Review: Motorsport Manager21 Aug 2014 0
Motorsport Manager is a game that's almost every bit as sexy and exhilarating as the sport it simulates. It's possibly the year's the most complete gaming package on iOS: beautifully designed and deceptively deep, while still being easy to drop in and out of. It's so close to perfect that it feels churlish to point out what few flaws it has.
Amazingly, it's the product of one solo developer -- former Hello Games man Christian West -- but it has the slick confidence and polish of a game made by a hundred-man studio like Sports Interactive. I'm blown away by that and I'd probably feel a lot better about my own work ethic if turned out to be a lie, and "Christian West" was a nom de développement for a whole crew of chemically stimulated maniacs.
With its cute cartoon faces and toy-like tilt-shifted graphics, you might be under the impression that Motorsport Manager is a casual little Kairosoft sim, and you could probably play it that way and enjoy yourself. But underneath that cherubic exterior is a lean, mean hardcore racing sim.
Motorsport Manager simulates the world of open-wheel auto racing, in which you are the owner of a two-car team. West (not being a Emirati sheikh or Scrooge McDuck) hasn't sprung for any official licenses, so the game's universe is entirely fictional, with a ladder of racing leagues that culminate in an analogue to Formula One at the top. Win the constructor's championship trophy in one league and you'll be offered the chance to move up to the next level, where competition is stiffer but the prizes bigger.
In these streamlined days where simulation games are often just nicely-decorated escalators to victory, Motorsport Manager is full of wonderful details and tactical challenges. Your responsibilities range from lining up contracts with sponsors to hiring and firing drivers and development directors -- all of whom have different ratings across several different skills. You can invest in a young driver program to develop your own future Nigel Mansells and invest in your team's infrastructure to give your car design engineers a boost.
The game creates a wonderful feeling of inhabiting a living, breathing world. You can lowball your Number 1 driver with a penny-pinching contract, but she might refuse it, lowering her morale and affecting her on-track performance. Your every decision will be jeered (and occasionally praised) by your team's fans on an in-game Twitter.
The technical aspects of modifying your cars is very simple and probably a bit too simple. You're never really presented with any meaningful trade-offs for your decisions, and as long as you put some of your profits into development, your cars' stats just keep going up forever. It would have been nice to have to choose between installing an intake that improved acceleration but reduced top speed, for example. As it stands, your cars just get blandly better without ever developing a personality of their own.
But that's off the track. Motorsport Manager's true brilliance appears when race weekend starts. Every race on the calendar has two phases -- qualification and the main event. West has spared us little of the complexity of real racing strategy.
On the track, you confront a lot of different decisions. Remember, you're not the driver, just the boss, so you're never turning the wheel yourself, just offering instructions. On qual day, you have to decide how to set up your team's cars, choosing between a low-drag high-speed setup or a scheme that favours cornering. You'll get some advice from your engineer, but he isn't always right, and inconsistent drivers may turn in different lap times. Factor in that you have a limited amount of time to complete your qualifying laps, and qual day turns into a racing pressure cooker.
Race day is even better. There's no fuel calculations to worry about, but you do have to consider tyre wear. You choose between hard, soft, and wet tyres -- soft being generally faster but less durable, but under certain weather conditions that relationship inverts slightly. If the forecast tells you that it's going to start raining in two minutes, you can order your 5th-place driver to push hard and ignore tyre wear (because you're going to have to pit for wet tyres after it starts pouring), or you can stay out and see how long you can get away with racing on the tyres you're on, knowing that most of cars in front of you will pit soon. There are safety cars, collisions, and mechanical failures to take into account as well. Races are packed with tactical conundrums, and executing a smart race plan and pulling out a victory over a faster team is a real fist-pump-in-the-air-"oh-sorry-sweetheart-did-I-wake-you-up?" moment.
My one and only tinge of disappointment with Motorsport Manager comes from how tissue-thin the game's world is. As vibrant and buzzy as it all feels at first, you start to bump up against the sides of the aquarium after a while. Everything here is generated at the moment that you need to see it, and nothing is permanent. At first you'll notice that all of the cars in a race finish when the car on the lead lap does, even if they're not on it. Then you'll fire a driver and note that he doesn't go get a job with your rivals, he just vanishes into the ether. Competitors don't even stay between seasons -- if you opt to stay for a second year competing in the American Racing League, you'll see all new teams and faces there. Motorsport Manager is a Truman Show, and that's a shame, because half of what makes auto racing so exciting is the rivalries that build up between the owners, drivers, and teams.
But that's a quibble, relatively speaking. Even the relatively uninteresting research-and-development side of things doesn't detract from how exciting the races are. If you cut Christian West I'm pretty sure petrol comes pouring out. The game generously holds your hand with frequent advice pop-ups, so non-fans need not stay away, but auto racing enthusiasts will really appreciate West's eye for detail. His passion for auto racing is everywhere in this game, and Motorsport Manager is quite possibly the best sports sim on mobile as a result.
Motorsport Manager was played on an iPad Air for this review.
Review: Motorsport Manager
09 Mar 2017 2