Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends
One of the more interesting aspects of the racing genre is how ridiculously good most of the games are. Forza, Burnout, and Dirt, for example, are all so complex and engaging that they're really all you'd need to entertain yourself for a few years. Then there are the amazing games that fall into obscurity; Driver: San Francisco and Blur. Hell, even finding time for tentpole series like Need for Speed and Gran Turismo can be difficult. If you're not making the finest racing games of all time, or fulfilling a very specific niche, you probably shouldn't bother.
Enter Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends, a simulation-style racing game that features 51 Ferrari vehicles and races throughout the company's history. Players compete on the typical assortment of famous courses across three distinct decades. It's made by Slightly Mad Studios, the developers of Shift and Shift 2, two games that competed directly with Forza and Gran Turismo and still managed to carve out a following.
So what does Ferrari Legends bring to the table to set it apart from the pack? Not a whole lot, to be honest. There's the Ferrari hook, but let's do some math here. 51 Ferraris? That's a lot, but Forza 4 features 36 Ferraris and hundreds of other cars to boot. Maybe the Ferrari pull will make this a good stocking stuffer for someone's Ferrari-loving dad at Christmas time, but most racing fans won't be satisfied by such narrow appeal.
The premise, which sets you on a course through three eras of Ferrari history, doesn't really amount to much. Early era races begin with a sepia-toned vintage look before blending in the full color visuals. Later races feature modern era cars and faster speeds. Either way you'll make your way through each era in a dull, linear slog that requires you to finish races one at a time with no diverging paths. Racing game career modes are ultimately just a big pile of races, but the way they're presented can have a huge effect on how fun it is to keep playing. In that respect, Ferrari Legends couldn't be more boring.
The linear progression is made worse thanks to extremely uneven difficulty from one race to the next. It's not uncommon to snatch a 10-second lead on your opponents on one race, only to retry the next race again and again. One particularly difficult time trial required me to lower the difficulty to easy and cut across chunks of the track to finish it in time. When your only options are to cheat or simply stop playing, the latter starts to become quite appealing.
Those frustrations are made even worse when put in contrast with a game like Forza 4. That game's rewind function should be a racing game standard. It's detailed difficulty settings allow you to fine tune your assists like ABS and traction control. Going for higher difficulties provides substantial bonuses in Forza 4. Ferrari Legends, on the other hand, offers no such rewind function, and only provides three assist settings: Novice, Normal, or Pro. Forza offers learning AI that adjusts to your ability and play style automatically. Ferrari Legends offers Easy, Normal, and Hard, where Easy can sometimes still mean "balls hard."
In some respects it's not fair to compare Ferrari Legends to Forza 4 because the game simply doesn't set its sights that high. There are no options at all for modifying your cars. The driving physics seem closer to an arcade game, with the car turning on a central pivot rather than all four wheels. Crashes send cars careening all over the track in comical, almost Daytona USA-style form. Damage is never more than mildly cosmetic in even the most terrible crashes.
The game's AI is just as likely to run right into you and cost you the race as they are to drive off into the grass to avoid you. They're so random and unpredictable that it adds a bit of fun to the larger races. I caused a pile-up so bad in one race that I crossed the finish line with a 35-second lead. That unpredictability can hurt bad when you get spun out in the last corner of a ten minute race, though, and you'll never miss Forza 4's rewind function so badly.
Even the game's most unique feature (besides its undying love for Ferrari) is pretty half-assed. Each race is introduced with a paragraph of flavor text that reads like race car driver fan fiction. There's a cast of characters, drama over the decades, defections to other racing teams, and even hints of a love plot. It's pretty great stuff that would've given the game a unique flavor if it wasn't just a block of text.
What's truly crazy about my laundry list of complaints is that I can't even say my time with Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends was that awful. Swimmy driving physics or not, this game is assembled just well enough that it can still be fun. I just can't possibly recommend it when I know that all the racing games I've played in the last few years (including the developer's own Shift games) are more engaging. The genre is just so good all-around that even the bad ones aren't all that bad.
[Reviewed on Xbox 360]