V8 Supercars: Create & Race Updated Hands-On

We spend some time designing the track of our dreams, and then we cover it in burnt rubber while we try out Codemasters’ upcoming racing title for the DS.

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While Sony's PlayStation Portable has never found the niche it attempted to carve out in the multimedia field, we have to admit it's had some solid racing titles, with strong, established brands such as Burnout, Ridge Racer and Wipeout giving the console strong racing games since launch day. On the other side of the coin, the Nintendo DS has achieved astronomical hardware sales, but apart from the legacy Mario Kart franchise and perhaps a Need for Speed or two, the DS has never really filled the driving sim void. Codemasters' V8 Supercars: Create & Race (otherwise known as Race Driver: Create & Race in the US), a title being developed from the ground up for the handheld, is nearly here and is looking to be in a position to finally give racing fans their smoking tire fix on the DS.

In an interview we did with Codemasters lead producer Jamie Firth earlier this year, he stressed the importance of the arcade gameplay style in Create & Race, and after sitting down with a recent build of the code the fun, furious driving feel certainly seems pivotal to the experience.

Despite being built from the ground up to wring all the power possible out of the Nintendo DS platform, Create & Race plays a lot like the console and PC versions of the V8 Supercars series, making it a flat learning curve for the initiated. Newcomers to the brand shouldn't have any trouble picking up and playing this title, with the game featuring the usual driving control systems--one button to accelerate, one to brake, and dedicated buttons to switch camera angles.

Racing is spread over three tiers, with the AutoSport CLIO cup and Japanese Cup offering zippy little hatchbacks and Nissan NSXs. Tier two unlocks the USA Muscle Car tour, Super Truck International, and V6 European Championship. The third and final tier contains Honda Type R and Ford GT racing.

Codemasters has done a fantastic job with the cars, making each vehicle a unique driving experience. Cars in the CLIO cup are small, zippy, and handle like a dream, with responsive turning and braking. Truck racing stands in stark contrast, with the trucks steering like a giant metal ships careening out of control. Vehicle damage is realistic, as it will severely impact your ability to move, with rough handling punishing the driver with lowered performance and misaligned steering giving you the impression you're constantly veering into other lanes of traffic. Kissing too many walls with the front of your car will see your engine begin to smoke--impairing your vision--and consequently reducing your ability to move out of the way of obstacles. Switching to either the hood or front bumper cam will remove the smoke effect, but does nothing to alleviate the mechanical issues you'll face.

While you may want to get straight into the World Tour mode and start laying some rubber circle work, it's probably a good idea to familiarise yourself with the various vehicle types and their quirks. The simulation mode comes in handy here, offering up challenges to test your skills before you hit the track. Trials include accelerating and braking tests where you'll need to gun it off the line, get as much speed up as possible before breaking hard and trying to stop inside the target zone. Other modes include one which requires you to follow a racing line around a track, another where you have to overtake a target car as fast as possible, driving through gates without hitting cones, and more.

Completing the simulation mode objectives will reward between one and three stars per task depending on how well you complete them. These stars are then used as currency for the in-game store, which you can then exchange for additional track pieces in the custom track creation tool, two bonus championships, and customisation items such as stickers which you can put on your cars.

The big pull of V8 Supercars: Create & Race is the custom track creation tool, as it allows you to design and race in your own custom arenas. It's obvious that a lot of the development process has been put into the creation system, with users able to "paint" on roads by dragging the stylus over the touch screen, or by selecting pieces and fitting them together in a jigsaw style. Here you'll be able to make use of the pieces you've unlocked in the career modes, and while you can jump straight into the sandbox mode without completing any of the single player campaign, you'll have to make do with a limited selection of track pieces since many come from the store. There's a small counter at the top left hand corner of the screen showing the completeness of your work, and since you can only race on finished tracks, you'll have no trouble telling when you're done. There is plenty of space to create your hellish hairpin turns and chicanes, or if you'd like, a giant replica car park. Once you're finished making your circuit, you can do a quick fly over to make sure it's exactly how you want it. When it meets your approval, jump in and either race it alone, or with an AI controlled competitor car. There are a limited number of save blocks on the game cartridge--although there's no confirmed figure yet--so you'll need to be ruthless with which ones you decide to keep. We're still waiting, however, on details on exactly how you'll be able to use your created tracks in races with both DS-controlled opponents and real racers via Wi-Fi.

Whether you're a racer or budding track designer looking for a way to finally bring that dream corner to the light of day, V8 Supercars: Create & Race appears to have all the bases covered. While it may not suit some who may pass on it in favour of a Ridge Racer, it's certainly shaping up to be an interesting use of the DS' functionality as well as a compelling title for rev heads everywhere.

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