Version tested: PlayStation 3
"Ferrari don't make cars. Ferrari make dreams," declares the opening screen before a suitably dramatic video sequence powers in. That may be, but you get the feeling that if UK publisher System 3 was left in charge of the Ferrari production line the results – while hardly the stuff of nightmares – would be disturbing. A bit like opening the glove box to find that you'd suddenly switched off the traction control.
Still, even if not entirely as expected, at least all of the car components would be present and functional: you wouldn't be blasting towards your favourite hairpin only to realise that someone forgot to include a brake pedal. This much is demonstrated by Ferrari The Race Experience, sequel to 2008's Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli and this time round a PSN-only proposition that will set you back £11.99 (or £9.99 for owners of Ferrari Challenge). For that modest sum you get a remarkable wealth of content.
Much, like the majority of the 16 circuits (minus the official licences, so Monza becomes Autodromo Italia and GB Midlands Raceway is Silverstone), has been recycled from the franchise's previous outing. But the vehicle roster in particular is now extended to include new models, delivering what is possibly the finest collection of Ferraris in videogame form.
Within this sparkling sea of scarlet you'll find everything from racing legends such as the 333 SP and road-worthy powerhouses like 1984's 288 GTO to aesthetic faux pas such as the California and F512M. But for contemporary Ferrari fans, the biggest draw is likely to be the opportunity to get behind the wheels of the monstrous 599XX or the sublime – if excessively flammable – 458 Italia. (Indeed, the latter is the subject of the tutorial, amusingly assessed, as in the previous game, by Fifth Gear's tame racing driver, Tiff Needell.)
Complementing the impressive range of cars is a substantial suite of play options that, although initially intimidating due to its convoluted structure, leaves little doubt as to its intention: keeping you well and truly occupied. Career takes centre stage, then, with events dedicated to seemingly all notable Ferrari models according to GT Race, Road GT and Classics classification. Next, the Single Player portion delivers the aforementioned Tutorial, alongside a Quick Race option, Arcade (a knockout event featuring a selection of circuits), Trophy (more tournaments), and Time Trial. Multiplayer Ferrari frolics, meanwhile, are limited to LAN or online.
A pleasant touch is Challenge Cards, The Race Experience's own version of Top Trumps. Or it would be, if it didn't mostly involve your CPU opponent successively winning your cards while you watch on powerlessly. Admittedly, your odds increase as you unlock further cards through play, but the experience is limited other than as a way of checking out the stats breakdown for Ferrari's line-up.
Away from such frivolity, the Showroom enables you to add further examples of Prancing Horsepower to your collection (or, pleasingly, rent the ones you can't afford for a quick blast around a track), as well as spray over the good work of Maranello's paintshop with hues and finishes of your choosing before slapping on a load of decals from the Vinyl Shop. Once you're done, simply immortalise your masterpiece via Photo Mode – and then take it onto the track.
Whatever you do, remember to admire your machinery while its wheels aren't turning, because once on the asphalt things begin to look decidedly less pretty. Given that the game's singular attraction is its inclusion of Ferraris, it's depressing to find that the in-car view is one of the poorest cockpit recreations of recent times, with a two-dimensional feel to the interior. If you're thinking that won't bother you because you play your driving games in chase cam (tsk), prepare yourself for one of the least convincing examples of this generation. Cars rarely integrate properly with the track surface, and the overall effect is like bad Photoshop.
The crudeness of the visuals (which extends to a hideous damage system and the odd, inoffensive, frame drop) is outperformed by a horrendous soundtrack. A particularly pointless effort, given that every Ferrari comes with its own sound system built in. It's the bit that drinks petrol at a rate more or less directly proportional to the speed you're doing.
For a game that should be representing the Ferrari experience in all of its exclusive glory, the production values are a long way from Maranello. Redressing the balance, though, is the handling, which although limited in scope nevertheless delivers a model that should engage more demanding players while catering – thanks to an adjustable, accessible and comprehensive set of assists – to a larger crowd.
The vehicle dynamics are a decent and appealing mix: they don't communicate nuances such as under/oversteer positively enough, perhaps, and certainly lack the precision you'll find in many of the game's rivals, but they never impede the satisfaction of nailing a quick succession of corners. Plugging in a Logitech G25 intensifies the experience, as you'd hope, yet doesn't transform it in the way that a similar force feedback wheel fundamentally enhances GRID, say.
Your AI opponents keep things interesting by behaving erratically. The default 'dynamic' setting can see them veer from laughably slow to remarkably determined little buggers. Far from irritating, the latter situation provides the game's best moments, forcing you to focus on the road ahead and lap within just tenths of a second, continually under pressure from a rival that's never too far from your exhaust. But those instances don't last, alas, and for the most part your competition displays woeful, drone-like conduct.
A considerably better experience can be found online, where eight-player, technically sound events develop into a fiercely disputed sequence of races and the opposition can prove delightfully difficult. Once you've unlocked your favourite Ferraris offline, the game's longevity will most likely come from human competition.
That alone isn't enough to beat out the severe dents in The Race Experience's bodywork. This is by no means a terrible game; the handling has a definite charm to it and the content, if you're determined to stick with it, will keep you locked in for ages (the game's credit-based system rewards you for every race type, as well as decent additional touches such as the amount of overtaking, so there is always incentive to play on). But unless you cannot live another moment without getting behind the wheel of the latest – and some of the greatest – Ferraris, then it could be worth putting your £12 deposit down at another dealership.
Ultimately, Ferraristas deserve better; Ferrari's creations deserve better. Developer Eutechnyx may well have the passion, but it lacks the production timeframe and budget to pull off a creation worthy of the world's most revered car manufacturer.
If you want to sit in a virtual cockpit which lets you feel the Alcantara, you'd better wait for GT5. If you'd rather race Maranello's finest in an arcade setting, there's always OutRun Online Arcade (although tragically, for those that don't have it, it's no longer available on PSN). And if you're just after a great racing game, the list of suitors is as long as the Scuderia's history. There is a Ferrari experience here, as long as your idea of the Ferrari experience is a Toyota MR2 with an ill-fitting F355 replica bodykit.
Ferrari don't make video games... but perhaps they should.
6 / 10
Ferrari The Race Experience is available to download now on PSN.