Looking to bring a more realistic driving experience to the Xbox 360, Atari has teamed up with Swedish developer SimBin, known for PC racers like GTR, to introduce Race Pro. The name couldn't be any more generic and it isn't the prettiest car on the lot, but does Race Pro have what it takes under the hood?
The meat of the game lies in Race Pro's career mode where you progress by fulfilling team contracts of three races each. Each contract focuses on a specific vehicle, and you need to meet qualifying times before you can sign on, or you can skip the test drive for a fee. As your credits increase, new tiers unlock as well as lucrative stand-in contracts, giving you more choices and increasing the length and difficulty of each race. It's fairly simple, but it does push players to hone their skills with a variety of cars while still offering some freedom of choice.
Other modes include time attacks, single races, and championships, which let you take a vehicle through a world tour of the game's different circuits. Online play is limited to single races for up to 12 players, but the host has an array of options to set course conditions, require qualifying laps, or give players time to practice before the race begins. Unfortunately, the servers have had a hard time keeping up with demand so far, and the company has advised hosts to limit matches to six or eight players to improve stability. There's no split-screen play, but instead Race Pro offers hot seat, letting players take turns co-operatively or competitively with a few seconds in-between to pass the controller.
Race Pro's tracks are all based on professional courses from Europe and the US, including Laguna Seca, Brands Hatch, and Zandvoort. There are 13 in total, but if you're working your way through career mode, you'll encounter quite a bit of repetition before you see them all. The vehicle selection is nearly 50 deep, but these aren't the usual suspects. There aren't any Ferraris, Lamborghinis, or Mitsubishis, and in fact, the only Japanese car is the Honda Accord. Instead, Race Pro offers models from Gumpert, Caterham, and Marcos as well as more known brands like Audi and BMW. They may certainly be more authentic picks, but they don't light up the imagination quite like a Nissan GT-R.
Race Pro may seem like it has plenty of cars, tracks, and options until you compare it to a game like Forza 2.
Race Pro's gameplay is sim-based, focusing on a robust physics engine and the player's relationship with each car and track. Every car performs differently, and just as you get the feel for a nimble Formula BMW, you'll have to re-learn everything to handle a stiffer Aston Martin. You have to anticipate tight corners, learn how much to brake, and where to turn. Just as in a real race, the game tests your level of focus and endurance, and if you get too comfortable or impatient, you can easily blow a familiar curve in the final stretch.
There are a lot of options for players looking for different levels of realism. By default, cars are set to semi-pro with assists like traction control, anti-lock brakes, and a racing line to guide you around the track. Players can turn off individual options as they like or if you have a mind for tuning, you can tweak tires, suspension, brakes, or aerodynamics and save setups for specific cars and courses. Damage effects can also be adjusted, raising the impact of crashes on handling, but the visuals don't match, only showing a crumpled front end even if the car is impossible to keep on the road.
AI drivers are relatively oblivious to your presence, often sticking to an ideal race line even if you're stopped dead in their path. In career mode, it's easy to lead by wide margins, but the competition is significantly tougher during championships. When you do fall behind, the challenge often comes from opponents being right where you want to be, and you need to wait for the right opportunity to pass them through the turns.
At the end of the day though, the real competition comes from managing each vehicle on each track. You can almost feel the G-forces when you push the limits, and nailing a perfect line through a tough hairpin is exceptionally satisfying.
Where Race Pro succeeds in gameplay, it fails in presentation. The game looks downright ugly with blurry textures, grainy shadows, frame rate and tearing issues, lifeless backgrounds, and fake reflection maps plastered on the side of each car. The menus are as generic as the game's title and there's no music during races whatsoever. The music you've been hearing had to be pulled from our own library. Cockpit views are relatively detailed, but in general, Race Pro simply doesn't live up to current standards.
For its lower $40 price point, Race Pro offers a strong core, but it lacks style and appeal. The solid physics and deep options will satisfy simulation fans, but dated visuals, generic presentation, and a lack of must-drive cars keep Race Pro from taking pole position.