Swedish development studio SimBin may be a small independent developer, but it has enjoyed a prolific rise to the top of the PC racing simulation market. To build on the success of its first outing, GTR, the studio enlisted the support of the World Touring Car Championship and created RACE: The WTCC Game, winning over critics and customers in the process. The sequel, RACE 07, expands the game even further, with new racing classes, such as Formula 3000, Radical sports cars, and even Minis. While the game is fundamentally similar to the previous game, particularly in the dated graphics engine, these new racing classes add considerably more depth to an already impressive package.
Despite the addition of new racing classes and vehicles, RACE 07 still maintains its WTCC branding and subtitle. As a result, the focus is definitely on the touring car leagues, if only because the majority of tracks in the game are taken from current and previous WTC championships. Fans of WTCC will probably want to upgrade just to get the updated 2007 season information, but newcomers to the series should be pleased to see that the 2006 series is still included. This means that tracks that were dropped between seasons, such as Magny-Cours, Puebla, and Istanbul, are still in as part of the 2006 season, while replacements such as Zandvoort, Anderstorp, and Pau make it as part of the 2007 lineup. You can play the full championship from both seasons, which includes practice, qualifying, warm-up, and two races for each of the 10-11 meets. This means that getting through a full season is no mean feat; although, you can skip the prerace buildup if you like. As with real touring cars, drivers who consistently finish in the top rankings have weight added to their vehicles to balance things out.
RACE 07 is a serious racing game, but it's one that feels authentic without being stuffy. The game can be tailored to create the experience you want, with numerous driving assists that can be disabled to make the game more difficult. Antilock brakes, traction control, and stability assists can be turned off at any time during the race, but disabling them makes cornering all the more difficult. You can also make the game harder by choosing from the preset racing levels at the beginning of each race. On the novice setting, the damage level of each crash is limited to 30 percent of the real-world effect, while mechanical failure is turned off to prevent your car from ever breaking completely. On the pro level, damage affects your car more both technically and aesthetically, meaning that each bump has a noticeable effect on performance.
As if wrestling with your own car wasn't enough of a challenge, RACE 07 also provides some of the most convincing artificial intelligence that we've seen in a driving game. The AI does a convincing job of driving competitively, steering into your path to stop you from passing and even giving you the odd nudge, something which also happens between computer-controlled opponents. At the beginning of a race, you'll frequently see AI drivers tussling to the point where one car will end up going off the track or spinning out completely. Given the short nature of touring car races (most tend to stay below 15 laps, although this can be decreased if you like), there's relatively little thinning out of the pack, leading to some incredibly exciting races as a result. Even on the novice setting, it's difficult to gain a lot of time on your opposition, which means that you have to concentrate all the way to the finish line.
While touring cars is still very much the focus for RACE 07, there is also a host of new racing classes on offer for the first time. Formula 3000, Radical, Formula BMW, Caterham, and Mini series vehicles are now also available, in addition to classic touring cars from the 1987 series. Far from simply dropping them into the game, SimBin has worked on making these vehicles feel as realistic as the touring cars, and unless you're a WTCC purist, you'll definitely want to spend some time checking them out. The speed and weight of the Formula 3000 cars make them a completely different prospect from the touring cars, while the Minis are more forgiving than other vehicles, which makes them attractive to novice drivers wanting to get into the game. All these new racing classes definitely feel like they have a place in RACE 07, and racing enthusiasts will find that they add depth to a game that already had plenty of longevity.
The new racing classes also enhance the multiplayer portion of the game because you can find your niche and carve out a name for yourself online. Even though we had no problem finding a lag-free game, none of them were ever full. The game theoretically supports up to 24 players simultaneously over both LAN and the Internet. The host is given the option to select the car type, track, and number of laps. The host can also enforce rules, such as car damage, weather, and opponent AI level.
Aside from the main championships and online offerings, there are quick-race options that are more suitable for shorter games. Single race, time attack, and practice modes allow you to take on any of the tracks from the 2006/2007 series in any racing type/vehicle class combination. As you should expect from a racing game these days, the replay mode allows you to frame your greatest victories and most spectacular crashes from pretty much any angle. What's great about the replay mode is that your most recent races are all saved onto the hard drive automatically, allowing you to dip in and see the action from a race that you might have played through days or even weeks ago. We like the authentic Eurosport branding and the resulting TV-like presentation, but the lack of a photograph mode is a bit of a shame. At least online leaderboards are available if you want to show off to your friends. Despite being integrated with the Steam online platform, the system doesn't seem to support the in-built friends and server system in the same way as Counter-Strike: Source.
While a lot has been added to RACE 07 in terms of new classes and vehicles, the racing engine feels very similar to last year's game. There's no getting away from the fact that RACE 07 struggles to match up visually to the latest generation of racers. For example, car parts can sometimes be seen through other objects in the world. While the game does a decent job of analysing your system's performance and asking if you want to up the visual quality automatically, even at the highest settings, the game lacks detail, particularly in terms of the scenery. Basic ground textures and some particularly nasty pixelated grass give the game the look of a previous-generation racing game, while the onlookers are the static cardboard cutout variety of a few years ago. At least, the vehicles make some amends and the in-car views really show off the modelling work. In the Formula 3000 cars, this even extends to seeing the view from inside the driver's helmet, which is another nice touch. There are also some other background details that add to the authenticity of the experience, such as the trackside officials waving coloured flags after collisions.
There are only a couple of weather effects in RACE 07, and while their visual impact is limited, their effect on the driving experience is tangible. Light rain causes a small amount of sheen on the track, while heavy rain makes even the most gradual of corners a challenging exercise. It's some way off the huge puddles that can be seen in Project Gotham Racing 4, but the level of detail extends to being able to turn on the windscreen wipers and headlights. Some dexterity on the keyboard is required to master all the controls in RACE 07: It's definitely a game that's designed to be played using a racing wheel.
RACE 07 is a charming racing game that won't fail to appeal to enthusiasts. You have to applaud the effort that's gone into making the game authentic but also accessible, and at any level, it is always a joy to play. While there's no getting away from the fact that it looks dated and could certainly do with an engine overhaul, the new classes and vehicles make this an attractive addition to the franchise. If you have the money to spend on a racing wheel, as well as the time to play though the season and online modes, you should definitely invest in RACE 07.