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V8 Superstars is a serious racing game which doesn't do anything wrong, but the novelty and splendour of a genre that enraptured me years ago simply isn't there. Older, wiser and a bit more pragmatic, I now know that I prefer arcade racers more than simulations.
It was university that triggered my temporary retreat from gaming. I was too busy working, and when I wasn't I was out partying to celebrate it. There wasn't space for gaming.
That's not strictly true; there were a few sneaky interlopers. My dormitory neighbour had a PlayStation 2 and at the end of the first year I borrowed it for a week, and became entranced by Gran Turismo 3. I loved the sunshine peering out as the trees parted on Trial Mountain, the technical splendour and winning cars for my garage. But I never got that far into it because of ever-present exams. I moved on, barely noticing Gran Turismo 4. The serious car game had lost its appeal in the rush of grown-up life.
Coming to V8 Superstars, I immediately wonder whether or not the game stands a chance with me. After all, it has sat untouched next to my PS3 for the last few weeks. I reflect on how recent, sillier racers like Blur and Split Second have been more on my mind.
Before playing I knew nothing about V8 Superstars racing. I take to the licenses section initially - just like Gran Turismo. My plan is to learn the basics and then apply it to the main game. For a while, it's fine. I get a feel for the cars, the way they accelerate and slow down, and their tricky, slow turns. I've completed the first tier, so bring on the second.
But everything suddenly halts. I have to overtake my opponent on a rain-splattered track. It's an impossible task. I'm sliding around totally out of control and spending more time in the sand than a teenage couple in Marbaya. Nonetheless, I resolve to carry on. One failed attempt to beat him follows another, the seconds between us never dropping. He remains little more than a white blur in the distance with a golden name faintly glittering above it.
Then, out of nowhere, it all clicks. I speed by at the first corner - valiantly hold him off while fighting to stay on the track.
Then, out of nowhere, it all clicks. I speed by at the first corner - valiantly hold him off while fighting to stay on the track. My palms grow sweaty as the finish line draws ever nearer. We swing right onto the final straight and I'm miles ahead. I win. I jump up and silently fist-pump - it is midnight and my girlfriend's asleep on the sofa having grown tired of my futile pursuit.
I'm ready for more, and I move on to the next license. But this one really is impossible. All aids are off and the realism setting is mandatory. I'm never ever going to finish that one. I move onto the actual races, and then I realise I really have found my limit.
V8 Superstars is like Gran Turismo 3 but without any style or raw sexuality. It's just raw car racing. But there are gaps in it's armour. When the game imposes a time penalty for taking a shortcut across the track, I'm still able to make it work. I am making a mockery of this serious racer, only because I'm not good enough to take it seriously. It's really no-one's fault. There's just no chemistry here for me.
I give it a couple more hours. Nothing improves and I'm bored out of mind. Catching a glimpse of the other racing games on my shelf I realise I'm not going to be playing this again for some time.
I'm prepared to be honest about what I like, rather than what I want to like.
My return to gaming has turned me from an idealist, intrigued by the simulation charms of games like this, into an arcade loving thrill hound. I'm more excited about Blur, Split/Second and Burnout than Gran Turismo.
Leaving the serious racing to my childhood though makes me realise I've not really changed. It's just that now I now myself a bit better - and I'm prepared to be honest about what I like, rather than what I want to like.
With so many different perspectives it can be hard to know where to start - a little like walking into a crowded pub. Sorry about that.
But so far we've not found a way to streamline our review output - there's basically too much of it. So, rather than dilute things for newcomers we have decided to live with the hubbub while helping new readers find the columnists they will enjoy.
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