Thursday, October 04, 2007

RACE 07 Review

RACE 07, developed by SimBin Studios and published by Viva Media.
The Good: Forty-one tracks, eight racing series, custom championships, realistic helmet view, everything that was in RACE
The Not So Good: Still no tutorials
What say you? This racing simulation sequel has enough new content to justify its existence: 7/8

It’s now become an annual occurrence: the arrival of “new” sports games. Usually, they only feature roster updates and one or two new features, but the mindless populace buys them anyway. I’m more interested in new, innovative games, or at least content that surpasses a typical expansion pack. RACE 07 (actually released in 07!) is the sequel to RACE, a game I liked a lot due to its easy-to-drive cars, capable AI, realistic driving model, and awesome graphics. That game was released (at least in the U.S.) earlier this year; a nine-month turn-around usually doesn’t bode well for giving the users enough content to justify spending money on a new version. Does RACE 07 fall into the same content-light trap that many other annually published games do?

The graphics of RACE 07 are almost identical to RACE, which is not a bad thing. The level of detail is still very nice and the game runs as smooth as ever. The new tracks and cars maintain the high quality set in the previous title. There are some minor improvements with the track detail and damage models. The only completely new feature is a helmet view for open cars, complete with tear-offs for clearer viewing pleasure. While this isn’t a monumental addition to the game, it is nice and does impact the gameplay somewhat with a more restricted view. The sound of RACE 07 continues the strong tradition established by RACE: all of the cars sound believable.

Since RACE 07 is obviously a lot like RACE, you should go read that review to get the basics down, as I will only talk about the new additions to the game. Fortunately, RACE 07 has enough new stuff to validate getting it, and the fact that it is not a full-priced game helps as well. The game modes are generally the same: a single race event (with no practice this time), time attack, practice, multiplayer, and championship modes. I wasn’t able to test multiplayer very much since I got the game to review before the release date (I am sweet like that), but I enjoyed the multiplayer of RACE a lot and I don’t foresee any changes in this department. I do recommend, however, to get some practice under your belt, as almost every multiplayer server uses pro settings with no driver aids, including manual shifting. RACE 07 also has this Virtual Grand Prix option; there was nothing in the press packet about it, but it seems that races in RACE 07 are going to be broadcast on TV in Sweden, or something. RACE 07 does add the option to create custom championships: a neat feature. You can include any of the cars and tracks in the game and set up your own schedule, something that would have been silly in RACE due to the relative lack of variety in that game.

RACE was a bit limited in its content: only the ten 2006 season tracks and cars, plus Mini Coopers and the 1987 WTCC vehicles. RACE 07 adds the eleven 2007 tracks, which are mostly the same as the 2006 tracks, but some new chicanes have been added to some of the tracks (probably by the same people who screwed up Hockenheim). RACE 07 also contains twenty additional tracks (for a grand total of 41): three completely different tracks (fan favorites Estoril and Imola, plus the Vara street circuit) and alternates of existing tracks, from reverse layouts to shorter and longer version, including some ovals. All of the new tracks are designed well and resemble their real-life counterparts well. The inclusion of new racing locales is a welcome addition to the game and adds more variety to the simulation.

Since RACE 07 is the WTCC game, it includes all of the cars from the 2007 and 2006 seasons. In addition, the Mini Coopers and 1987 cars have returned, along with the Caterham vehicles from the expansion. RACE 07 also adds Radical prototypes and some open wheel entries from minor leagues Formula 3000 and Formula BMW. All of these cars handle well and seem to mirror their real life counterparts; now, open wheel fanatics can experience RACE 07 in a whole new light. The game allows you to mix the field of any event with multiple car types, adding to the possibilities. The WTCC cars are still my favorites because they are powerful yet easy to drive: they don’t break loose if you slam on the gas exiting a corner like the open wheel vehicles. The strong AI exhibited in RACE makes a return, offering an aggressive but not overly aggressive opponent for single player mayhem. Overall, I feel that RACE 07 adds enough new tracks and cars, far beyond what is typically added in a new title for a series, to make purchasing this game viable for both previous and new players to the franchise.

You would figure that if anyone wouldn’t screw up an annually published game, it would be the fine folks at SimBin, and thankfully you were right (you are so smart!). RACE 07 keeps the satisfying core of the game intact, with a very approachable racing engine that will appeal to novices and veterans alike. RACE 07 drastically increases the number of tracks and double the number of cars, and really that’s all you can really ask for in a sequel published less than a year after the original. There are some new graphical enhancements (though the original didn’t exactly look bad) and custom championships to round out the package. So you should get it, especially if you missed the original: RACE 07 comes with sufficient enhancements to invest more of your money into the franchise.