Volvo: The Game - A Comprehensive Gaming Review
Advertising tie-ins in the world of computer games are nothing new. Neither, for that matter, are advertising games for the purposes of advertising cars. On the face of this evidence, Volvo: The Game would appear to be nothing peculiar, but a cursory look at the game reveals elements which are really quite novel. In mid-2009, SimBin Studios, developers of the officially-licensed GTR and RACE series of driving simulators, collaborated with Volvo to produce a game designed to advertise Volvo's line-up of cars.
Volvo: The Game is built on the same modified ISI engine as the rest of SimBin's games, and as such, could be classified as a proper racing simulator, complete with representative physics for each of the cars. At this point, some people may be scratching their heads, wondering why exactly a car manufacturer like Volvo would be wanting to play up the sporty characteristics of their cars. Apparently, though, they've had a bit more success on the racing front than would be widely acknowledged, with some success in the domestic Swedish Touring Car Championship and the British Touring Car Championship. Considering the reputation of SimBin for producing solid racing simulators, they might just be trying to find a market for their cars outside the large family which just wants to cocoon their children inside solid Swedish steel.
The game comes with seven cars, unfortunately only two of them being the iconic "designed-using-a-set-square" models from Volvo's past. Three of the remainder are more modern touring car racers from the STCC and BTCC, and the remaining two are based on Volvo's recent S60 concept, a slinky, sporty-looking car which doesn't seem to owe much to Volvo's design concepts of the past. Each of these cars can be raced on two tracks, the STCC track on the streets of Göteborg, and the Chakaya Sports Complex in the Ukraine, the latter of which is unique to this game and hasn't yet been represented in any other racing simulator.
Compared to SimBin's commercial simulators, the list of options and features available in a race is rather limited; there's no damage, there can only be a maximum of twelve cars on the grid, and cars are randomly placed on the grid, for one thing. That said, the game is free (as in beer), so what SimBin has given us in the game actually seems quite generous. It's a lot more flexibility than you get in most free advertising games, which is commendable.
What is also impressive is the amount of detail that's gone into the actual racing action. The cars feel responsive and realistic, which makes a nice change from the floaty arcade-like handling of cars in other automotive racing games (yes, I'm looking at you, Yaris!). In typical SimBin fashion, the external and internal details of the car, including dashboards and decals, have been replicated in-game. The work that's gone into the tracks also has to be congratulated; even though the Göteborg track was previously used in STCC - The Game, the Chakaya track was replicated solely for this game, and both of the tracks feel like they've actually been used, with rubber laid down at the braking points along the corners, and along the straights at Göteborg.
The graphics aren't fantastic, without some of the more modern shadowing effects found in other games. Of course, SimBin's other simulators aren't graphical masterpieces either, and the slightly low-spec graphics do make it possible for a greater variety of gamers to experience the game. In contrast, the sound design is decidedly impressive, particularly on the engine notes of each of the cars. The touring car growls, with their burbling notes on deceleration, are as good as any found in RACE 07, and again, this deserves commendation.
All in all, this leads to a surprisingly impressive game. However, there is one rather glaring weakness of the game - like most proper racing simulators, it really needs a steering wheel to play it properly. A keyboard and mouse will just about suffice at the lowest difficulty setting, with all of the game's driving aids turned on and the AI set to a low difficulty setting, but for the full experience, you really need the proper peripherals. Considering that gamers who already have a PC steering wheel are probably reasonably hardcore sim-gamers, it seems strange to be targeting a niche market with your products. As I mentioned above, Volvo are probably trying to aim for a new market, but it seems like an odd move to me. I'd say that the game actually works better as a sales pitch for SimBin's games, but as the saying goes, "There's no such thing as bad publicity" - and you could hardly consider this to be bad.
Bottom Line: Scoff all you want about the idea of Volvo's cars going racing, but this is still a surprisingly competent game. It may be limited in its scope, but for the price you pay, you get a proper racing experience.
Recommendation: Simulation gamers with their own steering wheels may want to try this game out as a somewhat different experience to the norm, but shouldn't expect as many options as in their usual games. For other gamers, this is a polished, but difficult and occasionally frustrating experience which it's worth trying, but which would require a disproportionate investment to get the most out of.
RAK, I'm glad you're back, but how long can you continue this prolificness before you grow apathetic and want to leave again?
Solid review, too. It certainly lived up to the titular comprehensiveness and it embodies your direct, information-laden style which I have come to enjoy immensely. The only legitimate criticism I can make is the absence of images to support your point about the unimpressiveness of the graphics.