Race Pro Xbox 360 review
The 360 finally has a serious racing simulator - we take Race Pro for a spin...
Race Pro is developer SimBin's first foray into the console marketplace. Before now they've chiefly been known for racing simulators aimed at the PC gaming hardcore. Extreme realism was the order of the day with the GTR and RACE series, and so too with this Xbox 360 exclusive.
I find myself in an awkward position in reviewing this game. I'm no hardcore racing sim veteran or car enthusiast, and it's to this demographic that Race Pro is most likely to be of initial interest. For such gamers I can point out that the game's vehicles do feel authentic; even using a simple 360 controller, the weight and responsivity of various cars are clearly distinct. The 13 courses in the game are all accurately modelled on tracks from around the world. Beyond that, I can only suggest you try the demo and see what you think. Everyone else, however, please read on...
This is not a game that you can play aggressively or wildly. Attempting this with anything other than the more sluggish vehicles will see you spinning out or sending your car into the gravel banks on every corner. That said, it's not an alienating game to pick up and play. SimBin have thoughtfully included scaled difficulties that allow even a complete novice to play with stabiliser wheels until they're ready to push themselves further. The inclusion of a racing line is a huge help, which comes complete with a guide to appropriate acceleration. Anti-brake locks and improved traction also prove useful for beginners.
It's important to learn the strengths and weaknesses of each vehicle, as well as learning the tracks, in order to maximise your race time. In the game's career mode, likely to be the first port of call for most players, the game encourages you to earn racing contracts by beating a set time with a specific car and track. These trials allow you to get a feel for the vehicle before you're put head to head with a posse of AI drivers in the same vehicle. The career mode has a good sense of progression even if the credit-earning system does feel slightly unnecessary and there's no way to view your trophy cars without leaving the career area.
In addition to career mode the game offers championships, single play, time trials, as well as local and live multiplayer - so all the usual features you'd expect are in place. It's a reasonably slick package as well, stylish and intuitive throughout.
Despite this, Race Pro feels at times like a budget game. Despite the superb attention to detail SimBin have brought to the core gameplay and the good but unexceptional visuals, the whole package feels cold and dispassionate. It seems likely that this is deliberate, as the game is clearly aimed at serious racing gamers and fans. Such players are unlikely to find pumped youth-oriented soundtracks or distracting, forced-cool race commentary desirable. And, in the game's defence, its audio cues are extremely important when focusing on acceleration and gearshifts. Nonetheless, the game does feel very quiet despite the roar and growl of the engine, the crack of the gearshift and the occasional squealing tires or clunking collision.
Less defensible are the game's occasional bugs. Although these are rarely serious, they do stand out. The most obvious example I observed occurs at the end of every race. Once you cross the finish line the AI takes control of your car, and it will invariably swerve your car from side to side as it does so. This looks, frankly, daft, especially when you've just been hammering down a long straight. The collision detection with vehicle models is imperfect, too, and I've seen cars clipping into each other - and occasionally popping out again in a jarring transition.
Despite these problems, Race Pro is an entertaining experience. It's up to you the extent to which you want the game to hold your hand, and it neither applauds nor denigrates you whatever you choose. Learning how a vehicle handles, where you can deviate from the racing line to gain extra seconds, and which corners are good positions to steal the lead, provides its own rewards. For gamers looking for something a bit less artificial than the 360's numerous hairgel and poprock arcade racers, I'd recommend picking Race Pro up... but to not pay full whack when doing so.