Few automotive manufacturers have a legacy that's as bold and exciting as that of Ferrari. Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends has the advantage of being able to draw on that rich and thrilling history. It includes 51 cars from Ferrari's past and present, from the 1947 125 S to the 2011 150° Italia. These are incredible machines; the 1967 330 P4, the '84 Testarossa, the 2005 FXX--the sleek lines and sharp contours of these cars can quicken the pulse of most any red-blooded automotive enthusiast. Unfortunately, despite having such an exciting stable of vehicles to celebrate, Ferrari Racing Legends flounders, with a poorly designed campaign that's structured in such a way that even the privilege of driving some of the most coveted cars ever produced becomes a chore.
Why does the campaign matter so much? Because the overwhelming majority of content--most cars and tracks--are locked at the start and can be unlocked only by playing through the campaign. The campaign is divided into three eras--golden, silver, and modern--and each era includes anywhere from 53 events to over 100 for you to complete.
The problem is that each era is structured as a linear series of events; until you complete one event, you can't do the next. Additionally, many of the events are extremely difficult. The result is that you might find yourself stuck attempting the same event over and over again, not because you get any enjoyment out of attempting the same feat in the same car on the same track umpteen times, but because you want access to the content you'd unlock for completing it, as well as the opportunity to play later events in the campaign.
If you come across an event that you just can't win, you're out of luck. There's no way to skip an event and move on to later ones in the same era. All the cars and tracks that can be unlocked only by completing subsequent events in that era will remain locked to you, forever. Of course, it's nice to be rewarded for success, and the lure of unlockable content is an effective incentive to meet certain goals in any number of games. But Ferrari Racing Legends' inflexible, uncompromising campaign isn't a source of enticing rewards so much as it is a source of demoralizing punishment. Unless you have incredible patience and determination, you won't be willing to jump through the infuriating hoops this game requires you to, and most of the content will remain inaccessible.
That's a shame, because when you're not running up against these frustrating constraints, driving these cars can be a pleasure. Ferrari Racing Legends isn't one of the most visually impressive racing games on the market, but the beauty inherent in Ferrari's designs makes the cars attractive, and many of the track locations are picturesque. Of course, one Ferrari can handle very differently from another--a 1948 166 Inter that tops out at 125 miles per hour feels quite different from a 1995 F50 that can hit 202mph--but they're all extremely quick and responsive.
This is a simulation, not an arcade racer. It takes skill to guide these cars around tracks in good time, and until you learn to tame them, driving these powerful machines can be frustrating at times; it's very easy to head into turns too fast and lose control. An optional racing line can help you handle those corners, and a good assortment of views (including a cockpit view) lets you find a perspective you're comfortable with. A convincing sense of speed and the authentic whines and roars of engines can transport you to the racetrack, and there are moments when you get completely caught up in the experience of racing.
But compared to other simulation racers, the Ferrari Racing Legends experience is frustratingly uncustomizable. There are five driving assists, including steering help and braking help, but you can't turn these on or off independently. Instead, you must choose from three driving models--novice, normal and pro--each of which puts the driving assists into a preset configuration. Additionally, there's no rewind option. A single slip-up at the end of a long event can cost you victory, and your AI opponents can be maddeningly aggressive and nudge you off the road, leaving you with little choice but to restart. When things like this happen, you'll lament the absence of rewind. The objectives of campaign events vary a bit. You may need to set a certain lap time, finish in the top three in a race, or avoid falling too far behind other drivers. These events are prefaced by narrative text, but the game's attempt to craft a story within the campaign falls flat. Being told that "you received a penalty for supposedly cutting the track on your best lap" in an event that happened offscreen doesn't create drama; it just makes you feel less connected to the career you're playing through.
This disconnect is driven home by the way some events are divorced from their descriptions. In one event, for instance, the text informs you that you're hitting the track to practice a team technique called heads and tails, in which one driver--you, in this case--can stay behind the other for the first two laps and then take the lead for the final two laps. However, once you hit the track, there's no reason not to just disregard heads and tails completely and take the lead right away.
But these issues pale in comparison to the campaign's awful structure and the ruthless way in which content is doled out. You can escape the campaign by diving into the quick race option, or the phantom time trial option in which you can practice by racing against ghost cars of your own best times. However, in both of these modes, you're limited to using courses and cars you've unlocked in the campaign.
The same is true when you create a game on Xbox Live. Online races allow up to eight players to compete, and they work well, though at this stage, very few people are playing online, and you tend to see the same few cars and tracks appear again and again. Ferrari Racing Legends all but squanders its greatest asset--a vast collection of fantastic cars--by locking most of them behind campaign challenges that quickly become tiresome. Ferrari enthusiasts may squeeze some enjoyment from this game, but it's far from being the elegant, finely tuned celebration the Ferrari legacy deserves.