The V8 Supercar series here in Australia is just like any sport with rapidly increasing popularity - you have your classic epic battle between two rivalries, i.e. Ford and Holden, your large array of fans and the presence of sponsorship deals going through the roof. So with this in mind, it is natural for EASports to try and deliver what the gaming market here has been lacking for so long; a localised racing game based around the biggest 'n' badest beast's around, however with the plans of another V8 Supercar game from Codemasters, can EA's V8 Challenge fill the niche?
To start off, I am by no means a racing gearhead, and although I do enjoy the odd live race I wouldn't be necessarily considered a fan of the series, however I don't think it takes a whole lot to know when a game has been mastered enough to be considered almost identical to its real life counterpart. With this said, V8 Challenge is without a doubt realistic, however there are still many aspects left stranded.
The initial impression given by the race setup is an empty one - it becomes obvious when your selecting a track and car legal ownership problems were faced. By that I mean many of your favorite local tracks are not included, nor are many of your favorite racing teams, which can be blamed on the fact EA do not have the legal access to many of the series traits. Although this negative fact has an impact on the game's realism, there are enough authentic additions that keep the game within the interest of the Australian fan.
The actual target of this game is not exactly clear, although you are given the option of rather indepth car setup features, which adds to the simulation genre, you are restricted to the limit of 14 opposing cars maximum and 25laps maximum, which seems to give an arcade type affect on the gameplay. Fans of the series who are looking for some heavy simulation will essentially find V8 Challenge to fall short.
The actual ingame gameplay concludes as rather enjoyable and extremely fun. Although it does take a while to get used to the feel of a V8 supercar, once you start to master the beast the fun had is almost limitless. With a few friends at a LAN or even online this game makes for one hell of a time.
The AI in the game has a peculiar impression, in many parts of the ingame action you find the AI to be absolutely top of the line. An example of this can usually be found when concerning crashes, around corners and other tight situations where the computer controlled opponents seem to try what they can to avoid collision. On the other hand, the AI can be totally unrealistic and tedious. An example of this can be found at the very start of a race, where there is almost a 100% guarantee of a crash. Poor AI is also present in the speed control of the opponents, where even at the highest difficulty you can easily overtake at will the majority of the time.
The ingame physics are pretty much what you would expect, collisions are realistic with car damage also having a realistic presence, although it is extremely hard to actually beat your car up so much it will cease operating, infact no matter how hard I tried to wreck my car I found I could still cruise along, if only at 90 KM/H (refer to some of the screenshots if you want to see how badly damaged I'm talking ;)).
V8 Challenge in single player mode generally could have been much richer. Although the championship mode is quite lengthy depending on how many laps you set, there is nothing else to do but race. There is no sort of career aspect, where you could gain sponsorships deals etc, and no real reason why winning each race is important - it isn't like your trying to prove yourself worthy of a higher grade series, you simply start out in the V8 Supecar series and have little more to do than race, which depending on your personal interest is a good or bad thing.
It is said EA and Dice.se are pushing to release a patch for V8 Challenge which will address some technical problems as well as possible AI improvements. If you take the past as an example, where EA released a patch for Madden 2002 PC which pretty much made the game totally different AI wise, then perhaps this patch will improve this game to a new level. However, I would take anything but technical bug fixes concerning this patch with a grain of salt.
Probably the strongest point to this game is the visuals. Although the screenshots to this game have been out for a while now, the actual level of visual detail cannot be fully experienced until you actually run the game in real time. Textures are sharp, models of the cars are pretty much dead accurate and the tracks are brilliantly displayed. If there is something negative to say here it would be concerning the attention to detail given to the crowd and pit area's, as they are simply 2d 'cutout' sprites, which is nothing unusual to find in most racing games to cut back on rendering requirements.
The audio in V8 Challenge is pretty much average, although the engine roar, tyre spins and other assorted car noises are realistic, there seems to be some minor issues in the game when concerning the driver used to power the audio. Crackling and noise cutouts are not uncommon, but hopefully these issues will be addressed in a patch which is said to be released soon.
Controlling a car in V8 Challenge starts out as a difficult task. When starting out I often found myself losing control of the car around corners and colliding into the back of other cars without intention. However after a few races you start to get the hang of the car and realise the things not to do and the things which you can usually get away with.
If you have no access to a control pad of any sort then I suggest you do so, because as with many racing games the keyboard just won't cut it. This essentially happens because the buttons on a keyboard are either pressed or their not (like a switch). On the other hand, many control pads have direction buttons which can sense the pressure on the button and adjust the ingame actions accordingly (e.g. a small corner will only really require a slight turn, where a fully forced turn will usually result in spinning out). Although I am sure people still will and do play this on a keyboard, it is not recommended for realistic control.
V8 Challenge could be considered as another example of hype gone wrong. There is ample room for improvement in many aspects, such as AI and features, but essentially this game comes off a winner. Although many will feel it doesn't live up to what they were expecting, one has to realise that this is practically your only choice for the mean time when concerning Aussie V8 action, and it posses as a reasonably accurate experience. In time hopefully this series will be improved upon as a yearly addition to EA's strong lineup, but for the mean time it does the job well enough. If a patch can address more than just technical issues, i.e. AI, then it will certainly excel even further.