Superstars V8 Racing review
Gran Turismo 5 is the racing game that everyone with a PlayStation 3 wants to talk about, but Polyphony has been tuning its racing title for ages. Pardon the puns; perhaps it is time to shift gears - or at least cruise in another lane for the time being. Superstars V8 Racing is by no means as detailed, ambitious, or impressive as GT5 looks to be. Still, Codemasters and Milestone have put together a solid racing title that holds up very well as a budget alternative.
Superstars V8 Racing is a sim-racing title that utilizes the official license of the Superstar Series racing league, which is focused in Italy. The title features 11 real-world teams such as Audi Sport Italia and Ferito Motors. Amongst those teams are 19 professional drivers, and finally, there are 10 unique racetracks; seven are located in Italy (Magione, Mugello, Varano, etc.), while additional locales include Spain (Valencia), Portugal (Portimao), and South Africa (Kyalami).
Aside from racing fundamentals like Quick Race and Training, Superstars V8 Racing offers a handful of game modes to choose from: Race Weekend, Championship, and Superstars Licenses. Championship mode is standard as they come; you earn points by claiming the fastest pole times and winning races throughout the Superstars Series season. Race Weekend mode begins with two practice runs on each track, followed by the qualifying round for the big race at the end of each weekend. Following each test run and qualifying round is a 30-minute intermission that allows you to customize settings and monitor lap-to-lap results using the nifty "Telemetry" feature. Gear-heads can take time to tinker with options like transmissions, suspensions, gear ratios, brake power settings, spoiler angles, and electronic driving aids like the Traction Control System (TCS), Anti-Lock Brake System (ABS), and the Electronic Stability Control (ESC) system.
The last option for solo gamers is the Superstars License mode, which features 20 challenges designed to test more than just your winning ability. The objectives of each test are simple enough, but the exercises are nonetheless effective and familiarize the player with the tracks, drivers, and cars. Best of all, this is an optional mode, so players are not required to satisfy a virtual driving instructor before diving into Championship mode or Race Weekend events. The first set of "Countdown" tests give you a limited amount of time and force you to drive through checkpoints that connect small sections of the track. Being forced to start over sounds like a pain, but you quickly begin to memorize the tricky spots on each track.
Moving on, Special Trials tests specific driving skills: turning, drafting, overtaking, and so on. Duels are head-to-head race events pitting rival teams against each other, like BMW vs. Jaguar. Last of all, Race Scenarios are the most interesting. Each scenario tests your ability to work with tough conditions, like driving with heavily-worn tires, or narrowing the gap and passing the rest of the pack after starting far behind them.
The amount of single-player content offered in this download is pleasantly surprising, and the multiplayer support is a nice touch. Up to 12 players can participate in each race. The host can set options like the number of laps, the weather conditions on the track, and realistic settings such as tire wear and body damage. Even the driving aids can be adjusted (or turned off entirely), so the experience feels more lifelike for each player.
Superstars V8 Racing is a sim-racing title through and through; inexperienced gamers often complain that the cars feel too slow and sluggish. This is common for the genre: Introducing realistic driving physics to the virtual driving experience has often resulted in this effect. With practice, these exotic pieces of machinery are a treat to drive, but they also tend to slip and spin out of control too easily. It is always frustrating to rack up penalty seconds due to small errors, like momentarily driving off of the road or blowing through a chicane. Like any racing game, mastering the wheel in Superstars is a matter of time and experience. Before long I was able to control each car and take any turn with the speed and precision of a professional race car driver.
It is too bad that Superstars V8 Racing looks and sounds so underdeveloped. Even by PSN standards, the visuals are underwhelming: the track designs are generic, the backdrops are lifeless, and the lack of atmosphere makes each race lonely, even when you pass the camera flashes and cheering bystanders in the grandstands near the finish line. The sky and clouds in the distance often look muddy, particularly when the weather effects are set for rain. Finally, the muffled engine sound effects are lacking the meanness that I would expect from exotic race cars with massive V8 engines hidden beneath their hoods.
Superstars V8 Racing does not really crash or burn due to its flaws, it just bumps into walls and finishes somewhere in the middle of the pack. For $20, there is a lot of content to play around with, and the gameplay turns out well enough to justify the effort. Racing fans that are sick of GT5's waiting game might enjoy Superstars as a time-killing alternative. It's too bad the no-frills presentation and the underlying lack of inspiration prevent it from emerging as a hit racing game, bargain-priced or otherwise.