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Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends Review

My terrible joys.

This is an import review of the North American version of Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends. It has no UK release date at present. See 'Import Exotics' in the sidebar for more.

Enzo Ferrari was a man dedicated to his creations, and often to a fault. Popular myth has it that the Old Man's stock response when hearing that another of his men had expired behind the wheel was a quick and emotionless enquiry as to how the car had fared in the accident. For Enzo, it sometimes seemed the driver was just another component, as disposable as a spark plug or camshaft.

It's a dedication that Slightly Mad's Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends is faithful to, and a trait that's at once maddening and thrilling as players are left sprawling in an all-too-often frustrating tangle. But it also manages to distill the essence of the prancing horse, even if it can never truly tame it.

This is a celebration of everything that's ever rolled through those Maranello gates, and it runs deeper and broader than other games that have been afflicted with scarlet fever. Mark Cale's Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli or Yu Suzuki's F355 Challenge expressed their passion for the Scuderia in their own ways; Test Drive Ferrari Challenge shows a love that's more exhaustive, even if it's never quite as charismatic as that earlier pair.

The engines sound suitably throaty, though the trademark Ferrari V12 whine perhaps isn't as distinctive as it should be.

As a compendium of Ferrari's finest, this is near faultless. There's the 125 S, the 1947 racer that was the first to bear Enzo's name, as well the 150 Italia, last year's slightly mediocre but undeniably pretty F1 challenger. The 64 years between those two are served by 50 cars that make some satisfying diversions: Steve Nichol's 641, a car so aesthetically pleasing and pure in design that an example resides in New York's Museum of Modern Art, makes the cut, as does Mauro Forghieri's 312 T4 - a car that thanks to Gilles Villeneuve's heroics is one of the most iconic Ferraris ever to grace a Grand Prix grid.

"This is a celebration of everything that's ever rolled through those Maranello gates, and it runs deeper and broader than other games that have been afflicted with scarlet fever."

The road cars offer an equally eclectic collection, tracing a line from the 166 Inter through to the 458 Italia, though naturally there will always be some heartbreaking omissions. The absence of the 162 sharknose, perhaps the most visually striking Ferrari ever produced, is saddening if understandable given that the originals were all broken down, none surviving Enzo's insistence that the most beautiful car is the one that's waiting on the production line.

If Test Drive: Ferrari's car list is superb, its track list is better yet. It's not enough to boast the right cars without giving them a proper playground to be tested in, and here Slightly Mad has really excelled. There are the usual suspects in the form of the Nordschleife, Catalunya and Monaco, but there are some inspiring additions: Rouen, a series of broad sweeps that cut through the countryside of northern France, is a rare treat. Monza's also available in its pre-chicane configuration, reverting to the high-speed loop it once was, and Hockenheim is restored to its 20th-century glory.

Visually, the game's much less impressive in motion than in stills, though it does at least stick rigid to 30fps.

Silverstone, meanwhile, is peeled back layer by layer until its roots as an improvised sprint across a Northamptonshire airfield are revealed. Being able to pair the right car with the right track is a masterstroke (even if there's some disparity between the luscious car models and the spartan trackside detail). The flat, fast expanse of a '50s-era Silverstone makes so much more sense when trying to induce a four-wheel drift from a front-engined single-seater, while the Woodcote chicane briefly introduced in the '70s is so much more entertaining when you're desperately trying to thread the squat 312 T4 through it.

Some ferocious handling helps in that regard, too. Slightly Mad has already proven that it likes to create a driving experience that bites back, its two Shift games often feeling more like survival horror as they shoveled on the scares. Test Drive Ferrari reins that in, and even if the handling is a little overstated, it's a much more refined ride. Cars need to be taken by the scruff of the neck but they respond well to a little rough treatment, rewarding you with long, gracious slides.

Odd, then, that it's so erratically implicated. With the pro handling model unlocked, Test Drive: Ferrari is a handful, but it's also a delight. Scale things back a little and it suffers from the curious problem of becoming harder to play - driving aids mute the feel and ladle on understeer, making a half-decent lap a test of patience rather than one of reflex and steel.

The in-game HUD's particularly unpleasant - thankfully, a tap of the d-pad can send it away.

All of which makes a hard game even harder. Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends provides an erratic and all-too-often infuriating challenge, its difficulty level rising to the point where it becomes near-insurmountable after only a handful of hours.

A campaign is spread across Golden, Silver and Modern eras, each one of them offering a chronological journey through the marque's rich history. They're cutely presented as well, threaded together with short and surprisingly imaginative bursts of narrative. In the '50s you're a test driver that rises through the ranks, while in the '80s you're a driver for hire who at one point has to showcase a Ferrari 308 GTS for a handful of TV executives working on a show in Hawaii.

There's charm, but not nearly enough to atone for how quickly the odds are stacked against you, amateur drivers being placed in races where an absent-minded nerf from an AI opponent can quickly negate 10 minutes of inch-perfect driving. An insistence on locking away nearly all of Test Drive: Ferrari's content makes it all the more painful. A weak and, at present, unpopulated online mode ensures there's little alternative to the grind.

All the more disappointing given that there's so much Test Drive: Ferrari gets right. Its machines are capable of providing the purest of thrills, a tail-happy moment in its exotica translating the heritage and appeal of the brand into one lurid flash of gameplay. But it's also guilty of treating players with disdain, tossing them into the cruel pit of its campaign and never stopping to make concessions for their experience. A flawed game, then - but one that Enzo would, perhaps, have approved of.

7 / 10

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