By Nicholas Simonovski
For most, owning a Ferrari is a dream that few will ever fulfill. Fortunately for us, the company are absolute fiends when it comes to merchandising, so while you might not be able to afford one of their cars, you may be able to afford a Ferrari-branded pen, polo shirt, or even a Ferrari-branded version of Kaspersky Internet Security (I’m not even joking)! The problem is, owning their merchandise really doesn’t give an insight into the history of the company or what it’s like to even drive one of their cars. Recently, I’ve been playing Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends, and I think I might have discovered a hidden gem that comes close to doing just that.
As the name suggests, Ferrari Racing Legends acts a tribute to the company, marking the 65th anniversary of the first ever Ferrari - the 125 S, built in 1947. In addition to your standard single-player and multiplayer game modes, Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends also features a lengthy and engaging campaign mode which allows you to drive and race with 50 different models as you progress from starting as a test driver for the company, to becoming a championship racer. The campaign is made of three eras: Golden (1947 – 1973), Silver (1974 – 1990) and Modern (1990 - 2011). Unlike most recent racing games, FRL features not just circuit and point-to-point events, but additional race-types such as overtaking challenges, qualifying sessions and cat-and-mouse stages (where you need to either stay within three seconds of your team mate or pass him). Each event has both a primary and secondary objective and is also accompanied by a back-story, which not only allows you follow the progress of your throughout his career at Ferrari, but also immerses you in the history of the company itself as you take part in not just the testing of the vehicles, but showcasing them to potential buyers and racing them in championships as well. It’s nothing overly spectacular, but it keeps the game from being just your standard track-based racer.
Developed by Slightly Mad Studios -- and despite having Test Drive in its name -- Ferrari Racing Legends is unlike anything we’ve seen from the franchise as of late and instead is comparable in many respects to the developer’s last game, Need For Speed SHIFT 2. Players will notice that the physics model has been brought across from SHIFT 2 to FRL, however the handling issues that plagued some cars (where they would be too unstable to control at high speeds) has been eliminated for the greater part. Each vehicle has its own unique feel and you really notice how dramatically the handling and overall performance of the cars have improved as you progress through the years from the early models to those of the modern era. Whether you’re driving the very first Ferrari 125 S or a prototype like the F333 SP, each car feels fast and the racing is intense. In addition, features like screen-blurring or the display turning grey when you crash from the SHIFT titles has not been brought across in FRL, thankfully.
In addition to paying homage to the many vehicles in Ferrari’s history, Ferrari Racing Legends also does well to showcase an impressive selection of tracks. Slightly Mad have done an impressive job yet again not only selecting a list of courses that we don’t often see in most games, but also including early and modern variants of the tracks (if applicable), which vary depending on the period you are racing in within the campaign. It was particularly impressive seeing how Silverstone originally looked when it opened for the first time decades ago, to then racing on the layout we know it to be today. Each track is detailed nicely, with excellent scenery and period-appropriate sponsors and advertising to boot.
Despite the fact this game is a solid racer overall, it isn’t without its short-comings. To begin with, the linear structure of the campaign mode means you need to complete each race within an era in order to progress forward. While you are free to select any period (Golden, Silver or Modern), you need to complete the set of races within in order. If you get stuck on a particular race within a set it cannot be skipped, you either persevere and keep trying, or you select a different era and do its races. This becomes a problem if you ever want to muck about in time trial or quick race as each car and track need to be unlocked within the campaign first. In addition, when some sets of races see you racing in the same car for multiple events on the same two tracks, it can often become tedious and you’re stuck having to put up with it should you wish to check out the next set of races.
The AI in the game is also touch-and-go at times – often failing to give way as you come up to pass, blocking gaps as you approach them despite being faster, and even bumping into you on corners as if they ignore the fact you’re even there. At high-speeds even the smallest nudge can force both yourself and the other driver into a spin which is frustrating to say the least. Despite having a great damage model in SHIFT 2, the damage within Ferrari Racing Legends is average to say the least, with some vehicles showing little to no damage at all – and it’s only ever cosmetic at that. That said, that might just be due to licensing restrictions (it is Ferrari after all).
Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends has turned out to be quite the sleeper hit of 2012. Simplistic in its design and implementation, the game focuses on paying homage to Ferrari’s history and offering an engaging racing experience, two things it does extremely well. The career mode can be somewhat tedious at times but it’s always fun jumping into a different car and seeing how things have changed and evolved over the past 65 years. Graphically the game looks amazing with impressive detail on not just the interior and exterior of the cars, but the tracks and scenery as well. It’s a great game that all racing enthusiasts should add to their collection and it only makes me wish we saw similar games for other iconic manufacturers.