I was just about to give up on Atari's Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends when a mysterious voice beckoned me to pick up the controller and give it one more go. Little did I know I'd find an easter egg in the game that would make the whole experience worthwhile.
In the world of the game it's up to you to make the Ferrari 308 GTS the car of choice for Tom Selleck in Magnum, P.I. as he tools around Hawaii. As a racing sim I'd put this near the bottom, but as a reason for shredding pixelized rubber I'd put that right at the top.
College nerd-grunge rock group Pavement is my favorite band of all time and I listen to every bootlegged copy of their live shows I can find, being too young to see them in their prime. Or, more specifically, I was listening to Lou Bega when I should have known better.
The appeal of these screeching performances is fairly slim to the average person, and I'd argue Ferrari Racing Legends (FRL) is much the same. Ferrari aficionados will understandably love it. Casual gamers and enthusiasts will mostly just hear people screaming into a microphone.
Just as the Test Drive series has drifted from arcade games to simulations, FRL starts off like an arcade game — if you go through its Campaign mode — but quickly becomes a more hardcore sim.
Campaign mode is split into three eras, each giving you a chance to unlock all 52 cars and 36 tracks (including variations), starting with "The Golden Era."
In this time period you start out as a test driver and work your way onto the team as a full-time racer. Most of the narrative is told through large bits of text you're supposed to read but have no bearing on anything. I like reading, but this is a dull way to tell a largely lifeless story. You have no free will in the game as you either complete the task or you're out (a lot like dealing with Enzo Ferrari himself, probably).
It's a kick to drive Ferrari's first car, the 125 S, into which you're thrown as the game begins. The game interprets the most basic mode as a Kim Kardashian level of easy. The primary challenge is in adjusting to the physics of having so little grip, on account of the Mischa Barton-skinny tires. Compare it to Gerhard Burger's #28 F1-87 car around the same bit of Silverstone and laugh the night away.
The physics are all over the place, but this bit is fun.
As you work your way up, though, the tasks become a bit tedious. You race on decently rendered circuits in open cars like the 125 S. The engine noise, with the sound jacked up, is pleasingly visceral. The cars aren't as crisp or as clear as in Forza or Gran Turismo, but they're fine on a regularly-sized screen.
If pouring over the details of the 1958 Monza GP track is your thing you'll have a great time, otherwise the mostly real tracks are slightly dull.
Keep progressing through the campaign and eventually you'll hit a wall and, if you're like me, be forced to drop down to an easier mode. I played without a wheel and thus my ability to countersteer quickly was limited, but I found certain levels to be exceedingly difficult. This will probably appeal to hardcore gamers. it was just off-putting for me.
Ferrari's early fascist tendencies shine through in the game, which allows no room for customization or even full damage. When you race other cars you're not getting into some of Ferrari's real famous battles, instead you're pitted against a field of cars that all look curiously like other Ferraris. And a Ferrari game without Le Sarthe? Bummer.
They've also mentioned a "rally" mode, but I never found it in the game. If someone else can point me to it I'd appreciate it.
The only playfulness in the game comes from the bits of text I already mentioned. I think a copywriter for the game decided to have a little fun, alluding to Magnum, P.I. in one challenge, and then subtly hinting that you're a misogynist in a subsequent campaign.
I admit I didn't finish it because I found it became too boring, but I'm still glad that someone made it. Many of these cars haven't been offered anywhere else, which means this game stands as a digital record for some amazing vehicles like the 330 P4 Berlinetta.
Eventually, this game will be on the sale rack or heavily discounted on Amazon. It's at that point I'd recommend parting with $20 for a copy just to get to race the cars (the F40 comes pre-unlocked).
If you're a Ferrari nut, you should have already purchased a copy, which you can play while listening to "Summer Babe, Live From Brixton Academy 1992."