If one of the most important and attractive aspects of videogames is their ability to drag you into a world or place where you always wanted to be, the popularity of racing games can be easily explained. I know, you know - the whole world knows that 50% of the human (male) beings living on this planet wish to be at least once in their lives in a control of a REAL FAST CAR.
Well what in most of the cases is unachievable in real life, can be easily done in virtual reality.
There are tons of racing games on every machine and their number keeps on rising, enabling everybody to take part in the great Paris-Dakar rally or to win Hockenheim (and finally let Schumi look like grandma on rollerblades!!). And since there are plenty of choices how to invest your money, be careful with what you do with it.
Ready, Set, Go! - or whatever they say...
Atari’s contribution to the virtual racing circus is a classical F1 racing game. All the teams and drivers which took part in the 2002 season are in the game – so you can be whoever your F1-hero is. Authenticity doesn’t stop here, as all the official courses and cars are included and Grand Prix Challenge also enables you to race with all the official F1 rules, in addition to tuning your car.
The graphics are almost comparable to reference titles like GT3. Shiny metal cars, realistic weather effects, 1:1 conversions of the tracks, the courses and the cities - take a look at the screenshots yourself if you don’t believe me.
The designers seem to have focused their attention mainly on the cars and the tracks themselves, as the backgrounds sometimes look a bit too simplistic, but as the cities remained recognizable there's only a slight flaw here.
The overall graphical impression is quiet positive, especially because of the game's speed, since the whole thing is running fluidly at a constant rate of about 60 frames per second.
As you can see you can’t get much closer to the real thing. Let’s take a look at the options menu while we are at it. You’ll find the quick race mode, the grand prix mode (where you can race in a single grand prix weekend) the season mode (where you can play through the whole F1-season), the time challenge mode, the grand prix challenge mode (where you have to “face” certain “missions”) and the multiplayer mode. Nothing special here but that’s the “problem” with racing games - they feature racing ;).
A very refreshing detail I want to mention right here, which is not unique to this game, but I haven’t seen it in a long time: the distance to the driver in front of you is displayed. As the meters are swindling your motivation will rise. This feature added to the overall good controls, which make the racing feeling pretty fluid.
The game advertises that the AI sticks to the driving style of the real life drivers. Knowing neither of them personally, I'll just have to take this for granted. Your opponents are pretty clever guys – simple tricks won’t work here – you better drive clever. There really IS a big difference between driving as a total amateur or a pro. Besides the AI, the three different difficulty levels really influence the car handling (which can’t be said about every racing game).
To race or not to race...
If you are after a F1 racing game that has all the official drivers and tracks in it AND plays well, Grand Prix Challenge is a good choice, concerning that an expensive license often equals a bad game.
Grand Prix Challenge plays good, looks good and keeps you racing for months to come – of course only if you are into this sort of game.