Great simulator with unmatched realism and a smart AI
This is one of the greatest racing simulators to hit videogames so far.
There are a total of 231 cars in the game, unless I remembered wrong. These, like you would expect, range from Honda Civic SI Hatchback to Chrysler ME Four-Twelve to Toyota GT-One! These are again divided in classes; D4, D3, D2, D1, C4, C3, C2, C1, B4, B3, B2, B1, A4, A3, A2, A1, S4, S3, S2, S1, GT, GTS and P1.
D to S cars are (somewhat) street-legal cars with D4 being slowest and S1 being fastest. GT and GTS are the sort of racing-only cars you'll see in championships, usually street-legal cars tuned way beyond street-legal... Like Mercedes-Benz CLK DTM. P1 are the fastest, purpose-built cars like Toyota GT-One.
Your car's class change when you upgrade it though. A stock D car can quickly get into the S class if you have the money! The quickest way through classes is with the engine. 700 horsepowers under the hood is never a bad thing, but racing-only tires and decreased weight is always helpful. These are not the only options for modding though. Engine upgrades include Turbos, Superchargers, Intercoolers and so on. Aero and visual upgrades include Hoods, Rims, Bumpers, Window Tinting, Spoilers and more. Chassis and Drivetrain include Suspension, Tires, Weight Reduction, brakes, etc. Aero/visual upgrades are usually limited or few according to your car. A Honda Civic can have plenty, but you can't change anything but rims and tints on a Ferrari Enzo...
Painting your car is really awesome. There are the typical painting options where you can separately paint the base, hood or maybe mirrors and spoilers depending on your car.
Then there are the decals and vinyls. You change the position of where you paint by moving the thumbstick up or down. Left side, right side, rear, front, above (hood, roof, etc) and spoiler (if your car has one) can be decorated with 100 decals/vinyls on each side! The number of decals also depends on your car... Vinyls are not too many, but you can spin and stretch and tilt them to make crazy combinations, but it would still be nice with more vinyls... You can also do the same with decals, but you can't stretch a decal horizontally but not vertically. My only complaint with the decals is that they often look chunky when resized. There's some useful "Layer Options" as well. These are options like Cut, Copy, Insert, Delete and the useful Paste All Layers From Left Side (assuming you’re on the right side).
The excellent graphics makes painting much more fun than in tuner games like NFS Underground 2. Not as good as in GT4, but still very good.
Another thing I should mention is the carbon-fiber options. Like in other tuners you can't paint carbon-fiber parts. In this game they look darker than in other tuners as well.
With the GT, GTS and P1 cars you can't change a thing except for small tuning like gear-ratios, tire pressure and downforce. There are more tuning options though.
With some "pre-tuned" cars you usually can't change painting and decals/vinyls. With "pre-tuned" I mean cars like Honda Mugen S2000 and Mitsubishi Lancer Evo VI Tommy Makinen. There's a lot of this kind of cars in the game. There's probably 5 different Mazda RX-7's in the game, some "normal", some not...
Oh yeah, maybe I should mention the actual racing... As I've mentioned, the realism is unmatched and the AI is really smart. There's a really good damage modeling with both visuals and performance being affected. All the cars handle differently and are definitely affected by modifications and small tuning like Tire Pressure and Downforce.
Racing modes are none out of the ordinary. There's Arcade mode, Career mode, Free run and similar. Arcade mode is, well Arcade.... Complete all races with the car of your choice, whether it's from your Garage or from a certain class, to unlock new cars available in Free Run, Time Attack and Arcade. This has no effect in Career, though.
Career mode is very typical. Race in different events to win cars and money. When you start Career mode you can choose from Europe, Asia and North-America as starting point. I chose Europe and could choose from cars like Audi TT and Volkswagen Golf as my first car. Choosing region also affects car prices and unlockables. When you’re in Europe a Volvo costs less, while a Honda or Ford costs more. Naturally. It affects unlockables because the cars you win by reaching a certain level are changed. Levels are reached by making money from races. Not by selling cars and/or parts... For example, when I reached lvl 5 I won a partnership with Acura and a free Acura NSX!
By reaching levels you don't only win cars, you also get discount on car parts. By reaching the final level, 50, parts are pretty cheap 'cause of the 50% discount!
The events in Career mode are often limited to stuff like a certain class or engine power. This also means that an A1 Toyota Supra would be better in an A-only event than as a S4 car in an S-only event, forcing you to think before tuning a car to the max.
The garage has space for seemingly unlimited cars, and you can buy the same car over and over again to tune it differently.
Still, there are some bugs and such. For example, adding vinyls might look weird on some cars or the "Paste All Layers From Left/Right Side" function doesn't work correctly. Another disappointment is the length in the races. I just don't bother racing 2 laps in Nürburgring to complete one fifth of an event....
The music is produced by JunkieXL, which means lame guitar tunes, but there's a customized soundtracks option. The music plays all the time and it remembers what kind of music you selected and if it's random or from start to finish.
The difficulty can be customized, whether its AI skill or aids like Traction Control System and Driving Aid. Driving Aid is a dynamic Throttle-Brake-Turn" helper which turns red when you should brake and green when you should throttle, displayed as arrows on the ground. Sometimes it's better not to obey it completely. It tends to underestimate your car/skills...
All in all, this is an awesome racer with an awesome tuning option. Why is it better than GT4? Awesome tuning, amazing AI, cool damage modeling and so on.