Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli
Life begins at 430.
Mark Cale really likes Ferraris. He likes them so much, in fact, that as CEO of System 3, he's been making a game exclusively about them. On top of that, he's delayed the game's launch since November of last year, endlessly tweaking to get that Ferrari feel just right.
And Cale must be confident he's nailed it, because he's taken a bunch of journalists to Silverstone to experience the real thing before playing the game. This sort of Pepsi taste test is a bold move (I think we all agree Infinity Ward took things too far carting us off to the Ukraine to shoot real Russians for COD4), and one that could easily backfire if Ferrari Challenge doesn't live up to the comparison.
There's a strange hint of family outing to proceedings as I bundle into one of Cale's Ferraris (a 60th anniversary 612 Sessanta, coming to the game as DLC). That sensation lasts precisely up to the point where he puts his foot down, and it feels as if I've been hit in the stomach with a well-placed fridge freezer.
This, Cale tells me cheerfully as I'm squeezed back into my seat and my brain starts to trickle out of my ears, is the g-force. I didn't think it existed outside of travel on the Millennium Falcon, but it does - racing drivers experience it all the time, and it's the one thing videogames can't recreate.
But g-force is just the start: that elusive Ferrari feel is all about a sense of brooding power waiting below the surface, coupled with the crazy grind as the stomach-melting speed of the straightaways gives into a frenzy of brakes as you drift around a corner. These cars may look calm and classy, but they really like to throw you around. Being in a Ferrari is a bit like being inside a really top class tumble-dryer, then - albeit a tumble-dryer that costs around GBP 200,000.
And the good news is, g-force aside, Cale's game seems to be on target. The cars in Ferrari Challenge are jolting and commanding, the handling is precise yet still has a thick, luxurious feel to it, and there's a real connection to the track, thanks to a bespoke physics model that applies centrifugal force to each tyre. With the assists off, the complexity of the Ferrari is - often tragically, in my case - right there on the screen, generally ploughing into the tyre wall. With them on, the cars retain a wilful charisma, yet the game starts to approach a restrained arcade feel. It's still a caricature of sorts - when Bruno Senna, cousin to Ayrton and the game's 'test driver', tweaked things for absolute accuracy, none of the developers could get the cars to go in a straight line - but comprehensive assists allow you to select your own sweet spot.
The Ferrari Challenge itself is a championship series which uses a single model - in this case the F430. Eutechnyx, the developer, has kept this purity as the game's centre: the career mode is all about racing your F430 against other identically untweaked cars, as in Yu Suzuki's F335 Challenge. If your heart's set on variety, then this probably won't appeal, but there's a brutal clarity in knowing the competition comes down to skills alone.