• Ferrari F-355 Challenge Review - Sega Dreamcast

    Okay, time to own up. Who of us has ever dreamt of owning a Ferrari? Ah, I see plenty of hands. Who has gawped as a Ferrari slenders it's way past while you're in town? Yet more hands! Who has ever power-drifted a Ferrari out of the Parabolica at Monza? None of you! Well, looks like that is about to change.

    Bought to Yu Suzuki and his crack team of coders at AM2, F355 Challenge Passione Rossa brings the power and the beauty of arguably one of Ferrari's finest cars into your home. Based upon the real life Ferrari 355 Challenge race series, the game allows you to race one of these stripped out, race bred red lovlies.
    Initial signs are excellent. The attract sequence from the arcade begins after the usual credits, using the in-game engine rather than FMV. It shows off the gorgeous visuals and little details you won't see in the game normally, such as the fully detailed interior of the car, right down to the traditional chrome HH gearbox gate. Unfortunately, the music is pretty much the opposite of the graphics. It's downright awful. That is, of course, you enjoy cheesy 80's style rock music. Fortunately you can turn it off while driving.

    Since this is an arcade port, you're given the usual options to select at the main menu. Selecting Arcade or Single Race brings up the track select option, with Motegi, Suzuka Short, Monza, Sugo, Suzuka and Long Beach all ready for selection, with other real life tracks opening up as rewards for accomplishing certain tasks. Then it is onto the transmission select, and seeing as this is meant to be an all out simulation, the reviewer suggests ignoring the auto 'box with braking assist, and going for the manual gear box for the get-go. After that, you're giving the option of fine tuning your car (essential for shaving those hundredths of a second off a lap time), and then onto the race.

    Then the fun begins. You're sitting on the grid in a car made by the world's most famous marquee, at some of the world's finest tracks. Blipping the throttle sends the rev's spiralling, and the metallic shrill of the engine sends shivers down your spine. 7 other Ferrari's are lined up in their positions ahead of you. The red light illuminates…engine note's rise in proportion with tension…a pause, then, green light. A good start enables you to pull past the driver in 7th place. You tuck in behind the driver in 6th place to get into his aerodynamic toe and follow him along to the first chicane. Waiting until the last possible moment you pop out from behind his car. He brakes late…you brake later…and chances are if this is one of your first few goes at the game, you'll end up floundering in the gravel trap.

    You see, this game has a huge learning curve, and I mean HUGE. Even though you have traction control, anti lock brakes and stability control, you will still struggle. For some people the difficulty is going to put them off the game forever. Unlike some other games you can't just jump in and zoom around the circuit. To the game's credit, it does have the option of a training session, where you follow a red line around the course denoting the racing line, and a voice telling you when to brake and change gear. The flip side of the difficulty is the immense sense of self-achievement when you finish a race, let alone come in first place. While I mention satisfaction, I will add that if you're the type of gamer who feels rewarded solely by gaining a extra tracks, a new costume or an extra special move, this game isn't really going to appeal to you. Sure, there are 5 extra tracks to open up, but the enjoyment comes from pulling off an audacious overtaking manoeuvre, clipping the apex of a corner at juuuust the right point, or the first time you break the 1 minute 30 barrier around the Suzuka Short circuit.

    A feature of the game I have not mentioned is the online functions F355 has. There are 2 separate modes that feature internet access, online lap time ranking and internet racing. The online rankings are just as you would imagine. A list of lap times submitted by players. It is very simple to compete. All you do is connect to the internet via the game's browser, and you are taken directly to the game's website. From there you must register, and then you simply click "upload" et voila, you're entered into the worldwide rankings. On an interesting note, players using the Ferrari 355 Challenge 2 arcade machine can upload the best times in their session to the same score board and compare. Although comparing lap times does not sound too compelling, you'll be amazed how drawn into upping your name on the score board you'll get. In fact a lot of the fun in the game comes from working at decreasing your lap time, working out new lines, braking as late as you dare into a corner, all to shave those fractions of a second that you need to put you ahead of Londo from Spain.

    Then of course there is the online racing I mentioned. Now before you all jump for joy this is not 'true' online racing. The formula for racing online in F355 needs a bit of explaining. First up, select "Network Race" for the main menu, and the DC will connect to the internet. From there you select your circuit and transmission, and then you wait for other racers to join. Once you have a minimum of 2 players and a maximum of 16 players, you then begin qualifying. You do 1 lap around the selected circuit (which is chosen by the majority vote) and then your time along with everyone else's is uploaded to the server. Players are ranked in order of quickest to slowest, and if there are more than 8 players, the slowest are not entered into the final race.

    Then the 'race' begins proper, but it isn't really a race. You take up your grid-slot on the track, but there aren't any cars around you. The way F355 wants to do it's online race is by asking everyone to drive a race around the circuit as a time trial. Their data is uploaded onto the server along with yours and all the other competitors, and then it is all download onto your Dreamcast. You are then automatically disconnected from the internet and sit and watch a replay of your race along with everyone else on the track. Of course, collisions are impossible to take into account this way so all the other cars are ghost cars. This is a bit of a disappointment considering how much the Dreamcast's online abilities have been hyped about. Indeed such functionality was the major point made in many of the advertisements. It is in it's own way a lot of fun. Racing against human competitors (even if you can't see them) does get the heart beating faster than against artificial competitors, however good the AI. It is even better playing against someone you know.

    Which brings me on to offline multiplayer. You have the usual 2 player split screen gubbins. It still plays in silky smooth 60-FPS glory and maintains a lovely draw distance. Also included as a secret option is a link up mode, but the review does not have access to the necessary hardware to test this feature.

    It's also worth while mentioning that this game feels absolutely perfect with a steering wheel controller. Pin sharp steering response, none of your vague lagged steering that you usually find tacked on in racing games.

    All in all, if you think you can live with going nowhere but into the gravel for the first few goes, and feel rewarded by your continual improvement at a game, then this is well worth a go!

    Score: 8/10

    Text by: Oliver Grant
    Comments 5 Comments
    1. JU!'s Avatar
      JU! -
      One of my favouirite games, would love it to get a PSN/360 store HD release. As the PS2 version I own really needs Dreamcast style (Miss my Dreamcast) analogue triggers like on the PS3 pad, or a steering wheel. Nice review highlighted all the intricacies of the game. Would also love a widescreen option with the 3 split sections ala the Arcade cabinet. Used to love the paper print out of stats the Arcade cab would give too.
    1. charlesr's Avatar
      charlesr -
      The only thing missing from the review is detail about the crazy shifting for drift technique that you need for the really good times. I couldn't get my head around if this was the equivalent of snaking of it was by design. It's a really weird cross between arcade and sim and stuff like that makes it even harder to label
    1. englishbob's Avatar
      englishbob -
      My fav racer, ever. Great AI and "that" other-car-awareness grid (top of the screen in the middle) is in dire need of being adopted in EVERY online racing game.

      Still unbeaten. I plowed so much time into this on the DC.
    1. shiffy's Avatar
      shiffy -
      Also, my fave racer ever, but in the arcades. I was spoilt by playing the 3-screen version. I would only ever play the "full sim"mode (using full 6-speed manual gears & no traction control/ ABS). I got bored of Motegi very quickly as I'm not a fan of ovals (best left for beginners!). I enjoyed the Monza track, nailing the perfect lines through Ascari, I think, was key to a good lap (I'll admit to taking a slightly unusual line through the Parabolica). I could never really get to grips with the Sugo circuit, it never really "flowed" with me. Suzuka, one of the world's greatest circuits. This will probably be the closest (at the time) anyone could ever get to taking a Ferrari around this track. Pushing for that extra speed through the "S's" while blipping the throttle (bear in mind full 6-speed gearbox & no traction control) knowing that blipping the throttle a little too much would send the car into a spin & wreck the race. Getting 130R just right was a pleasure.

      My favourite track though was Long Beach, and I did get quite daring in the final couple of corners!. this track required precision or otherwise you're in the wall! Again, using 6-speed & no traction control, I would take the normal racing line through every corner up to turn 9. Then, I would drift (yes, DRIFT) through Turn 10 which would then set me up with a extremely quick line through the Turn 11 hairpin and back onto the straight. Getting this series of corners right (my way of right!) was exhilirating and could produce laptimes in the very low 0:57's & high 0:56's.

      For me, the definitve version of the game was the 3 screen arcade version. the level of control I thought was brilliant. Changing down the gears (engine braking) meant you could break fractions later than you otherwise would. I remember they released a 2-player version that only had 1 screen & ditched the clutch & stick. I couldn't get on with this version. I felt as if I wasn't in control of the gear changes when using the paddle-shift. I could never replicate the laptimes I previously got on the "Deluxe" version on this single screen version.

      Then I got the game on DC. I was never expecting the "3 screen experience". But as a home port I was thoroughly pleased. Sadly though, I never owned a wheel for the DC so I don't know how close the home experience was to the arcade.

      The memories! I look back at this game with much affection, especially the "3 screen" version. I wonder how much one of these machines would set you back now?!

      For me, I think today's nearest equivelent is using the F355 (unmodded & in standard tuning) in Forza 2 (there's something about the handling in Forza 3 & 4 that doesn't seem right to me while using a pad). If there's anybody who fancies reliving the F355 days using the tracks in Forza 2, then add me on XBLA (shiffy uk).
    1. Altopwyn's Avatar
      Altopwyn -
      I'm still a big Dreamcast fan and collector, and I'm lucky enough to have built up a proper 2 player set-up over time.
      I have 2 Dreamcasts connected to a monitor each via VGA boxes ( Stunning ). Then 2 Ferrari branded Dreamcast Steering wheels with pedals. I also have one metal framed driving seat/pod thing, but need another to neaten everything up, then you can sit side by side properly. Though I've been thinking about building something out of MDF. more like a proper arcade cabinet. I'll get round to posting a pic or video at some point, but i've only just joined the forum ( and i'm actually at work. Sshhh. )
      My set up with monitors cost me less than ?150 ( $230 ), and justing having had a poke around on the net, I found a twin cabinet ( 2 player ) for just under $6000 , which is about ?4000. I think i'll make do with what i've got...