Right off the starting line, Ferrari Challenge manages to impress. It boasts a roster of classic and current cars from the Italian automaker, including its current jewel, the F430. It's in this beautiful beast that we hit a couple of the game's 16 tracks (there are already plans to release additional circuits as downloadable content, potentially on a one-per-month basis).
Running at a locked 30 frames per second (even during massive pileups) in 1080p resolution, the game most reminded us of GT5 Prologue visually, right down to the detail of the car models and the fully rendered interiors – and that's a high compliment. Where it actually looks to surpass Polyphony's offering is in its more realistic lighting and full damage modeling. The developer was keen to point out (and we were mightily impressed by it) the rain in the game, which puddles realistically and runs along the cars as they accelerate ... running off or even backwards when they stop and reverse. The sense of speed was great as well, and tied in with the developer's biggest focus – handling – the results so far are a great drive.
Depending on the level and types of driving assists turned on (traction control, stability control and the like), the game can feel anywhere from flat-out real to more of a hand-holding "sim lite." We decided to roll with the developer's suggested settings (a good middle ground) and were impressed by the reaction and weight of the cars. GP2 series driver Bruno Senna has been brought in to drive each car on-track in the real world, then go in and tune them in-game until they feel as close as he thinks they can be. Having never driven any of the cars on offer in the game, we obviously can't say ourselves how pronounced an effect this has had. It does control very realistically, with the sort of "solid" feel that the best sims we've played have possessed.
Ferrari Challenge is just about finished, with only some bug-squashing and testing of its 16-player online mode to go before it hits next month. From what we played, it's definitely of uncommon quality and a game that any serious racing sim player is going to want to keep a close eye on.