Platform: Xbox 360
1 Player (Offline)
1-12 Players (Online)
Swedish developer Simbin has an excellent reputation in the PC simulation racing world. They are known to be one of the best simulation racing game developers out there. So it wasn’t a big surprise to learn that they would be developing a racer for the console market, and they have done so via a game known as RACE Pro which is published by Atari and exclusive to the Xbox 360. During its development the main question most were wondering was would Simbin deliver a Forza or Gran Turismo killer given that their PC heritage has shown how good they are at their craft? Well after sometime playing the final retail version here are my thoughts on the game.
The game runs at 720p and maintains a solid 30fps framerate. The Lizard Engine can easily handle a whack of cars on the course all at the same time with very little stutter. The stutter is definitely there but I must add is hardly noticeable, unlike with other games (*points fingers at NFS: Undercover*). I also noticed some very visible screen tearing; actually it was so prevalent that it almost hurt my eyes. Now I am running the Xbox 360 in 1080p and this could have something to do with it, but I am not 100% sure.
There are various classes of racing cars and each one is fairly well rendered and there is a nice choice of driving views for one to choose from. The most visually stunning of them all is the cockpit view. There is a lot of detail in each car when using this view from the dashboard (some digital and some analog) to the various shifters or switches which control the car’s electronics. It was nice to see this level of detail in this area. I think that most gearheads out there will find a preferable driving view from the ones that are available in the game. That being said, overall the graphics could be somewhat bland and the best way to describe it would be that it was kind of like driving through the prairies during the winter, it could be pretty now and then, but not all of the view was something to write home to mom about.
I absolutely love the sounds in this game. Each car has its own distinctive sound. It was nice to hear that each class of car had a different sound and the game did not cheapen out by using a generic noise for each and every vehicle. The Dolby 5.1 surround sound is quite impressive and it shines through especially when you are in the cockpit view and you have the rain effects on. You can actually hear raindrops from your rear speakers. The background music is very general, in the sense that it’s kind of like elevator music for car racing games.
If there is any negative here it is that the default balance of the sound is a bit off as you can hear the cars a bit too easily. This is easily fixed though as there is an amazing depth of customization of the sounds. I found that you can customize the volume levels of pretty much everything in the game, and I do mean everything. In the end, RACE Pro brings nothing new to the table in the audio department, but what is included on the game disc is pretty solid.
This is where RACE Pro’s Lizard Engine really shines. The game is a simulation racer, and you cannot escape this fact. However, Simbin has decided to make the game as accessible as possible to most people who may own an Xbox 360. At the amateur levels, and with all assists and racing line on, a noob to this genre can enjoy the game without the frustration of other simulation racers. On the flip side, those gearheads who really want some realism will find the game to be very punishing at the pro level as there are no assists at all. This reviewer would have preferred to be allowed to have ABS setting in the pro mode. If the big boys use ABS when they race in real life, why can’t I?
A quick read of the fact sheet provided by Atari indicates some of the features of this game. RACE Pro offers a wealth of cars ranging from 200 to over 1000 horse power, as well as a host of championships including WTCC (World Touring Car Championship), Formula 3000 and Formula BMW. GT cars from manufacturers including Aston Martin and Saleen take their place on the grid as well as production cars such as the Audi R8 and Dodge Viper SRT10. A great addition is that RACE Pro is exclusively bringing all the WTCC cars from manufacturers Alfa Romeo, BMW, Chevrolet and Seat, something they claim is a first on the Xbox 360. Included in the game is 13 real life tracks covering all continents, of which Macau, Porto and Pau are exclusive to RACE Pro, and US tracks Laguna Seca and Road America are brand new to SimBin fans. All in all there are a lot of cars, a lot of racing championships, and some great track settings included in this Xbox 360 exclusive racer.
There are several different modes of game play available in RACE Pro with the core of the game being the career mode. As in any typical racer you begin as rookie, and you must work your way up to the big leagues. There is not a lot of pizzazz to the career mode though. You race contracts and you can either buy into the contract at full price or qualify in a time trial which, if you are successful, allows you to buy the contract at reduced cost. Once you do so you then race three races to finish off the contract and earn more credits. Upon completing this it is a simple wash, rinse, and repeat. This is definitely your typical simulation racer as SimBin doesn’t make much effort to present any story lines and such. It’s all about the racing and career advancement pure and simple.
Other game modes are fairly common to racing games such as your standard time attack, championship and free race. There is a new co-op mode called hot seat. This new mode allows you to play with some one else in the same room. Each has a crack at the race, and at some point the control of the vehicle is turned over to your co-op buddy.
Being that this is an Xbox 360 racer there is an online multiplayer mode, including ranked and unranked races. It can definitely be fun, but it is somewhat hampered by the confusing lobby system. Once you have been invited to a game, you show up at the track your online friend has chosen, and you get to drive. This is the entrance lobby to the races. Once the host is ready, he can advance to “next session” and you are then taken to the actual race. But in between your races you are treated to a menu screen that has three options: save replay, race monitor and quit. This is where the confusion lies. There is no “waiting to load” message that may give you any idea that you are about to be taken to the actual race. This is a very strange concept, however, this can be corrected with a patch which I hope SimBin realizes they should do. Another somewhat confusing decision made during development is that once you get to the races during online you are stuck with the car you chose unless you quit. The tracks can be changed however.
During my online experience I noted that there was some notable stutter in the online racing when several cars all enter a corner together. This could due to net coding, but I am not 100% sure. I also noted that if someone bumps into another vehicle thinking to get ahead, they shouldn’t bother as they will not make it out themselves. This penalizes an over aggressive player, and something that should be expected in a simulation racer. I personally enjoyed this as I like to race the cars online, not bump and grind them. The only draw back to the multiplayer is that there is no incentive to win. You don’t get anything if you win other then the ability to talk some smack talk with your online opponents. Sure, there is an achievement if you win 50 races but nothing else.
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