Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends Review (Xbox 360)
Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends is the latest racing game from Atari. Originally scheduled to release last summer, TD:FRL takes the series out of the open world settings found in the Test Drive: Unlimited games and back to the closed circuits. With Slightly Mad Studios, of Need for Speed Shift fame, developing this iteration, does the game have what it takes to compete in the retail space with the other racing games available for XBOX 360 and Playstation 3?
You can't even start to talk about Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends without talking about the driving/handling engine. The game's handling is a mixture of simulation and arcade, but caters to neither group and it ultimately just results in frustration. Eventually, you start to get used to the handling, but at no point does it ever really immerse you into believing that you are driving a beastly Ferrari. One of my biggest gripes throughout as I was playing was that the cars feel and handle like they are attached to a pivot on the ground. It never manages to feel "right." It is extremely hard to make those small, subtle, but necessary steering adjustments while you're on the track.
Spinouts occur way too often, especially with the faster cars, because of the middling driving engine. Sometimes even a tiny nudge from an opponent will trigger a wild series of flips or spins, which look kind of like hot wheels being crashed together on a child's floor. I had a few occasions where my car was turned and it sat there on the track spinning like a top. It's poorly done and made worse by the lack of a real damage model. I'd call the damage forgiving, but even that is giving it too much credit. At no point does a multi-car pile up, for example, affect the car's handling or engine. There are a very few visual effects, like a crumpled hood or a cracked windshield but that's it. I understand that Ferrari wouldn't allow damage to be incorporated into the game, but I also have to point out that it hurts the overall look of the product.
There are three seperate driving models available: Novice, Normal, and Pro. Novice, as you might imagine, assists you in every single aspect including steering and braking. Normal takes off some of the assists, and Pro requires you to handle everything yourself. While technically there is nothing wrong with this approach to difficulty, the problem here is that you can't customize the assists. If you want to disable every assist except for one for example, you can't do that. This creates balancing issues, which leads me to my next point.
The game spikes sharply in difficulty at times while at other times it provides no challenge at all. You either experience a ridiculously frustrating level of difficulty, or no challenge at all. Test Drive: FRL never finds a sweet spot. This game is more often hair-pullingly frustrating than it is rewarding. The spikes are made worse by the fact that it feels like an artificial difficulty. The objectives themselves aren't neccesarily that hard, in a competent racer. In TD:FRL however, the driving model makes some of the tasks nearly impossible. It isn't much of a simulation game but it won't suit arcade gamers at all either. It really feels like it's suffering from an identity crisis. It should have stuck to one direction and gone with it.
The game breaks career mode down into more than 200 events spread across three eras. The Golden (1947-1973), Silver (1974-1990), and Modern (1991- 2011) eras.
Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends does not feature car customization of any kind. This is one of the unfortuante things about licensing, as Ferrari didn't allow the developer to include the feature. There are over 50 different Ferrari vehicles to drive, and each shows off convincingly realistic interior and passable exterior models. I can't fault the developer for that, but I was more disappointed in the fact that there is no night racing and no dynamic weather effects. These seem like standard features in a next generation racing title in 2012.
You’ll race and run time trials on the same generic tracks over and over again across every era, with only the car or event type changing. This is yet another area that fails to satisfy and leads to a feeling of repetition that sets in very early. Some of the objectives are down right stupid too, and deserve to be called out. One in particular asked me to finish in first place, but not to beat my driving teammate by more than one second, setting up a "photo finish." It's poor objectives like this that contribute to the overall feeling of frustration. There is some fun to be had in the mastering of each car and track within the game's driving engine. But it's almost like you're forcing yourself to find ways to have fun.
The lifeless menu driven progression is not only boring but it lacks immersion and fails to engage you. This game is extremely linear compared to the previous two entries in the Test Drive series. Even if Atari felt like it had to take this route with it's progression in TD:FRL, it needed to be done much better. It's not that the Atari or Slightly Mad Studios made any huge mis-steps with the license neccesarily, they just didn't come close to acheiving it's potential.
The reward/unlock system is also poorly done and doesn't give you enough reason to keep playing past the goal of finishing the career mode for the sake of doing it. You unlock cars to use in the "Quick Game" mode and that's it. These rewards aren't paced very well at all. There is no currency, no real story to keep you going (there's a very bland narrative, all in text), and no collection aspect. No feeling of achievement.
Graphics and Presentation
The selection of Ferraris in this game is very nice. I was especially impressed by the inclusion of cars from the earliest years of the company's racing lineage. The graphics are OK, but lacking. Cars are well rendered from a distance but they never "pop." In car views are very well done. The tracks all look good and seem to be well rendered, but are a bit sparse and lack any feeling of being "alive." There are also some issues with "draw-in" of clouds, stands, and other periphery objects as you race down the track. Another graphical issue worth mentioning is the framerate, which seems to stutter at the worst possible times, like when you are running down the track door to door at 125 mph.
The presentation and layout feel very sterile. There is very little music besides the repetitive menu music. Sounds are limited to the same annoying British voice in your ear and the sounds on the track. The problem is that these lack any real punch. The single player campaign seems like it wants to take you on a history journey with Ferrari, but it fails to deliver any compelling content. I've seen the historical concept used in video game form, and it can work. Here though, there are no videos to unlock, no talk about Ferrari's significant makes or models, no real interaction other than clicking the 'next event' button.
This game feels like a huge missed opportunity. If Atari and Slightly Mad Studios had made either a simulation racing experience that catered to Ferrari enthusiats, or an arcade romp that was very accessible and gave you the feeling of powering down the track in a $250,000 car than this game could have been a hit. Instead, TD: FRL feels unpolished and even a little unfinished. It's lacking all of the little touches and loving additions that a game with this license and the Ferrari lineage deserves. One feeling I couldn't shake while playing through the game was that the experience felt generic and almost feels like a last generation racing game. There was a pervasive feeling of overall staleness. TD:FRL feels like a budget racer and that's a shame. It's bare-bones.
Learning Curve: High, but not for any of the right reasons. You have to learn how to control the various cars within Test Drive's half-baked driving engine instead of learning each car's finer points.
Control Scheme: As basic as it gets. Simplicity is a good thing here. If you've played a racing game in the last six years you'll have no problems.
Online: The online playspace for this game is almost non-existent. All of the usual suspects are here including quick race and custom race with the ability to invite friends. You can customize the cars allowed to compete, laps, and track. The elephant in the room is still the frusrtating driving engine. Wrecks actually happen more often online as you might expect, and the cars still do the loopy spinouts and flips.
Visuals: The visuals get the job done, but not much else. The detailed in car views are very nice. Everything that's been done here has been done before in other games, and done much, much better. That same statement could be repeated for almost every component of Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends.
Audio: Merely sufficient with no variety. When done well, the audio in a game enhances the experience. That's not the case with this game. It serves it's purpose with a side of blandness.
Value: Only Ferrari fetishists would be suited buying this game, and even then they would feel cheated by the subpar driving engine and the lack of track variety. Overall, this game just isn't fun and will cause you more frustration than it's worth. As a racing fan, and a racing game fan, I cannot recommend this game to anyone really.
Score: 4.0 (Below Average) -- This game is close to average, as there are some redeeming qualities about the title, but there are serious flaws that still outweigh the good. Think about a game which might have a good single player but bad multiplayer experience, or extremely limited depth with average to good gameplay. That sort of thing. Still, these games are never worth the full price of admission.