A racing game focused entirely on one car manufacturer seems like a bit of an anachronism nowadays, and System 3's Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli certainly feels like a throwback to another era. While most other recent racers feature a large roster of car licenses, Ferrari Challenge is content to bask in its adoration of the Prancing Pony, something made clear right from the game's opening cinematic (featuring slow-motion close-ups of a Ferrari F430, which are practically erotic in nature). It'll certainly appeal to Ferrari fans, but it doesn't do enough to hold the interest of those whose automotive inclinations run beyond the famed Italian carmaker's stable.
Not that Ferrari Challenge is a bad simulator. The game features some impressive race physics and a decent number of tracks, but its sharp focus on Ferraris is simultaneously its biggest strength and most apparent weakness. The result is a game which strives for the level of realism and depth of a Gran Turismo or a Forza but has much less variety. And because it doesn't quite reach the same technical level as its well-received peers, that lack of variety in both vehicles and race types becomes a much-magnified negative.
Take the F430 Challenge, the game's main single-player mode. This mode replicates real-life meets in North America, Italy, and Europe, where well-heeled Ferrari owners come together to race their really, really expensive cars. Each meet consists of one qualifier and two races, with the winner over a season determined by who gets the most points from all the previous meets. An entire season of racing will probably take you four hours or so to complete, resulting in well over 12 hours if you go through the three different seasons available. So for that entire time, you'll be driving one type of car, the F430, which might leave even diehard Ferrari fans wanting a change.
If you want to see all of the cars the game has to offer you'll have to go through the F430 Challenge. If you haven't already guessed, you'll find only Ferraris in Ferrari Challenge, with the game featuring more than 50 models ranging from modern ones such as the 575-GTC to classics such as the 250 GTO. Most of these cars are unlocked as you progress through the F430 Challenge, with the credits you earn from racing used to purchase them from the in-game store. These cars are used in other single-player events such as the stock-standard quick race, time trial, and arcade modes. More than 20 of these cars also get their own minitournament in Ferrari Challenge's Trophy mode, where you have to drive the vehicles in a series of three races. And while the game doesn't feature the biggest roster of vehicles, it does sport a decent number of tracks from around the world. There are more than a dozen available, including Ferrari's own home track, Fiorano, as well as other well-known locations such as Monza, Silverstone, Infineon, Paul Ricard, and more.
While Ferrari Challenge is certainly no arcade racer, it doesn't reach quite the same heights of finicky realism as the most recent Polyphony Digital offering on the PlayStation 3, Gran Turismo 5 Prologue. Those new to the racing sim genre are well accommodated, as the game can be quite forgiving even when you drive off the track, and you'll find most instances of lost car control are moderately easy to correct. With assists such as traction control, stability control, and ABS turned off or ramped down, the game can be quite taxing, forcing you to pay careful attention to racing lines, brake efficiently, and accelerate smoothly if you want to stay competitive (or even just stay on the track). For the most part, the game's single-player modes feature races in which all cars are of the same type, which should theoretically mean you'll have to rely on driving skill rather than incremental horsepower advantages to win races. We say "theoretically" because while the racing here is challenging for the most part, it's sometimes ruined by decidedly blockheaded AI opponents who will doggedly stick to preset racing lines without consideration of other cars on the track. This results in opponents who will sometimes sideswipe, ram, and even try to run your car off the track if you're in the way. This gets frustrating if you're forced into making mistakes, particularly as having cars of equal power in races means you'll find it difficult to catch up to leaders if you fall too far behind, no matter how well you drive.
Ferrari Challenge does offer some customisation should you want to tweak vehicle performance, but it's limited to small adjustments you can make to ride height, springs, damper strength, anti-roll bars, or alignment. It's certainly not to the level of other recent racers, and while there's probably less scope to swap or personalise components in super cars like the Ferrari, a bit more depth would have been welcome. More interesting is the game's vinyl editor, which lets you tweak your Ferrari's livery to whatever suits you (and at first glance bears a striking resemblance to the same feature found in Forza Motorsport 2). You can apply vinyls to practically any surface on the car, and even stack several layers on top of one another. There are hundreds of vinyls available, but there's no option to import your own images or logos to give your car that extra personalised look.
You can take your pimped-out Ferrari online in the game's multiplayer mode, which can accommodate up to 16 racers at once either online or via LAN (there's no split-screen mode). Options here are once again limited--you can select car types, track, duration, conditions, racing lines on/off, or collisions on/off. Our testing resulted in smooth races with little lag, although we were never able to find a completely full game with all 16 players to compete with.
The cars themselves are the best-looking elements of Ferrari Challenge, which is probably to be expected in a game which fetes the Italian company's vehicles so much. Car exteriors feature an impressive amount of detail, and while there is damage modelling, you won't see anything more serious than a dented hood or a scratched paint job on your rides. Graphics don't fare so well with cockpit views, however, with rather low-grade textures making the interior look particularly unrealistic. The graphics presented within rearview mirrors is particularly poor, looking extremely pixelated and lacking definition. The tracks themselves are also fairly unimpressive, with stands and foliage short on visual detail. Sound fares a little better--the baritone revving of the different Ferraris is extremely impressive to listen to, while the game's music soundtrack encompasses a good mix of indie, rock, and dance tracks.
If you're a fan of all things Ferrari, then this game's healthy list of classic and modern Ferraris, varied tracks, and solid racing models is probably more than enough justification to make this a must-have. However, if you're a racing fan who is interested in more than just Prancing Ponies, then there are more rewarding and varied experiences to be had out there on the PlayStation 3.