The PS3 game your 360 could never do

Any console that can play the upcoming Ferrari Challenge, take one step forward. Not so fast Xbox 360! At least if System 3 CEO, Mark Cale is to be believed when he says,“The PS3 offers the most powerful opportunity in the global marketplace.”Barring some phantom super-console lurking in the E3 rafters, we suppose that’s fair. Though, the fact that Sony’s better established throughout Europe, and that continent’s insatiable appetite for racing titles probably shouldn’t be counted out either.

“1080p resolution is a better solution than just HD,” boasts Cole while taking a light jab at the 720p Forza 2. Certainly, no one’s clamoring for less “p”, so news of this nature will surely do its part as red meat for forum trolls who absolutely obsess over tech specs. Although, the very same people, those combing over every progressive pixel, may also take issue with the game running at 30 frames a second. Cole claims that you may need 60fps in an action game like Devil May Cry 4, but in a racing sim where you’re heading forward at all times 30fps is more than adequate. And judging by our hands-on, we’re inclined to believe him.

Performance aside, what does this technical powerhouse offer in terms of gameplay? Well, graphics are just the tip of the iceberg. Each car is rendered with enough detail to make gear heads bust the proverbial lug nut. Plus you may customize over 50 Ferrari’s with an abundance of decals and colors. But it’s the subtle details, like shading and weather effects, that’ll undoubtedly send Xbox fanboys into Defcon 5. The rain effects alone are quite striking, more so than any precipitation we’ve seen thus far in the console war (did we just say that?), with every individual drop glistening across your windshield or rippling gorgeously on the slickened and reflective track.

But all that’s visual icing to Ferrari Challenge’s simu-tastic cake. “The difference is in the handling.” Zero argument there, as we were immediately brought back to the days of teenage fender benders and learner’s permits while wading into the painstakingly recreated Italian hotrods. Even the pressure sensitive buttons take some getting used to, but at least it provides much more variance per a brake tap than a simple on/off mash. Once you’re acclimated, and realize that your ride will react to little things like dirt, grass and bumps, exactly how your parent’s Volvo would (now at +100mph), you’ll come to find that racing is, in fact, serious business.

It should be noted that Ferrari Challenge has completed all its credit hours at Hardcore University, but casual drivers needn’t be left in the dust thanks to the “Assists” feature accessible in the options menu. Think of them as a Fairy Pit Crew. Or training wheels, whichever you consider less demeaning. You can set the “realism” to your liking, with varying degrees of line guides and traction control, then wave them off once you’re confident in your driving ability. There are literally no corners to cut here, and a flawless line is your Holy Grail to unearth in each of Ferrari Challenge’s 15 tracks.

Another notch in Ferrari’s belt is their claim to be the first racing game to offer 16 player online matches right out of the box. We didn’t get to see that in action, but witnessing 16 cars on screen at once didn’t yield a dip the performance. Plus the AI on display was a substantial step up from the last Gran Turismo. No immovable cars rigidly affixed to an invisible rails here. A pile up was just that - and each non-playable car maneuvered autonomously to escape the obstructions with zero loss to the frame rate.

Remember: automotive handling is the Ferrari Challenge’s crown jewel. Mark Cale even went so far as to call Gran Turismo a “fake simulator” by comparison. Ouch - Developer Burn! We’ll find out how much truth there is to his claims this Labor Day. Plus with the promised downloadable content (to the tune of 5 cars and 1 track per month) Ferrari Challenge just might convince armchair Steve McQueen’s is worth the ride, at least until Gran Tursimo 5 or Forza Motorsport 3 get here. And who knows when the hell that’ll be?

Jun 18, 2008