If you peer into the cockpit of any motorsport racer or lightweight track day car you'll probably notice recurring themes: no carpets, stereo, comfy leather seats or electric windows - a place devoid completely of the pampering gizmos you'll find in your average motor. But as pleasant as these creature comforts may be, at the end of the day, they do nothing to improve the driving experience; they just slow you down.
Race Pro is the videogame equivalent of a Caterham: a stripped-out, no-nonsense racer that has no need for luxuries. In fact, the bare bones presentation will come as quite a shock to console gamers raised on high production Need For Speeds or Project Gothams. There are no fancy CGI movie sequences, no elaborate front-end menu screens, no pop/rock soundtrack from the latest darlings of iTunes.
Even the car models haven't been lavished with the perverse attention to detail that developers like Polyphony Digital or Turn 10 love to brag about. Race Pro unashamedly does very little to shake of SimBin's past as PC-only developers. If you are expecting a glitzy game then you will be disappointed.
But then, you would be entirely missing the point because Race Pro nestles comfortably in a niche that few, if any, 360 racer fits into. GRID - as brilliant as it was - offers an arcade, whirlwind experience of motorsport high on drama but lacking in realism. Forza 2, while taking a more simulation approach, didn't give us an opportunity to take part in official FIA races such as the WTCC, Formula BMW and GT racing seasons.
Pro's & cons
Race Pro is a serious racing game for very serious people. While SimBin claim that that they have made it more accessible in order to cater for the casual end of the console market (with the addition of driving assistance and adjustable AI), placing such layers of artificial user-friendliness actually detracts from the racing experience. Only by turning off as many of the aids as you can handle and rigging up a wheel and pedals will you appreciate Race Pro to its fullest. Hell, get a racing seat and driving gloves while you're at it as well...
In the same way Call of Duty 4 has a single-player campaign to prepare you for the core of the game - the online experience - Race Pro has only limited longevity when playing solo. Sure, the career mode encourages you to work your way through different classes of cars (from humble Mini Coopers to Radicals and GT-spec Dodge Vipers and Aston Martins), plus the Championship mode, which offers the first chance to race a full season (in one car) since the last Formula One game - which was a while ago. But the first mode will just be used to unlock cars, while the other will be used for practise. Neither match the scale or variety of other 360-exclusive racers. And the AI can only offer so much of a challenge...
The real deal for Race Pro will come after using all that effort learning circuits and perfecting sector times against 11 Xbox Live opponents. SimBin's previous titles - such as Race 07 and GTR - are so revered online that it's used for an official Virtual World Touring Car Series sponsored by Eurosport. Race Pro is likely to attract the same audience of dedicated simulator fans who want to display their talents with driving skill rather than hiding behind occasionally unfair tuning and modification advantages.
Even so, there's no denying that Race Pro isn't the best-looking racer out there - the visuals are curiously grainy, the damage modelling is more a token addition than an integral factor of the races and it quite simply isn't as visceral as GRID. Yet, in many respects - at least, through the eyes of a desperately hardcore petrolhead - this workmanlike, no-frills approach is just what uncompromising motorsport simulator fans will be looking for to prove their skill.