Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends Preview – driving history

If you know absolutely nothing about cars and racing games, you likely still know the name Ferrari. As kids we dreamed of cruising around some scenic Italian countryside behind the wheels of a prestigious, glossy red sports machine. The older we get, the more that dream seems just that—a dream. But Atari and Slightly Mad Studios—developer of Need for Speed Shift 2 Unleashed—is bringing our dreams to life with Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends.

I had a chance to check out a preview build of Ferrari Racing Legends, slated for release later this spring on PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, and PC, and on the surface it feels like a generic driving sim, but digging a little deeper it’s easy to see there is something here for every racing fan, especially Ferrari junkies. That initial surface playthrough showed off the strong game engine. Atari touts a focus on convincing physics models, and while I’ve never driven in any of 52 classic and modern Ferrari models available in the game, the cars handle as expected—lightening-fast acceleration coupled with tight corner control across the fleet. But each model offers a slightly different feel. It’s these subtle differences that make Ferrari Racing Legends likely more attuned to diehard racing fans.

Even a casual racing fan can enjoy the variety in race types, including rally, GT, and Formula 1, and a deeply integrated single and multiplayer system. Compete against 7 players in a single race and enjoy 36 circuits—GP circuits, test circuits, and bonus circuits.

The career mode spans three eras in Ferrari’s history—Gold is 1947 to 1973, Silver is 1974 to 1990 and Modern is 1990 to 2009. You aren’t restricted to play straight through history, so you can start your career in any era. One of the cool little tweaks takes place when starting a race in the Gold era. At the start of each race, the screen turns from black and white to color as you take control of the racer. It’s a small touch that brings you into the era of each race, each vehicle. Your career puts you in a variety of missions that aren’t always simply about winning a race. One of the most interesting and challenging modes is Follow, which tasks you with following another driver but staying within a set range.

There are small details that can go overlooked by a casual player looking for the next Hot Pursuit. For example, there are historic variations on the 36 circuits. You can race on the Silverstone GP in the U.K. in 1959, 1975, and 2009 and witness the development around the track. Even loading screens for each era show off the prestige of driving a Ferrari, with backgrounds changing depending on the era. It’s these simple details that give a great sense of time and place to Ferrari Racing Legends—as the name implies.

But it’s all about the cars, right? There is a ton of details in the more than 50 models available to test drive. You can feel the advancements made in car manufacturing by simply comparing the 125 S (1947) and the F430 Spider (2005). Both are great cars, but the Spider is simply a beast. Still, the 125 S is nothing to sneeze at as you take it on a few test tracks and slide it around corners. In addition to sharp modeling—inside and out—you’ll find car dynamics that allow for deflating tires and blow-outs. You can really tell the development team took loving care replicating these beloved cars and working with a physics engine that shows off each vehicle’s uniqueness.

Ferrari Racing Legends serves as a virtual history lesson in one of the world’s most sought-after car manufacturers. Strap yourself in and get ready to drive through a history only available to a handful of very, very lucky people. There are still some rough spots to work out in Ferrari Racing Legends, including some visual and engine issues, but we’ll give our final judgment when the game is officially released. Until then, racing fans should keep Ferrari Racing Legends on their radar. Stay tuned for more.