RacePro isn't afraid to let you know that it's a racing simulator. When you first jump into the Career mode, the difficulty level defaults to Professional, turning off all steering assists and racing lines in the process. But despite its penchant for realism, RacePro is also very accessible. The lower difficulty levels make it easy to pick up and play, and the career structure lets you buy your way into successful teams if you don't have the skill or the inclination to qualify for them. Sadly, the emphasis on realism has been at the expense of presentation, and the sparse menu systems and bland graphics fall well below the genre's high standards. If you can put up with the loss of such luxuries, then the superb selection of tracks, cars, and racing disciplines help make up for it. RacePro ultimately has more to offer the hardcore racing fan than the Sunday driver, but it's still a good console version of a great PC series.
Mini Cooper racing marks a great introduction to the game.
The meat of RacePro is in the Career mode, and the progression here is built around signing racing contracts with various commercial companies. You have the option of earning a place on each team by beating a set lap time and paying a small fee, or you can simply buy your way in for a premium. This is a great idea, and it means that you're afforded some breathing space throughout the 33-contract career. The difficulty model is also brilliantly implemented, letting you increase or decrease the number of assists that you use at any time, with a credit incentive that increases with the difficulty level. Your progress is also incentivised by unlocking new cars for the standard race mode.
This basic structure of the Career mode results in a very rewarding game. You're always in control of the difficulty, and you're being pushed to go that little bit further than your ability. Novices will find the game completely accessible at the easiest level, whereas the semi-pro level offers a great compromise between difficulty and playability. You can tinker with the precise settings of each of the assist levels before you start each race, so you can experiment with reducing the hand-holding as you progress. The highest level is geared toward those who want an authentic experience, and all but the most dedicated of racing enthusiasts will have difficulty controlling the vehicles at this level.
The move to the Xbox 360 has clearly brought more accessibility to the Race series, but there are still a bewildering amount of tweakable options for those who appreciate the science behind the sport. By default, car setups are controlled by the game itself, but you can always choose to tinker under the hood with brakes, aerodynamics, gears and many more. The options are incredibly in-depth, so it's great that you can save these setups, experiment with them in the Practice mode, and then load them whenever you like. The level of customisation also stretches to the control system, with sliders to adjust the sensitivity and dead zones of the steering, throttle, and braking. This will be of particular interest to those with wheels and custom-driving rigs who want to tailor their setup exactly to their specification.
One of RacePro's key strengths is the variety of racing disciplines that it has to offer. The Race series on the PC has been officially endorsed by the World Touring Car Championship, Formula 3000, and Formula BMW, and RacePro continues this tradition by bringing them all to the Xbox 360. There's also GT Racing, Dodge Vipers, and Mini Cooper challenges, the latter of which form a great introduction to the Career mode. The game has only 13 tracks--and none are available in reverse--but the majority of them are rarely seen in racing games, including a few excellent city tracks. We've seen the Nurburgring so many times in recent racers that it's quite refreshing to not have to race it again here, and instead we get new tracks such as a Portuguese street circuit with open straights and tight corners, and a superlong track from Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin, in the USA.
The car models are nicely detailed, and they're a pleasure to drive.