The range of top quality racing games never ceases to slow down. Franchises like Midnight Club and even Burnout may never show their faces again, but the ever spawning iterations of Need For Speed, DiRT and Gran Turismo have recently been challenged even more by the influx of racing games this generation in the likes of Split Second, Test Drive and Forza Motorsport. While some of those do in fact feature realistic physics controlled driving features, other, more lesser known, racing games take the feel of professional racing up a notch will fully blown racing simulators, and NetKar Pro is one of them.
While most who even think about realistic driving simulators instantly picture Gran Turismo due to its clever, yet sneaky, tag line beneath each new version, hardcore racers with who have probably gone through a wheel or two will spout the words “Sim raceway” in an attempt to belittle the Playstation fan base. While SimRaceway grabs all the glory, another ambitious racing simulation, NetKar Pro waits anquisly for those to discover its worth. And with such a wide variety of courses, smooth performance and non-weighty software, it has every reason to stand out of the crowd.
Much like SimRaceway you can instantly understand the mind set of the developers the moment you enter a vehicle in NetKar Pro. While its visuals are more likely to have you questioning its worth on your expensive surround setup and spliced Audi cockpit sitting under a spotlight of your otherwise dark room, that’s exactly the reason why the game performs so perfectly on such a wide range of machines. Without focusing all the major man power on creating a realistic looking driver’s paradise, the developers have instead focused the many hours of labour on creating a realistic feel of a drivers paradise, and they’ve managed that perfectly.
While the choice in vehicles remains slim whether you decide to go ‘pro’ or not – ranging from standard rally cars to fully fledged high-spec motorsport rider – what NetKar Pro lacks in cars, it makes up for quality. A full understanding of driving and probably a valid drivers liscence should all be listed on the game’s requirements list as my own lack of credentials meant I veered off course when approaching sharp turns – at 120mph. Certainly the array of options presented to you before setting out from the pit ranging from X and Z-axis camera adjustments, wheel types, gear Alterations and everything in between will appeal to anyone serious about putting their own understanding of vehicle mechanics and performance to the test against the game’s currently underwhelming player base, but hopefully with the right marketing those servers will start to pile up with eager boy racers.
While NetKar is designed to take the experience of virtual car racing to the level of driving a real car without the need the flies from the grill afterward, that does mean its really looking to detect something other than a mouse and keyboard upon its start up. While a keyboard will happily accompany your solo test drive, don’t expect to be putting up much of a fight with one online. Any modern day controller will automatically become the primary input device with all major controls – sans the menu – becoming automatically mapped to your pad; though you’ll probably want to switch the steering wheel joystick to the left rather than the right. Obviously the reason here is to make use of precise pressure controls coming from analogue sticks and triggers to emulate thrust and steering, so you’ll understand when we recommend a nice controller, or better yet, a nice racing wheel to go with it.
Across the game’s dozen or so tracks you won’t notice anything in the way of lazily re-used roads reverse to make them seem new – but you will have variations adding a single sharp corner or two toward the end of your lap just to throw you off quite literally. You may even recognise a few of them as what better why to create tracks that live up to the standard of real ones than to recreate iconic racing highways from the real world. A purchase of the game’s ‘Pro’ pack will upgrade your standard licence to unlock more tracks and the more fancy, attention grabbing vehicles. The pro status honesty doesn’t seem to be something even worth considering unless you’ve proven yourself to be the master of the raceways already time and time again, and even then, you’re only going to be able to compete in those tracks with other ‘pro’ users.
For those looking to up the challenge a little more and really put the strain onto their tyres, you can opt to cause a little rainfall on your expedition around the race track with a 10-stage slider controlling just how much or how little impact weather conditions will have on your race. The more you slide to the left, the more dry of a trip you’ll have around the field. Move it more to the right however and you’ll quickly begin to notice you skidding around the roads should you not adjust your methods to the torrential rainfall having its way with the tarmac. You won’t be able to add more extreme weather conditions into the mix, but the dry and wet options pair well giving you a greater sense of control over your car if you’re educated enough to battle through them.
NetKar Pro attempts to stand out from the horde of other racers by appealing to the niche player base of realistic simulation and slow cornering over high-octane, blurry eyed speed drifts around mountain cliffs. What it lacks in visual appeal is made up for entirely in its broad challenge and is likely to keep those spoiled by over-the-top racing mechanics in check and away from the servers of such a smartly designed and well researched driving simulation. This is certainly one for the engineering enthusiasts over the petrol-heads.
Value – 3/5: While the price to unlock the Pro features the game don’t really warrant the cost, the free content will suit you just fine as either or a demo to experience the game’s feel yet enough to have you compete with others.
Innovation – 4/5: Not many games can offer so much in terms of realistic handling as NetKar Pro without being overwhelmed by the bloated formula of standard racing titles. NetKar is certainly one for the enthusiasts rather than the visual fans and speed freaks.
Gameplay – 2/5: Those who grew accustomed to the Burnout franchise, Ridge Racer or even dodgy cart racers will feel a very steep learning curve here. NetKar Pro is designed ot test everything you know about true vehicle handling and is meant to feel real rather than like a video game. You won’t be battling against ghost times or earning cash to unlock new cars here. It’s a very barebones simulation leaving you to spend days perfecting lap times across a single map before repeating the process on the next.
Audio/visual – 2/5: It feels strange to priase the decision yet have to award it such a low score in this sub-section. If NetKar Pro were to bombard users with fancy visuals and heavy tunes it would do so at the expense of its core appeal. Low end PC users would suffer frame drops putting them at a disadvantage and otherwise would see no real need other than to appeal to a broader audience, which it doesn’t necessarily want to do.
Final Score - 3/5