What do you get when a team of 8 people make a budget Wii game that simulates racing some of the toughest handling cars in the world from the 60s? Do you believe in miracles?
I do. GP Classic Racing is a fine game that delivers exactly what it set out to do. The driving physics are responsive yet challenging, the tracks are tough, varied and exciting, and the presentation is smooth and simple. Who would have thought the Kart Racer team was capable of this?
The handling is impressive, and the Wii Wheel works as it should. These cars are beasts to control, in an age before traction control and super soft tyres, sometimes it’s hard to even keep the car in a straight line. Braking must be done early and aggressively, and cars must be flung directly into corner apexes, all just to stay on the track. The handling is very finely tuned: when the car wiggles or goes wide, sometimes you’ll become a passenger and the physics will turn to ice, but it’s rare and doesn’t happen if you drive well. That small flaw doesn’t stop the game from being very fun to play for any serious racer.
The game does a great job of simulating classic GP style racing, the cockpit view is fantastic, and you can really feel every bump in the road as the front of the car shakes around. It’s not a graphically impressive game, but the experience is still pretty authentic. When you’re racing, all the bad textures are just a blur anyway. The cars aren’t just colour palette swaps – each car has its own unique cockpit view, and slightly different acceleration and handling. There’s only 5 tracks with 2 layouts on each one, but they are nice and varied, with a few grassy open circuits, a street circuit, and even a 1.8 mile oval.
GP Classic Racing includes a damage system, and it’s not just cosmetic. Whack a wall too hard with your wheel and it’ll start vibrating and steering will become a bit tougher. It’s still driveable but it makes enough of a difference to want to avoid walls. If you crash hard enough head-on you can lose gears. One race I lost all gears after 3rd and started to really struggle on the straights. Luckily, I had built up a one minute lead over 2nd place but after a few laps they all inevitably caught up. I fought for every place trying to put my car in the right position so they couldn’t pass. I ended up coming last but it was a good fight until the last lap and a good example of how the damage system can be a factor. Especially in the endurance “championship”, which is really just one 30 lap race. I would have liked more of that.
Every track in the game has a pitlane you can drive through. One actually saves you time with no penalty, as the game lets you drive through at full speed. However, they don’t actually repair your car. I tried everything – stopping completely, humping the pit garages – nothing happened.
A brilliant addition to this game is the replay system. At any point in a race, you can pause the game and view a replay of the last few laps, from any angle, from the perspective of any of the 10 cars on track. You can literally cycle through all the cars and see every single thing that happens on track. If you’re lapping someone and wondering why they are down so far, have a look at the replay camera on their car and you might see them do an awkward crash. The AI does have a mind of its own; it’s not particularly challenging, even on Pro they aren’t very quick, but they seem to be magnets for disaster. They’ll quite often spin out in front of you and try and take you with them, and they are very good at overtaking and defending when the opportunity arises.
If the manual is correct, this game had ONE programmer, and the developer Brain In A Jar is made up of 8 people total. GP Classic Racing is a huge step up from their previous effort Kart Racer (2009), and to see such great progress from a developer in a short amount of time is very encouraging. It’s also somewhat heartwarming since I supported Kart Racer and feel rewarded.
Despite the heroic actions of a small dev, it still has its annoyances. No mini-map can make navigating and learning some of these tracks pretty tough – some go longer than 2 minutes. The dials on the car in cockpit view are also so blurry it’s hard to read what gear you’re in or how fast you’re going; all that can really be made out is the indicator arrow going up or down. Though I suppose racing a car in 1956 was a bit like that. Zooming out to third person view will show your speed, but it’s very hard to drive in that view like any sim racer; for me, at least, it’s not natural. There’s one more nuisance and that’s the bizarre lack of options in the Race mode: you can’t choose how many laps you do, it’s set to 5 by default. It’s a shame because I’d love to do the Speedway oval track for a huge amount of laps.
All in all, the gameplay experience is fantastic. Not just surprisingly good, not solid, but fantastic and a lot of fun. This is up there with the big sim racers on consoles in terms of handling. It doesn’t have the features or shiny graphics, but the price reflects that. It’s a budget release launched at less than half the price of a standard game, and I know my playtime of this game is already higher than some full priced stuff. A good game definitely worth checking out for any realistic racing fan.