Being a Formula 1 driver is probably the ultimate desire of all drivers in the world, but only a few of them ever manage to achieve this. The rest can fulfill their dreams through video games that try to simulate this experience. One of the games dealing with this topic is Racing Simulation 3, developed and published by the French based Ubi Soft, which is already experienced in this field (Formula 1 Racing Simulation, Monaco Grand Prix Racing Simulation 2, F1 Racing Championship, Speed Challenge etc.).
I somehow looked forward to trying to beat some of the greatest names in racing today like Schumacher or Montoya, but once I loaded the game, I saw neither hide nor hair of them. AND the tracks are in less than authentic locations... I think this quite clearly states that Ubi Soft never got that F1 license, leaving us to struggle against imaginary drivers on imaginary tracks. Fair enough, the cars are as good as they get, and I am not about to obsess about star drivers too much, so I probably should get on with the review.
Like in practically any racing game you start off by choosing your driver, and afterwards choosing one of the game modes: single race, full race, championship, time attack etc. The scenario mode came as quite a refreshment but more on it later. Like most simulations, RS3 will let you tweak up your car as much as you want to best suit the track you are about to drive, and in my own humble opinion, this particular game offers more options than any other I have seen, thus giving you plenty of more opportunities to cock up. You can set-up practically anything - gear ratios, pneumatics, angles... the game has a short guide to introduce less experienced players to these setting, but I decided to offer you an even shorter guide: "Touch nothing! Tempering with the car (if you do not know for sure what you are doing) can only hinder its performance or destroy it." That should be all you need to know.
As I already said, the choice of tracks is quite unorthodox or at least their names are. BUT if you have ever played a game with F1 license, you will soon realize that these are actually the original tracks with different names; Columbia is in fact the Interlagos (Brazil), Morocco is in fact Barcelona (Spain), and Mexico is really Indianapolis, etc. - this made things a bit easier. I am a slightly impatient person, so I immediately started the single race mode and went straight to Brazil... sorry, Columbia. Ubi Soft presented us with a special treat by introducing the scenario mode (with about a dozen missions), which puts you right in the middle of a race and gives you certain tasks to cope with. For instance, it can put you into the second position three laps before the end, and in order to complete the mission no one may gain advantage over you till the end. Electronics failure is a realistic element, but it is very hard to drive without knowing anything about your car's current status. The scenario mode is definitely the most interesting and challenging mode in this game. Playing racing sims on the keyboard was never too good a solution (force feedback steering wheel rules), but after some practice you can get used to it.
The cars will decently respond to your commands, but I think that the rear end tends to swing too much to the side when steering, which can in turn throw you out of the bend if you try to go through it too fast; and in order to do anything on the track you have to drive as fast as possible. I was also bothered by the relatively small turning angles of the wheels, but I managed to mend that in car settings.
The Physics verisimilitude is crucial for the success of any simulation, and that particular aspect has been designed here very well. When you drive a bit slower, you won't have the right feeling of speed (it will seem like you're driving a lot slower than you actually are), which will make you fall off track if you don't adjust your speed properly in the bends. This usually meant the last position, as it can take up to fifty seconds to get back on the track. Once you fall off, the car will usually be turned with its back towards the track. This seemed unrealistic, but considering the fact that in real life you probably couldn't return to the track at all, I choose to accept this level of realism. After a crash, a part of the car is likely to fail, which usually results in the end of the race.
The interface is fairly goods and legible, and it offers all necessary info, some of which can be turned off, so that it doesn't confuse less experienced drivers.
The AI is much improved in comparison to older Ubi Soft's racing simulations. The AI controlled cars will be very careful to avoid all contact, and they will drive very fast and with great skill (but they are still incapable of smartly responding to you suddenly breaking in front of them). I couldn't count the number of times they knocked me off track when I hit the brakes trying to cope with a difficult bend. And once you fall off track, you might as well say goodbye to the race.
Graphics are a very important element in racing simulations; its main task is to present the realistic atmosphere of the races. In spite of the newly enhanced Revenge engine, Racing Simulation 3 simply doesn't go the full length in this aspect. Grand Prix 4 and F1 2002 look substantially better. RS3 can be said to have decent rather than good textures on both the track and cars. What bothered me the most are the car models which, in spite of Ubi Soft's claims that they have 3000 polygons each, really don't look like they have been designed for a game that is supposed to sell in 2003. The reflections are mediocre, and only the dynamic shadows improve the overall impression a bit. Weather effects are OK and weather changes do influence driving. The particle effects look good, and there is also one interesting thing - when you run over sand while it's raining, mud will get stuck to your tires, but once you get off of it, it will wash away in a couple of hundred meters - sweet. The camera is also OK. There are a lot of camera related options, and the replay let me see some of my mistakes and later correct them. The cockpit camera is very good and the way it vibrates will rally make you feel you are in the cockpit. Where there is Formula 1, there are also crashes. Even more so if I happen to be behind the wheel of one of the cars. The damage on the cars is visible, but somewhat less impressive than in some other titles. If you crash, car parts will start flying all over the place, making things harder for other drivers who happen to be in the vicinity.
The sound... the sound is strange, to say the least. The squeaking that should represent high-speed engine noise only managed to induce anger and frustration. I have no idea why they digitalized the engine sounds so poorly, but if real Formulas sounded like this, the teams would have to commit their drivers to mental hospitals after each race. The rest of the effects are pretty good, but also insignificant in comparison to the engine sounds.
The multiplayer mode proved to be a very interesting experience, just like in the older Ubi Soft's racing simulations. The game can be played over LAN (18 players).
Racing Simulation 3 is just another one of Formula 1 simulations - mediocre in almost every aspect. Ubi Soft's attempt at the genre is primarily interesting thanks to the scenario mode which broke some clichés and brought something new, and to the fairly good AI. However, the crude graphics and poor sound will probably affect the game's popularity. Fans of the genre will probably still like the game; especially the ones who don't care too much about the graphics, but rather about whether they can tweak their car up to their heart's content and whether the ratio between the third and the fourth gear is 0.67 or 0.63. Oh yeah, an official F1 license wouldn't hurt either...
People who downloaded RS3: Racing Simulation Three have also downloaded:
Rally Trophy, Sega Touring Car Championship, Sega Rally 2 Championship, Rallisport Challenge, Road Wars, Richard Burns Rally, Le Mans 24 Hours, Rally Championship 2000
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