Ferrari Challenge

Well red.

I hate "driving" games. My life is short. If I wanted to move round in circles with little chance of variation for countless hours I would have bought a motorcycle and grown a giant arm. It's not the concept, but the trend towards gimmickry and "realism" over enjoyment that makes me so miserable. Games like Forza and Gran Turismo leave me cold. I can't play them. I know they're "seminal", and I understand why they're popular, but I find them slow and cynical. For me, the fun in any car game is in racing very quickly, and immediately. Think SEGA Rally. Blue skies. Think those early McRaes, the original TOCAs. Think Burnout. Think the first Gran Turismo on PlayStation, all those years before "PSone", the breakthrough console game that felt so thrilling and fresh. All of them showed depth but were never a chore. Ferrari Challenge - originally planned for November release and now pushed back to March next year - appears to fall in the right category. Despite being hung up on realism, preview code suggests passion and fun have been kept at the forefront. That's right, sports fans: it's actually enjoyable.

Hold the front page

As Mr PR Man says, System 3's game appearance focuses on "SEGA vibrancy rather than a dour, photographic look". A good start, and not a lie. Visuals are punchy and bright. Up-close car models are built of 300,000 polygons, for those that care, so it looks good when you're smacking into things. Damage is "cosmetic" and doesn't impact handling (apparently Ferrari won't let you show one of its cars flipping or burning - that's just touchy, if you ask me), reducing frustration despite a carefully realised handling model. From the moment you pick the pad up, everything feels fast. System 3's goal used Yu Suzuki's hilariously tough F355 Challenge as a starting point for look and feel. Ferrari Challenge could almost be described as "arcadey."

It isn't, apparently. It "straddles" simulation and arcade, says Mr PR Man. Car handling and physics is a result of lengthy consultation with Ferrari itself, with all car information taken from official spec documents. With assists on - transmission, an on-track racing line, tachometer display, stability control, traction control and anti-lock brakes all have myriad settings - Ferrari Challenge is instantly accessible and genuinely exciting. Switch them all off and turn on the rain and it's practically impossible to drive in a straight line. As it should be. Mr PR Man reckons game consultant Bruno Senna, Ayrton's nephew and F1 hopeful, wins every time with all the assists off. Good going, Bruno; we couldn't even get the car to face the right way.

Five point five meellion dollars

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The license cost "f*** loads", and looks as though it's been used to good effect. The build I saw had 22 cars in it. System 3's planning to add every Ferrari ever made with downloadable content, but whether or not that'll happen in reality is as yet undecided. System 3 boss Mark Cale personally owns four Ferraris, and has been through 57 of them. Mr PR Man describes Cale's contacts at Ferrari as "disgusting". Cale likes Ferraris. Cars to be included at release include the FXX, the F360 Modena, the F250 LM and the F250 GTO, the last sold example of which auctioned for USD 15.5 million in Las Vegas over 10 years ago. The allure of the brand and Cale's obvious determination to produce a title worthy of the name holds up. Ferrarri Challenge isn't crap. You can see that immediately.

Nowhere is the fact that the effort to prioritise the "Ferrari experience" more obvious than in the AI. You can clearly see opponent cars racing in a pack when you have the assist line turned off: there's no procession. PR Man reckons System 3 had plenty of early access to PS3 hardware and subsequently "there's a lot of parallel processing going on" as regards to the other cars on the track. Allegedly, the drivers that naturally lead in the game are the drivers that lead in the real series, and the fusion of tough AI and a chunky, pseudo-realistic racing model leads to the right sort of challenge. It's not frustrating and you want to succeed. First impressions suggest Ferrari Challenge is a million miles away from the motorbike/heavy arm scenario.

Ferrari top trumps

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Other stuff. There's 16-player online racing, 16 tracks, a weird online top trumps game you play with cards gathered from unlocking cars and even Sixaxis features. It wasn't working when we saw it, but Mr PR Man reckons you can wobble the controller in the in-car view and the driver takes his hand off the wheel and waves. It supports rumble with DualShock 3 and all the major PS3-compatible wheels. Downloadable tracks are planned, with potentials including Monaco and the Nürburgring. It says "A Mark Cale Production" when you start it up. Like, cool.

One to watch, I reckon. It's out on PS3 in March. No Xbox 360 version? No. Why? A licensing issue. "Mark doesn't like to talk about." You'll be able to get it on PS2 and DS as well. I had a go on the DS game and it's like a mental, Ferrari-based version of Mario Kart. Blue sky thinking in racing games. Better than heavy arms any day.

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