For years, Australian racing fans had wanted a game based on the V8 Supercar series, most notably when TOCA Touring Cars 2 was released in the late 90's. Codemasters could build upon that engine and create a fantastic simulation of one of Australia's most treasured forms of motor sport. In 2002 fans got their wish but there were some teams and tracks missing, which Codemasters has delivered second time around.
Like the first game, the main mode of play puts you in a story based racer, but with a lot more depth. Codemasters have also ditched Ryan McKane and the game now immerses you even more by playing out the storyline in a first person aspect. When the team boss is talking, or anyone else on your team for that matter, they talk directly towards you. The angle at which the camera positioned is also built around where 'your' head would be if you were actually standing in the pits, sitting in the camper van etc. As you rise through the ranks, you will be promoted by a female manager, and the game likes to portray that you as the main character fancy her as more then a friend. The cut scenes are fairly cheesy, but seem to do the job well and you can expect a few twists and turns. By the time you're nearing the end of the game, you will not only be famous, but a reality TV star.
Like the original game, V8 Supercars 2 does not contain only the V8 Supercar series but also has a significant amount of content from various classes around the world. V8 Supercars does sit in high company for the game however with it being one of only two officially licensed championships. DTM from Germany being the other. The other leagues are fictional but do contain real world cars such as the Subaru WRX, Mitsubishi Lancer, Formula Fords, Indy Cars and many others. Codemasters have also gone outside the square and now feature championships not based around a touring car format with rallying and other classes like Formula Ford also now part of the single player structure. Don't expect a substitute for Colin McRae Rally 04 however as the rally section is one of the most disappointing aspects.
The cars also feature a highly accurate damage model. Rather then wheels falling off easily like in the original, the game now calculates the point of impact and the strength before dealing out the damage. No longer does a front impact cause a rear wheel to fall off. Damage is split into four categories; gears, steering, engine, wheels and uses colour coding to display how shot to pieces your car is. There is also a fuel meter and you can run out of petrol if you don't keep an eye on it. This damage meter applies to every car in the game. The high profile cars make a farce of some developers notions that car manufacturers won't allow them to damage the cars in their games. One change which may annoy some players is the fact the game now selects which team you race for in the single player campaign, and does not allow you to select the make of car either.
Most, if not all Australians will be interested in the V8 Supercars section and Codemasters have not disappointed. Besides adding a few new teams, including the Holden Racing Team of Mark Skaife and Todd Kelly, some new tracks such as Pukekohe and Surfers Paradise have also been added. Two new car models are available to play around with; the VY commodore and BA Falcon, plus the different liveries for the relevant 2003 teams. One thing we noticed which may bemuse some players is the lack of performance difference between the older generation cars and the new ones such as the VY. It is entirely possible to post times around the same time as the older model, offering great equality but perhaps not the best realism.
It's not all roses for V8 Supercars 2 and there is some glaring problems with the game. The first being the AI drivers. They are impressive but sometimes they perform various acts of stupidity such as turning into the pits, and slowing down before the speed limiter kicks in. This can cause a major accident. The game also artificially increases the difficulty level. There is no qualifying for the single player races which is a problem in itself. Add that to the fact you have to either gain a certain position or beat a character to continue, and that character happens to be on the front row whilst you sometimes sit eight rows back and you can see why the frustration begins to creep in. There may be a point in the game that you may just give up and be thankful that the V8 Supercars are unlocked straight away in the Australian edition of the game. This has kick back effects for the online aspect, which we'll get to later.
Forty five real world tracks are featured ranging from high profile present and past Formula 1 tracks such as the A1-Ring down to the smaller tracks of Australia like Sandown and Oran Park. All rounds of the 2003 V8 Championship season are included but the exhibition round at Albert Park is not. They are all heavily detailed and carry accurate logos, signs etc where applicable. One unfortunate aspect is you can't race the cars on every track. Each class has a certain number of tracks associated with it, in comparison to Project Gotham Racing 2 this is a major flaw.
The real icing on the cake is the online play. V8 Supercars 2 is only half the game without it. Although the game can cater for up to twelve players online, most peoples connections will only be able to handle hosting seven, and even then the lag monster sometimes creeps in. Collisions and damage can be turned off, but there's nothing like the bumper to bumper racing with damage on, it is also causing a raft of road rage to be spewed across the Live headsets. As mentioned before there is one big problem with the online play and that is the fact you can't host games of championships you have not unlocked in single player. Due to the frustrating elements displayed in the campaign mode which may keep some people from finishing the game, this restricts players choice.
As expected, Codemasters have really utilized the power of the Xbox and created some stunning graphics. The draw distance is on par with that of PGR2 and the detail on both the cars and tracks stands out. It also has to be said that this game quite possibly has the best in car view ever seen. This particular view adds to the realism side of the game tenfold and positions the camera where the drivers helmet would be, giving a totally different experience to the player when racing in different classes. For sound effects there isn't much to write home about other then the fact they really have done their homework on how a V8 Supercar sounds, and this is the closest replica to the real thing so far. Cars from other series sound great as well. During races there is no commentary but there is comments from your pit lane. This only occurs during the single player campaign and they sometimes make pointless remarks, something along the lines of 'two more cars and you'll be in front' when you currently sit in third.
There is no doubt at all that V8 Supercars 2 is a vast improvement on the original title, but it may not be the genre buster that some players would have been hoping for. The single player campaign while good, can be frustrating and to get the most out of the game Xbox Live really is a requirement. For everything good about the game there seems to be something disappointing such as the rally driving, but thankfully for Australian gamers and Codemasters, the V8 Supercars section saves this from being an average game. Any racing fan who owns an Xbox should give this game at least a glancing look.
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