. Everything here feels like it is so focused on being realistic it sometimes forgets to try and be entertaining. This is where the appeal will likely be limited as fans of the simulation type racing games will find plenty to enjoy, casual fans will quickly grow tired of racing the same thirteen tracks over and over again; especially when most of them are hard to differentiate to the average eye.
Graphically the game can be a mixed bag. The car models are fantastically rendered offering some amazing detail but fail on the little things. The damage modeling is subtle and appreciated, but the screen tearing and frame rate issues rear their ugly head far too often. The tracks are well designed, and seeing little tips for each one during loading is a nice touch, but they will run together if you are not a fan of this type of racing. There are some standout city tracks that you race later in the game, but the rest suffer from familiarity. The music in the game is obviously an afterthought, which is why I thank Microsoft for custom soundtracks, but the effects themselves are quite remarkable showcasing diverse hums for each car’s engine.
Race Pro is the kind of game that will either appeal to you or not. The no-holds-barred simulation aspect is obviously geared towards fans of simulation while a lack of tutorial makes it abundantly clear the game was not designed for fans of arcade racing. If you have been hungering for a true racing simulation then Race Pro has a lot to offer if you can get past the bland presentation and graphical hiccups. For everyone else you might want to look elsewhere for your road rage satisfaction.