Superstars V8 Racing
Racers aren’t unique. Think about it, there’s more than one franchise that has been built entirely around cars. Then again, it’s mainly the macho flair about these cars that attracts all the boys – or the boyish side of grown men.
With Superstars V8 Racing macho isn’t too far away. The title, V8 Racing, leaves little to the imagination. In this game you’ll get behind the wheel of racing cars that all have an 8 cylinder equipped.
Each of these cars is the digital incarnation of one of the real cars that participate in the official Superstars competition. This series of races is not so well known (for this reviewer at least) because for one it’s relatively new, and also because most races take place in Italy. Hence it are all Italian teams, with Italian pilots whose boots you’ll be walking in as a player. Cars vary, from the famous BMW M5′s (the earlier, V8 model that is), over M3′s, Audi RS4′s to Jaguar S-Type’s and more. To complete the identification with the Superstars competition the game has even adopted the intro to the movies of the Superstars championship.
Now a little more about the game itself. Contrary to most games these days, the game does not require an installation. The sleeve mentions you’ll have to have at least 55MB of free space on your Playstation but that should be easy enough to manage. Your progress and the likes then are saved onto your hard disk, but the whole game is not. This means that for every race and every loading sequence the game needs to load data from the disk. This can take a bit longer than you’re used to with games that are installed on your hard drive, but it shouldn’t be too much of an obstacle. What was a bit of grind was going through all the save screens. Every time you win a race, or otherwise modify your game progress the game will autosave. To achieve this, on average, it passes through three different save screens. A minimal irritation, but they could’ve done all this with just one screen. Right now it looks like the game is dragging its feet. Not that the saving sequence would necessarily take a third as long if all the dialogue was compressed into one screen. As mentioned, a minimal irritation.
As a player you get the opportunity to practice a circuit, participate in a race weekend, start a new championship or continue an existing one. Additionally there are the so-called Superstar Licenses. These licenses can best be described as a sort of mission. There are four categories of tests: Race Situations, Duels, Special Trials and Countdown. Race Situations for example can involve you making a lap around the trick without being overtaken by another car. In Countdown you’ll be racing against the clock and in Special Trials you’ll be practicing elementary stuff like drafting and overtaking. Duels are races where you’re pitted against one opponent (driving a different vehicle than yours). All in all these are good ways to learn certain tracks or familiarise yourself with certain cars. Some of the missions will be exceptionally easy for the veterans, but may be very helpful to newcomers.
Championship mode deserves being mentioned separately, seeing as in the end this is the core of the game. In Championship mode you pick a team and a driver (and accordingly his car) you’ll be racing around as. Every race is composed of four phases. In the first two phases you’ll get the opportunity to get to know the track, practice runs in other words. The succeeding phase is the qualifying phase and following that you’ll get to the race phase. You can select how many laps this racing phase should last, to each his own then.
To improve the replayability of the game there are also a form of trophies. Besides the trophies you can collect for your PSN account you can also win in-game collectables. For example you can unlock certain Superstars movies by winning five races with a certain team. Fans of the genre, or of the Superstars league, will be amply motivated to replay the game using a different team. The more collectables you unlock, the more decorated your pit becomes.
Like every race game that wants to be taken seriously, V8 Racing also offers you the possibility to customise your car. Various suspension and gearing options allow you to fine-tune every car to your preference or requirements. For those of us who aren’t pit engineers though there are also preset setups for each car. There is both a qualifying and a racing preset. The race preset is mainly aimed at being manageable and stable, whereas the qualifying preset, albeit a bit more unstable, will be squeezing the fastest times out of your chassis.
Furthermore, Superstars V8 Racing lets you choose whether or not to drive with electronics. To your liking you can disable or enable TCS, ASM and ABS. A sensitive difference, that’s certain. You can also feel a difference between tire wear on or off. Without being a tire expert it’s safe to say something is not quite right here. After driving three laps on a dry track you’ll be noticing your tires are so worn down you’ll be losing seconds on each lap. That makes it a bit difficult to qualify or finish a race with more than three laps. Especially because the AI seems to not be bothered by tire wear, whether the option is on or off. So you’ll have a hard time fighting for the best qualifying time, not to mention keeping ahead of the pack in a lengthy race. Enabling tire wear really makes the normal difficulty setting seem like hard.
Superstars excels in the variation of tracks. In no other game you can savour basically any Italian track you want. From Imola to Monza, but also less known tracks like Vallelunga and Magione complete the track list. Some races take you abroad, outside of Italy that is. The Portuguese Portimão is a fine example, as is Valencia and the South African Kyalami. This wide selection of tracks may be enough to convince the petrol heads amongst us that want to try new stretches of tarmac. But maybe these die-hards will feel let down by how the cars behave on the tracks. A bit quick to over steer and sometimes downright quirky the cars aren’t all what you’d expect from a track car. With a wheel things are still easy enough, even without electronics, but use a Dualshock 3 controller and things may be a bit more difficult to control. Obviously though, the enthusiast is also the one most likely to use a wheel to play this game. To even the playing field, there is the four-wheel driven Audi RS4, a car that can more than hold its own in this particular league. So even if you’re a novice learning the ropes, you can still compete.
What did come as a surprise though was how fast your car decelerates when going through the sand or the grass. Obviously that’s the way it should be, but maybe the game has it modelled a bit extreme. In either case, it’s handy if you want to avoid hitting the wall, but a lot less handy if one side of the car is in the sand and the other side isn’t, for example when you’re pushing the car to the limits of both the track and the car’s grip level.
Also the on-screen driving should be mentioned. This visual help is ideal when you’re racing around on tracks you’ve never driven before, a situation you’ll find yourself in often enough. Besides showing the setup of the upcoming turn, the visual aid is also color coded to give you an idea whether or not you can fly through it at the current speed. In other words, the arrow will be colored red when you’re going too fast to get through the turn in one piece.
Graphically speaking Superstars V8 Racing is quite pretty. Tracks are well finished and the cars are very detailed. The only thing that is a bit of a letdown is the decor. Things like houses on the side of the road, although even these things have been drawn with an eye for detail. However, the weather effects are impressive. When the sky is overcast it almost appears to be thundering down on you. Wet tracks will have exceptionally real-looking reflections. It’s a shame there isn’t an in-car cockpit view. Most racing games nowadays try to provide such a view, but with 19 high quality car models on track maybe a cockpit view is a bit hard to manage. For people who prefer the camera that hovers behind the race car this should be no problem at all.
Just like the graphics also the sound is very detailed. When you push the engine, you’ll be hearing a V8 orchestra that’s a true pleasure to the ear. The way this sound is presented, in conjunction with the graphics, really does give the player the impression he’s going 200 km/h in a race car. Immersion supreme then, but also a bit of that vacation feeling. Perhaps the review copy being delivered at the start of the holidays attributes to this but it’s certainly not the only reason. Every track seems to be doused in a high concentration dose of sun, a warm yellowish glow engulfs the game. Unless it’s raining on the track, in which case things do in fact look grim.
Sadly enough, the AI is a bit disappointing. Not abhorrent per se, but it could have definitely been better. The AI will drive you off the track with no remorse if you stray too close to his racing line. If he’s far enough behind he’ll try to evade you, but nearby he doesn’t even try. A shame, especially when you’re driving around in a tight pack, which often is the case in a touring car game like this. It may take a while before the cars spread out over the track and you have some room to maneuver. It only takes one AI who feels you’re in his way to end your race and hence your fun.
In the end, Superstars V8 Racing certainly isn’t a bad game. The sound and the graphics provide an immersion that makes you feel like you’re in the middle of the race. These graphics, though good, aren’t photorealistic to such a degree you can’t tell game from reality. What does excel however is the sound, from the engine to the tires on the asphalt, every i has received its dot. A shame then that there is no cockpit view to complete the picture. Just like it’s a shame the AI prefers to drive his own line, regardless of where you are on the track, with the occasional “spinout by AI” result. But still, as a race fan you shouldn’t be discouraged by this, because what the game lacks in AI it more than makes up for in track selection. Nearly all of Italy’s tracks can be raced on in this game ranging from the known to the unknown. A treat to fans of the genre.