AU REVIEW--The prohibitively high cost of real supercars means that few of us will ever know the thrill of hugging the barrier at speed or throwing a vehicle worth as much as a suburban home around a track with reckless abandon. SuperCar Challenge attempts to fulfil every car nut's fantasy by granting access to some of the world's most sought-after four-wheelers. But while it's appealing to thrash these pricey beauties around virtual tarmac, the game's incompetent AI, steep difficulty, and repetitious gameplay conspire to make the fun short-lived.
Standing on the shoulders of its predecessor, last year's lukewarm Ferrari Challenge Trofeo Pirelli, SuperCar Challenge feels more like an expansion with minor tweaks to the formula than a whole new product. The most notable change is the move away from a Ferrari-exclusive roster to include vehicles from McLaren, Aston Martin, Corvette, Bugatti, Maserati, Pagani, Mercedes-Benz, and Koenigsegg. Unfortunately, with the exception of a double helping from Mercedes-Benz, each has only contributed a single vehicle, and as a result, the vast majority of the game's 44 cars are Ferrari models past and present. Pulled up alongside the 400 and 950 car offerings found in the latest instalments in the Forza and Gran Turismo series, SuperCar Challenge comes across as undernourished, even given its supercar niche.
The game features around two dozen tracks and lets you race across a mixture of iconic real-world licensed circuits like Mugello, Nurburgring, and Silverstone, as well as fictional raceway Riviera--a track that shares more than a passing resemblance to Monte Carlo's Monaco loop. The tracks are well modelled and fun to drive, and reducing your lap times by learning the intricacies of the corner approaches is satisfying. You'll spend more time eyeballing your racing line and competitors than the trees and stands peppering the skirts of the track, but developer Eutechnyx has included the usual tyre walls, trees, and grandstands. Vehicle models look good for the most part: the sun glinting off your pristine paint job and the water beading on your hood as you whiz around in the rain are particularly attractive.
Engine audio is a standout feature; each car sounds rich and guttural as you rev off the line or open up hitting the straight. The indie, rock, and dance music from Ferrari Challenge is gone, and though custom soundtracks are supported, your only other option is to listen to the steady hum of motors, because there is no commentary. Race driver turned television presenter Tiff Needell returns and offers the same bland mix of berating and praising instruction as you work your way through the tutorials. There are quite a few of them, but they don't provide any specific cornering, racing line, or overtaking advice. Needell flip-flops between encouragement and terse, goading sound bytes and makes inane observations about how it almost rained earlier in the day.
The game attempts to straddle the line between simulation and arcade racing, and while the move away from pure sim makes it slightly more accessible than last year's Ferrari Challenge, it doesn't nail either effort well. Sim fans will be disappointed with the paltry car customisation options, and while you can adjust suspension stiffness, wheel alignment, damper strength, anti-roll bar stiffness, or ride height to your preferences, most settings only provide two options to choose between. There are no performance parts to unlock or upgrade over time, meaning that once you've bought a car, you'll race the same stock vehicle every time you take it out. Assist settings for traction and stability controls (as well as racing and braking lines) can be disabled, which will force you to rely on your knowledge of the course and visual indicators like tyre marks on the road (although these have a habit of mysteriously disappearing) to determine the appropriate braking distance.
Arcade fans have the option to turn all these guides on, and with assists cranked all the way up, even the most powerful vehicles grip the road like glue. Auto-braking can be toggled and automatically slows your car in response to the racing line to help take corners at the optimal speed. But while the setting helps inexperienced or lazy drivers focus on the steering by allowing them to simply hold down the throttle and let the game do all the hard work, even closely following the racing line with traction and stability controls on can severely reduce your pace as you try to power out of a corner only to be held back by the traction limiter keeping you on the road. Even on the easiest racing difficulty and with a conservative driver at the wheel with the assists at max, it's not uncommon to be outpaced by AI cars. As a result, arcade racing becomes the dull task of following the green racing line.
Handling and physics are two of the game's strongest features, and despite the small selection of cars to choose from, each has its own distinctive driving feel. Lighter cars like the Aston Martin DBR9 respond quickly and snap to attention to take sharp corners, while the heavier Bugatti Veyron EB 16.4 feels tanklike on the bends. The game's physics engine does a good job of bringing home the experience, and you'll feel every rear-end collision, AI shunt, lurch, and oversteer as you throw your vehicle weight into corners. Oddly though, while SuperCar Challenge includes vehicular damage, it seems as though the manufacturers weren't completely sold on the idea. Flying off a bend and ploughing into a brick wall or running headlong into another car results in trivial cosmetic damage like smashed headlamp covers. It's particularly disappointing then that while in some modes you can be disqualified from a race for reaching the maximum amount of damage allowed, your car shows little more than scuff marks as it limps back to the pits.
Racing is split into five modes: Challenge, Quick Race, Time Trial, Supercar Tournament, and Arcade Competition. These modes see you travelling the globe unlocking the next race against a full grid of competitors. There's no full-season racing option, and whether you're vying for trophies or for points, you'll often need to repeat races until you earn the required amount of currency, such as race points, to continue. The slow doling out of these points means it's not uncommon to need to replay races multiple times, which serves as a cheap way to artificially inflate the length of the game, resulting in frustration rather than incentive to excel.
Difficulty scaling is one of SuperCar Challenge's biggest bugbears, and even at the easiest difficulty the game can be brutally hard. With assists enabled and AI skill turned down, it's nigh impossible to qualify towards the front of the grid. Skipping qualification and starting dead last and barging your way through the pack at the first few corners like a dodgem car becomes one of the most effective (though unsportsmanlike) tactics. AI cars follow the racing line to a fault and will often ram into you from behind, or simply sit behind you, while you serve out a penalty, rather than overtake you.
Once you're done butting heads with the pushy game AI, there's LAN and online multiplayer support, though like in Ferrari Challenge, there's still no split-screen to be found. Online play runs smoothly, and you can race against up to 15 other human players using a variety of customised race settings, such as grid order, collisions, weather, and penalties. Long load times plague the single- and multiplayer modes, and even simple tasks such as beginning a race over after a dud start, navigating through menus, or checking your lap records will have you sitting around waiting.
A bad case of identity confusion means SuperCar Challenge isn't sure if it's channelling Schumacher or street racing and ends up compromising simulation depth for the sake of arcade accessibility. Racing fans who have already forked out money for Ferrari Challenge will more than likely come away feeling a stinging sense of deja vu since token feature updates and new cars make SuperCar Challenge feel more like overpriced downloadable content than a new game. The snappy vehicle handling, solid game physics, and eye-catching cars are sure to impress you, but as a whole, SuperCar Challenge is outpaced and misses out on a podium finish when the race really gets moving.