Le Mans 24 Hours
Considering the vast amount of racing games on the PC, it comes as some surprise to learn that a Le Mans tide has yet to see the light of day. That's not to say that it hasn't been attempted, and there's actually an apocryphal tale attached. Back in 1996, Electronic Arts announced their Le Mans game, and to celebrate the occasion decided to take 30 or so journalists to the actual event, at not inconsiderable expense. A plane was chartered, a hotel was booked, a private box overlooking the pits was hired, and a selection of cold drinks and meat platters was laid on. The usual press trip routine ensued, whereby the Brits moaned, the French smoked, and the Germans kept themselves to themselves. However, Electronic Arts later re-evaluated the game and swiftly volleyed it into the bin marked 'CANCELLED DUE TO LACK OF INTEREST'.
So, three years on and the Le Mans baton has been taken up by Infogrames. Worried? Kev Shaw of developers Eutechnyx is adamant that their game won't go the same way: "I find that surprising. From the amount of emails, phone calls, letters and postings on our site, it's pretty obvious that there's a huge amount of interest in the Le Mans 24 Hours and this game. The real race is an incredibly popular event, yet it doesn't receive a great deal of recognition in this country - which is rather surprising, considering around 50% of the attendees are British!" So how will such a huge race as Le Mans translate to a video game without losing some of the authenticity?
'The problem you encounter when creating a game based on a real-life race or sport is that it's very easy for it to become a sterile and unexciting representation of the event. What we've done is taken all the best elements of the real race and combined it with great gameplay to ensure that what we have is both realistic and enjoyable. The guys who race at Le Mans spend years racing before they reach the level of skill required to compete and few gamers would be able to match that level of excellence, so we've had to ensure the game is first and foremost playable and enjoyable. The realism is an added bonus. Our producer has actually raced at Le Mans himself and comes from a long line of racing drivers, and this balance was something he has worked with us on to ensure we captured the essence of Le Mans and also produced a good game."
Features will include 24 real-life teams including BMW, Panoz and more, with up to 48 cars competing simultaneously in each race. Having selected your team, you can then compete in one of three different classes, progressing from GT2 to the ultra-powerful GT1 or the cutting-edge cars from the Prototype class.
There will be ample opportunity for tinkering under the bonnet before taking the wheel and tearing round the famous circuit. Every inch of the track has been photographed, and the game takes into account comparative height, road camber, track width, building locations and run-off areas. As a testament to its authenticity, Bruno Vandestick of the event's organisers had a quick spin round the virtual track and emerged beaming like a child.
24-Hour Garage People
Frighteningly, Le Mans 24 Hours actually has an option whereby the race is recreated in its entirety in real time. Is anyone really going to spend 24 hours of their life playing out one race? Kev?
"Well, the 24-hour option is precisely that - an option. When you play the Le Mans mode, it's always in 24 hours of game time, but that can be as little as 12 minutes in real time. Even if you do decide to play the race in real time, save and load options are included." So what's the best thing about the game?
"It's very easy to get so caught up in the 'real-life' stuff that you forget that first and foremost it's a game, but with Le Mans 24 Hours we've created something that's both realistic and enjoyable. It's got a good 'pick up and play' quality for the casual gamer, but for players willing to put in the time planning their careers, adjusting the car set-ups and so on, there's an incredible amount of depth, too."
We'll be the judges of that, so look out for our review in which we'll let you know if it's a 24-hour party or a 24-hour garage.
A car race that lasts for an entire day might sound like the dullest thing on earth - and by and large it is. The Le Mans 24-Hour event is inordinately tedious - an experience made bearable only by large quantities of alcohol, an array of life-threatening fairground attractions, and sporadic sightings of the nearlegendary Hawaiian Tropic girls. As for the race itself, the initial flurry of the start soon gives way to lap after lap of monotony, with the drama that darkness brings tempered by the fact that it becomes even harder to follow.
At no point does anyone really have a clue what's going on, and ultimately you might as well be listening to it on the radio in the comfort of your own home. The actual finish is more of a blessed relief than a genuine celebration, and most spectators return home with a distinct feeling of gloom. Not great, then.
As opposed to the game which, as the number in the corner confirms, is highly recommended for purchase. Unlike the race, it's an enjoyable and exciting experience that holds your attention throughout and leaves you hungry for more. So how have they gone and done that? Well, firstly, you don't have to go to France. And secondly, it doesn't have to take all day although this isn't out of the question.
Le Mans 24 Hours is what is known in the trade as a 'proper' racing game. That is, you actually have to have some semblance of skill to succeed, or even to stay on the track. It's not just a case of holding down the accelerator and sliding around at your leisure, as tracks have to be learned, brakes have to be used, and manoeuvres executed to perfection. And it's all the better for it.
To set anything like a decent time, you have to be absolutely on the money for the entire lap. One injudicious stab of the brakes can send you west, undoing all your previous hard work. This really is seat-of-the-pants stuff, particularly in the heat of a race, and individual skirmishes can last for several laps. There is a real feeling of being involved in a race, and seeing the flicker from the headlights of the car behind is enough to have your sphincter contracting in an irregular fashion.
While not quite matching Grand Prix Legends levels of difficulty, Le Mans is a slippery little beast to pin down, and initial attempts will have you grinding your teeth in frustration as you slither your way to last place. It's the challenge that makes it so rewarding, though - and Sega Rally this isn't, with powerslides costing valuable seconds as opposed to gaining them.
Although it's more than worth sticking with, as the rewards are manifold, and clinching your first championship points, for instance, provides a moment of celebration.
You want options? Le Man 24 Hours has more options than any man could reasonably expect. The arcade challenges are probably the best place to start, offering a chance to get used to the handling and the tracks. And two proper championships are also available, namely sprint and endurance, the latter often necessitating pit stops. Rather than simply selecting your favourite-coloured car, the championships work in a unique fashion, with manufacturers approaching you to drive their vehicles. Clearly, as a rookie, only the most desperate will offer you a drive, but if you manage to put in a few decent performances the big boys will inevitably start hovering. And if you're having a decent season, it's possible to have four or five offers on the table. Before you make your decision, you can even test the prospective cars to see if you fancy them. Holding out for the best drive is one ploy, although it's often worth taking what's there, as offers can be withdrawn as quickly as they are made. This pseudo-career mode works extremely well, letting you cut your teeth on the slower cars before moving up the ranks. While hardly rocket science, its simple inclusion adds a huge amount of depth and incentive to the game.
24-Hour Party People
We still haven't mentioned the Le Mans section. But, even without it, this would be an excellent game, but the inclusion of the 24-hour race elevates it to the status of something you should seriously think about buying. Playable over 12 minutes, 24 minutes, one hour, two hours, or -yes - 24 hours, this is the piece de resistance of the game, recreating the event in some style. Even over shorter periods, the cycle of night and day works brilliantly, with some real drama kicking in as the sun sets and the lights come on. Fuel levels and tyres become crucial, with weather often affecting your race plan. It's certainly a commitment, and while we've yet to take on the full 24 hours, the one-hour option proved perfectly playable.
Le Mans might be just another racing game, but it's one that you will return to time and again. For those without regular employment, it can go a long way towards bridging the gap between instalments of The Jerry Springer Show. And you can't ask for much more than that.
Download Le Mans 24 Hours
PC compatible, P-100
Systems: Windows 9x, Windows 2000 Windows XP, Vista, Win 7, Win 8, Win 10.
Game features:Single game mode
Le Mans 24 Hours Screenshots and Media
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