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Ferrari Challenge: Trofeo Pirelli is what you might call a grower. System 3's homage to all things Ferrari has obviously been built to a budget, and has a lot going against it. Within an hour of play you'll spot that it has got several annoying traits, not the least being that it's a rather unforgiving and difficult game that at times seems hell-bent on throwing off the more casual racing game fan. The timing isn't great either, coming within weeks of Codemaster's awesome Race Driver: GRID; a game that does a lot of what Ferrari Challenge does in a more exciting and more accessible way, and with far more spectacular graphics.
Yet despite all of this, the game has something special going for it. It's not another generic GT or PGR wannabe, it has enough of its own identity to carve out a little niche for itself in the PS3 racing world, and the more you play it, the more it grips. Ferrari Challenge is not quite strong enough to be - as some might wish it - the PS3's answer to Forza Motorsport 2. All the same, those who, like me, would be tempted to dismiss it as one for the Ferrari baseball cap and boxer shorts brigade, might change their minds if they gave it a few hours.
It doesn't help that the single-player structure is both a bit old-fashioned and rather fragmented. Among the quick-race, arcade and time trial options you'll find two modes that make up the meat of the game; Trophy mode and Ferrari Challenge. The latter is seriously old school, divided up into three championships based in Italy, Europe and America, each consisting of a series of race weekends set across 13 tracks (some actually repeated within the same season), complete with a qualifying session and two race sessions.
The Ferrari Challenge is limited to one car - the F430 - but working through the three championships gives you the chance to unlock additional Ferraris that you can then buy and use in Trophy Mode. This is a less coherent series of three-track championships where you can prove your mettle across the whole range of available cars and courses. After something like GRID or PGR4 this all feels a little pedestrian, with nothing but a growing car collection to tie the different modes together. But then Ferrari Challenge isn't about giving you a proper career mode or a variety of driving challenges: it's focused squarely on delivering an authentic experience of racing Ferraris.
And this is where it's going to win or lose the punters straight away. Despite a generous selection of driving assists (including some lifted straight from Forza) and a nice interactive tutorial mode featuring advice from Fifth Gear's Tiff Needel, Ferrari Challenge is not an easy game to get into. It's not as tough as, say, GTR2 on the PC, but it's certainly harder work than either Forza 2 or GT5: Prologue to get into. These are real racing tracks, even when renamed for legal reasons, and the handling model is relatively unforgiving.
If you're not inclined towards the technical school of driving games then prepare to spend a lot of time coming off the track, accidentally taking shortcuts and getting hit with penalties. Switch down the brake assists and stability controls and you'll also find yourself spinning out. In your first few games you can probably expect some low placings and some pitifully poor qualifying times. It takes time to get used to the subtle shifts of direction, brake and accelerator that Ferrari Challenge demands.
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