It’s been 18 years since the release of Grand Prix Manager 2, the last F1 management sim worth phoning home about. There have been games since that have tried to fill the void. Grand Prix World got drunk off its own ambition, EA’s F1 Manager was more style over substance, and Codemasters own F1 Online: The Game wasn’t sure what it wanted to be. There’s been a smattering of awful shovelware attempts on PC, as well as the odd online browser-based game, but not for almost two decades have you been able to kick back on your own and become the next Frank Williams or Ron Dennis.
Enter Motorsport Manager, a new take on the racing team management sim genre released this week for Apple iOS devices.
You can instantly tell a lot of time, effort and expertise has been pumped into this app as the intro and loading screens fade in. The UI design is slick, crisp and clear, presented with all the motorsport branding cliches of carbon greys, the red and whites of curbs and visual elements such as chevrons to make you feel instantly at home in your new pocket sized cut-throat world at the helm of your own F1 team.
Once you’ve named your new champions-to-be and chosen your racing colours and logo, its time to get down to work!
All the important aspects of running a modern day F1 team are available here. As well as the obvious need to hire two of the best drivers without having them squabble over number one status (and they will), there’s the small matter of car development itself in the 3 areas of aero, design and manufacturing (along with heads of each department), staff management to deal with, sponsorship deals to clinch and even a young driver programme to kick into motion once you’ve built enough of a reputation.
Alongside the basics of running the team itself, developer Christian West has added another important aspect of the modern motorsport world – social media. The game has its own Twitter-like feed where you’ll hear from your fans, rivals, sponsors, journalists and even your haters, which really brings the experience alive and offers an interesting way to gauge how your team is doing rather than the usual spiel of experience points and spreadsheets.
The game menus manage to pack in a wealth of information on each screen without ever feeling cluttered, and that’s a difficult thing to do with only 4 inches available (I’m playing this on an iPhone 5S). And if you ever get lost, there’s always the mustachio’d adviser in blue overalls going by the name ‘Nigel’ to help you out at the tap of a finger.
The game could honestly stand alone with just the swish looking interface and interesting new take on management gameplay mechanics, but no. Once you head to the track it gets even better.
Race weekends present you with beautifully crafted circuits that look like architectural scale models, rendered in flat shades of grey, green and beige and all presented under the watchful gaze of a tilt-shift effect lens, accompanied by the sounds of cars, tyres and the crowd. It makes you feel like your peering down into your own slot car set. You’ll start out on the national scene, working your way up to continental and international series as you expand and progress.
Head to your pit garage and choose from 3 basic options in each of the gearing, aero and tyre areas to establish your setup, and send your drivers out onto the tarmac to qualify. Each car is represented by a coloured dot that powers its way round the track. At regular game speed a swooping camera follows the car, turning to give you the best view. This actually made me feel a little motion sick, and an option to hold the camera at a single angle as it follows the car would be very welcome. Accelerate time and the camera zooms out to a top-down view of the entire track. Unfortunately the tilt-shift blur still remains, obscuring all but the centre of the screen. Again, it would be nice if everything was in focus from this perspective.
Once qualifying is over and your drivers have set the best laps possible, it’s time to race! From the get-go you’ll need to manage your drivers, controlling their temperament, advising them when to attack and when to hold back. Early experience suggests that the tyres in this game go off quicker than you can say Maldonado, making it difficult for your drivers to push. Pit stop strategy becomes very important, especially if your driver is stuck behind a slower car.
Weather also rears its wet and windy head from time to time, and a switch onto treaded tyres at the right time can make or break a race. Bring it home in first (after several hours of play I’m still yet to win a race, which is frustrating but I’ll keep on trying!) and your sponsors will give bonuses, you’ll attract attention from better drivers and engineers, and most importantly of all, you won’t get shouted at by your fans on social media! Put all this extra cash and exposure to good use and continue building your carbon fibre empire and climbing the series ladder to worldwide fame.
Although this is only a mobile game, focus has been aimed at all the right places to make the experience feel deep enough without becoming complex or overloaded, and the game will suit all manner of motorsport fans, from casuals to die hards. Its a great way to introduce newcomers too as all aspects of racing world are here to play with.
There are no official licences for teams or drivers, and the tracks are for the most part fictional (although I’m sure you’ll spot some familiar layouts in there!), but that in no way detracts. The depth is there in the core gameplay and overall experience, and the end of each race always leaves you wanting more, even if you did finish dead last.
Hopefully a game this good will be popular enough (and rightly so!) that the demand will be there for bigger and better things. An Android version is already being cried out for, and personally I know I’d love to see a fully expanded big screen version for the PC and consoles (broadened to include sports and touring car maybe?) because Motorsport Manager has all the important stuff in all the right places and should be draining your phone batteries for plenty of time to come.
VERDICT: Download it now!