Ferrari and gaming have quite a history. Dating back to the '80s and going through the modern era, the OutRun series used them to great effect, and Sega continued that trend with Yu Suzuki's love letter to the company in the form of Ferrari F355 Challenge in the late '90s. The modern era has been kind to it in the Forza and Gran Turismo series, and now the legendary car manufacturer has a modern game to call its own. The Test Drive brand is back for the first time since Unlimited 2, and with Slightly Mad Studios (developers of the Shift series) at the helm.
This team brings with it a level of polish that Shift players know about, but also brings with it the worst aspect of Shift 2 – the default settings result in controls being nigh impossible to use easily and requiring extensive tinkering with the settings to get things to feel right.
The bulk of the single-player game is the campaign that allows you to take part in hundreds of events that encompass the beginning of the company all the way to the modern era. It begins with the golden era of '47-'73, proceeds to the silver era of '74-'90, and the modern era of '90-2012. Each era can either be done on it’s own or in succession, and gives you over 200 events to play through. The events themselves don't take up a lot of time on their own, but they also aren't very rewarding – even with secondary objectives being offered up.
You've got basic races, time trials, lap challenges, duels, and overtake challenges that feel kind of lifeless. There's nothing particularly wrong with the way things are laid out, it just isn't very exciting in part because there's very little context placed on WHY you're doing the things you're doing. The racing action itself is also somewhat boring at times as well. AI racers aren't very aggressive, and are usually content to just let you pass them by. It's a stark contrast to the Forza games, or even more arcade-style ones like GRiD and DiRT where your rivals are out to win and will spin you out. I do love the period-specific outfits for the driver though, and starting off the earliest races in a sepia tone is a nice touch. It's one of the few things that really separate this game from others on the market. This mode is hampered by sometimes-vague parameters to win. A golden-era duel pits you against someone, tells you to win, but doesn't say the race will end instantly if contact is made between the cars. That kinda seems important, doesn't it? Sure, restarting only takes a matter of seconds, but it still seems quite strange to penalize the player for something that can be nearly unavoidable during a tight turn.
Outside of the campaign, you've got single events that allow you to use any vehicles you've unlocked in the campaign and really go in-depth with the settings for each race. If you want, you can race no one and just learn the tracks, or test your mettle against AI rivals – you can even pick what cars they'll use, and ghost battles for single-player and multi-player is available but there aren't many people online. It's kind of scary to have to wait for a good 10 or so minutes during peak hours to find a game, but it's worth it when you find one since the racing is lag-free and even with AI racers included, you can usually count on racing with at least one other aggressive driver who will test your skills out.
Visually, FRL looks pretty good overall, but doesn't stand out much compared to other racing games. The car models look really good, but the cars lack damage modeling, which really hurts the overall presentation. I understand the restrictions of licensing, but when the Forza series can get away with more than a game named after the brand, it really hurts the perception of the game, and it hurts this game quite a bit. One area that really shines though is the in-car cockpit view, which is one of the best I've seen. Tons of little details for each car are visible, and there are some amazing lighting effects involving the dashboard and windshield. Presentation-wise, I love being able to use the d-pad to remove either part of the HUD or all of it to give you a really cinematic playing experience.
FRL's audio isn't anything special. There isn't any music during the races, and the menu music is tolerable, but not memorable in any way. Sound effects are thankfully quite good and the sound of crashing is at least somewhat satisfying even without any visual damage to back it up. The sparse voice work in the career mode is done well, and I like the variety of engine roars. There isn't a separate one for each car, but there's enough variety there to prevent every car from sounding the same.
Sadly, Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends fails to deliver a really satisfying racing experience. It's not that the game itself is “bad” because outside of the annoying controller sensitivity options needing to be manually reworked, the racing isn't bad or even all that frustrating – it's just kind of sterile. Sure, every racing game boils down to “you race cars around a track against others”, but most do it in a way that is exciting or memorable – that doesn't really happen here. To top it off, the campaign feels like a bunch of busy work to unlock cars, and doesn't really do much with the theoretically exciting premise of racing cars throughout the company's history.
FRL isn't worth its $50 asking price, but might be worth a purchase from Ferrari die-hards just to race in so many cars throughout the company's history. Everyone else will likely be satisfied racing in many of the company's most popular cars in other, more exciting racing games. Multi-system owners interested in renting it may prefer the 360 version since it lacks the PS3's mandatory gig and a half HDD install, although it doesn't take much time to do which is a nice little surprise.
This review is based on the PlayStation 3 version of Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends provided by Atari.