Oct. 2 2007
Simbin's last effort, RACE, left us feeling a little underwhelmed. After the heady heights of GTR 2, the lesser-powered vehicles and lack of graphical polish felt like a bit of a step back for the developers.
But true to the World Touring Car Championship series which it emulates, SimBin are back with this year's version. Complete with the new drivers and tracks featured in this year's WTCC, there's also a whole garage of extra content bolted on. On top of last year's WTCC '87 and Mini racing, the recent Caterham expansion has been included and these are joined by brand new Formula 3000, Formula BMW and Radicals as well.
The driving model is as solid as ever, providing a realistic simulation of the racing included. That means accurate understeer and oversteer, along with practice laps, the twin-race format and men at the side of the track waving flags to alert you of crashes up ahead.
The new cars bring a welcome dose of speed to matters, with the Radicals' great audio and rapid acceleration being especially worthy of a mention. The Formula cars, as expected, provide oodles of grip, as long as you're gentle with the throttle coming out of corners and as anyone who's driven an open-wheeled car can testify, they're also fragile, needing a gentle touch to make it to the finish line.
On the track front, the line-up's been supplemented by Zandvoort, Pau, Porto, Anderstorp and Vara, the latter being a fictional track based around SimBin's offices. Zandvoort offers some wonderfully curvy lines, Anderstorp features the mother of all straights and Pau is perhaps the best addition, offering some picturesque and excellent street racing action. However, Porto strangely proved to be a real system killer, with the frame rate slowing to pitiful levels and things like gear and speed indicators disappearing altogether. Improvements have been made to returning tracks too, with Macau and Brands Hatch looking noticeably better this time around.
Despite a general improvement in terms of graphics, there's still something lacking. Things sometimes feel a little flat thanks to the lighting effects, the cars throw really jagged shadows and when we got a puncture, the car just sunk into the ground on that side, rather than actually deflating the tire. Of course, none of it's game-breaking stuff, but we still can't help but feel a smidgeon of disappointment that driving games on PC don't measure up to the lushness of the next-gen consoles yet.
The bags of extra content mean that the game's a bargain for anyone who didn't pick up last year's offering. In fact, the Radicals are so much fun to drive, they're nearly worth the entry price alone. There are plenty of nice touches such as a target frame rate value which can adjust your settings automatically, 3D crowds, a rather fantastic helmet camera and extra multiplayer options.
Unfortunately, things like the AI, graphics and crash damage, as well as the Porto track, still could do with some more tweaking. And in comparison to its big brother GTR 2, it's still most definitely a lap or two behind.