It was September 2002 when we posted our review on the PS2's V8 Supercar Race Driver, which was generally around the time of its retail release. That means it has been a little over 8 months since the PS2 gamers have had the game, and over 8 months since the PC gamers have had to wait. Although the TOCA series was always primarily console focused, Codemasters obviously see a market for their latest racer on the PC, but is it a case of too little, too late?
Gameplay - 8.5/10:
Taking control of the racing career of Ryan McKane, the playing is presented with an opening video clip explaining the past of the McKane legacy. As Ryan's father dies in a horrific crash, Ryan's destiny in life becomes simply to make it to the top of world racing. With a criticising older brother who soon becomes just another competitor, Ryan has a lot of yards to make if he wants his dream to come true. It is now up to the player to take control of Ryan's promising and rich career.
The offers for entering leagues and races comes to the player via an 'email' interface in the game menu, accessed by the computer. Although it was really unnecessary, the whole main menu itself is graphically expressed in the form of an office. This aspect certainly adds realism to the game, where the character of Ryan is involved in almost every aspect visually, and hence, so is the player.
The beginning of the story mode is nicely balanced to allow for new comers to get used to the system. The first few races are always going to be a trial and error type setup in every racing game for the player, so it is nice V8 Racedriver has only made them challenging, not impossible. Another positive aspect for the new comers starting off is that you don't have to win every race, nor do you have to win every championship, all you need to do is gather enough points to allow entry into the next tier without too much pressure. If you fail to get the amount of points required, no biggie, just redo a championship until you get more points.
Players can chose which championships they want to enter, with bonus money being offered if certain objectives are met. For example, one team in a championship may simply want you to beat another team, while another may expect a championship win. Giving the option of allowing the player to chose is a great method to allow further customisation to their career. The actual V8 series of racing won't come into effect in story mode for a while as the player has to make it up the ranks before entering, however if you must get into the official V8 action straight away, then free drive mode will allow you to. V8 Supercar Racedriver has more official V8 Supercars than EA's V8 Challenge, with the ability to race in the cars of Craig Lowndes, Glen Seaton, Greg Murphy, Paul Radisich and many more.
Before heading off to the circuit the player is given the option of a full car setup. Ranging from Gear ratios and downforce to suspension and brake bias adjustments, the player has loads of options to tweak. Not only this, but the game will explain what setting is best for the current track in easy terms. It is fantastic to see such a comprehensive system which essentially allows any type of user to master the car setup subsystem.
In-game wise, V8 Supercar Racedriver really excels. Right from the green lights it is obvious that Codemasters are really experts in the area of racing, with extremely accurate physics, crash damage and basically a very authentic feel. Every bump your car takes will have an effect on its ability, although there never really seems to be a time where your car won't go atleast semi-fast, unless you take a few wheels off. Even if you total your engine you can still drive relatively fast, even if it does sound sick.
On top of the top class in-game racing, the AI has been tweaked to perfection. Just to showcase how good it really is, if a player runs a computer controlled opponent off the track, or simply renders them slower, they won't simply forget it. Rather, revenge is often the reaction as they try to bump you around a bit the next time your near. If you do enough damage to really set them off, expect a visit from the driver after the race in your garage, and boy can they get angry. In the PC version the AI is also a little more intense, because you have 19 other competitors rather than 13 on the PS2, which is a nice added bonus to keep things more lively throughout the race.
One side of the in-game racing that could have used extra attention is the rules and restrictions. Beyond the pitstop speed limit, there is really no implementation of regulations, and nothing stopping you from unloading on an unsuspecting car in front of you, and since the damage inflicted is never terribly high, you will rarely regret it. This does make for a less than ultra realistic experience, however if you go into the race with a serious attitude it shouldn't be a problem. Unfortunately multiplayer online exposes this weakness, to stop people simply taking you out, you either need a black flag system or more realistic results from serious damage.
However multiplayer is still perhaps just as strong as the single player game. If you can find a server with people who are serious about racing it is really a great time. Going from AI to real human intelligence is a great challenge, so you can only really conquer the game first by proving your skills against real competition. Bumps and crashes are unavoidable, just like real life, so don't get too discouraged if occasionally you and someone else end up on your roof in the sand. The only problem here is that very few servers run the V8 version, because it is Australia only, and many ISP's forbid server hosting on their connections, so you really just have to be lucky to find a good server, which usually go down and up at random. It would have been nice to see official V8 RaceDriver servers here in Australia, but that doesn't seem to be happening anytime soon.
Visuals - 9.5/10:
If there is one area the PC version has improved on, it is the graphics. Although the PS2's visuals were great, compared to the PC no other platform even comes close. Cars look stunning with brilliant high resolution textures and almost perfect models. Such other features as reflective light and visually impressive crash damage also add that extra touch. And while the car is looking great, everything around you does too, the tracks and the general environment are very convincing and really feel like their real life counterparts.
On top of the support for high resolutions and better colour depth, V8 Racedriver also implements a new and improved motion blur effect in the game, which is really just the icing on the cake. This effect is best showcased when you speed down a straight at incredible speeds, or when you pan the camera to the sides. Everything around you is blurred making you look and feel faster that you really are. Although I can't comment on the realism of this feature, as I haven't been inside a 300KM/h V8 Supercar before, it still looks great nonetheless. Perhaps the only draw back on the visuals in this game is the fact you will need a very good PC to get the best out of it.
Controls - 8.5/10:
The initial controlling impression in V8 Supercar Race Driver is a good one, everything feels and handles solidly and generally doesn't feel any better or worse than any other racing game, however it is until you stumble across the 'SIM' cheat code you begin to realise the opposite.
I would like to stress that this is really not your traditional cheat code, it might be true your unlocking something your meant to get after finishing the game, but it is something that is too good to pass. By typing "SIM" in the bonus code section, you enabled a mode of handling that is apparently more realistic, and hence more of a simulation than an arcade experience. Personally, I could certainly feel the difference when it was enabled and it really did make the game feel much more realistic in the controls department. It wasn't until I enabled a 'cheat' that I realised the original handling is really quite lackluster.
Somehow, I just don't think this is right. Why make a cheat improve the gameplay? to me, this simulation mode should have been the default mode of handling, or atleast an available option to toggle whenever you felt like it. Sure, the cheat is available to anyone who wants it, but when you're out looking for cheats, you're really not looking for gameplay improvements, these are things that should really come inbuilt with the default settings.
With the PC version being so late, naturally you would expect any serious gamer to already own the game on the PS2. If that is the case, then there really is no need to go out and nab this PC version, especially if your prime focus is single player. However, for the PC gamer who has yet to experience this game, V8 Supercar Race Driver is your ticket to the best racing experience on the PC yet.