Le Mans 24 Hours is just not good enough compared to today's top-level computer racers.
If you want to milk something, you'd best make sure it has milk to give. Le Mans 24 Hours has been around in some form or another since late 1999 when Infogrames inked a North American distribution deal with the game's original developer, the British studio Euthechnyx, and immediately relabeled it Test Drive Le Mans to fit within its newly acquired Test Drive franchise. It has since appeared on a number of platforms and in a variety of incarnations and has been re-re-released for the PC under its original European title. Unfortunately, no number of guises can change the fact that Le Mans makes a far better console game than it does a computer game. Despite the work of a new developer, Australia's Melbourne House, and a modified physics engine that admittedly makes it slower and more realistic, Le Mans has awkward control, horridly clumsy interfaces, and several annoying console game conventions. In short, Le Mans 24 Hours has been milked over and over again without ever receiving a serious face-lift for the PC, and that's just not good enough compared to today's top-level computer racers.
It won't take you long to realize that Infogrames has done minimal work to ready a game for the PC that was clearly designed with consoles in mind. For instance, Le Mans 24 Hours' menu system is shockingly inefficient. The game forces you to access nearly a dozen minimally adorned interfaces just to set up basic parameters and enter an event. It lets you use your mouse for some general selections but permits keyboard-only commands for more specific options such as garage modifications. And should you exit the game and restart it later, you must make sure you've entered your preferences and exited the preference interfaces in a certain way, or the game may not have saved them for you. And even then you'll be forced to endure the "launcher" and "3D card setup" windows each time you play. That some of the game's "cancel" buttons actually mean "accept" and other "cancel" buttons are actually "back" buttons is strangely inconsistent. Worse still, the Le Mans race loading and unloading routine creaks along at glacial speed. Even on an extremely fast computer, you can expect waits of 20 seconds or more every time you enter or exit an event. Alternate install methods do nothing to alleviate the situation, because there are no alternate install methods. Watching that green progress bar creep across the bottom of the screen will quickly become one of your least favorite pastimes, as will watching the game attempt to roll its credits every time you win one of its many championship rounds.
If and when you do come to grips with Le Mans 24 Hours' obvious menu quirks, you will see that the game is indeed versatile. Featuring the same sleek, high-powered close-wheeled production and purpose-built GT and prototype cars that frequent the famed round-the-clock 24 Hours of Le Mans, the game delivers a variety of racing modes and options. Beginners may wish to avail themselves of the quick race mode, which lets them select a track from 13 real-life circuits or variations thereof, choose one of 70 available automobiles, and compete against others in an abbreviated race length. More-experienced drivers will undertake the championship mode, where they'll compete against novice drivers in the three-race rookie GT series before moving to more prestigious events involving longer races, better drivers, and variables such as inclement winter weather and pit stops. Winning each round in the championship mode unlocks the increasingly faster, more capable cars required in succeeding stages.
Veteran racers will undoubtedly want to test their mettle at the game's namesake racetrack. In this mode, drivers will need to employ all they've learned in prior modes and intelligently deal with variables such as tire wear and changes, fuel stops, and other prerace and midrace options. The Le Mans mode is definitely the most difficult and the most grueling, particularly if you opt for the actual race distance of 24 real-time hours. Even if you select compacted race lengths of 10, 24, or 240 minutes, the game automatically turns day into night and night back into day. The game will also subject you to environmental situations such as rain and full-blown storms, both of which may be confined to just a section of the monstrous 13.6-kilometer circuit.