Disappointment is an inherent part of motorsport. Maybe it’s not where you’ll find the bulk of the appeal, but it’s certainly a massive part of the reality. It’s about crashing out in your final ever home grand prix, coasting to a halt within minutes of a surefire victory in a 24 hour race or frittering away thousands of your own hard-earned cash for the unsung glory of a midfield finish; it’s the heartbreak that defines the sport, and it’s something that’s central to Motorsport Manager’s depiction of it. Here’s a racing simulation that’ll have your heart sinking more often than your pulse racing, and it’s all the better for it.
- Publisher: Sega
- Developer: Playsport
- Platform: Reviewed on PC
- Availability: Out now on PC, Mac and Linux
Spend the weeks in the run-up to a race scouting then assigning staff to research, develop and build a new front wing, then hand it over to your number one driver to reap the benefits only to see it fail in the dying stages of a race, the 8th place that was essential to meeting your sponsor’s targets slipping out of reach. It’s disappointment that comes at great cost, your travel expenses, staff outgoings and everyday operating costs pushing you further and further into the red. Motorsport Manager shows that life at the tail-end of the grid can be utterly miserable.
Which makes any successes all the sweeter – investing time to dial into the circuit over a practice session, working with drivers’ feedback to fine-tune settings while reading track conditions to execute the perfect strategy as you storm to a points finish. The 7th place that follows might not quite be the stuff that legends are made of, but such small achievements won through incredible effort are enough to make heroes of us all. Motorsport Manager, when conquered, is as satisfying and rewarding as any more action-oriented racing games.
The Motorsport Manager name might be familiar from Guildford developer Christian West’s earlier iOS outing, though it’s worth throwing away any preconceptions if you’ve experience of the 2014 game. West and his studio Playsport Games have overhauled everything completely to the point where it’s unrecognisable – making comparisons between the two is like trying to find the similarities between the GT300 Prius and the run-down minicab that just dropped you off home. This Motorsport Manager is an all-new beast, retooled completely with the help and expertise of Sega while looking to achieve the same level of depth and complexity of the publisher’s long-running Football Manager series.
It gets a large part of the way there, which is no small feat for what’s still a young studio. The detail in Motorsport Manager is exquisite, and born from a real passion for the sport. You’ll find it in colourful asides – the frenzied and comically pained radio communications of your drivers as they question your strategy takes obvious and enjoyable inspiration from the petulant histrionics of current F1 drivers – or in the options you’re afforded when managing your team. There are factories to manage, car developments to invest in and drivers to scout, but what’s brilliant about Motorsport Manager is how it casts its net a little further afield.
In Motorsport Manager you’re given the choice between three championships, all with their own distinct rulesets – some with reversed grids, some with spec parts meaning development is frozen on certain car components, and all with different calendars and teams. Within that, in your position on the GMA – the association that overlooks the running of the sport – you’re invited to vote on rule changes for coming seasons, lobbying for regulations that would work in your team’s favour and introducing a little politics into Motorsport Manager’s depiction of a sport that is often dominated by them.
It’s enough to add a deliciously devious undercurrent to the spreadsheet management that governs so much else of Motorsport Manager, and alongside the balancing of egos that’s required when dealing with drivers it makes for a strategy game with a pleasingly human edge. Contracts are there to be broken, after all, and any true reflection of motorsport can’t be without its little machiavellian flourishes. Such moves rub both ways, of course, and should you not meet the requirements laid out by the board there’s every chance you’ll be turfed out in what Ron Dennis might currently term in a classic bout of Ronspeak, “an innovative new approach to retirement”.
For all of West and Playsport’s keen eye on the minutiae of motorsport, it’s a shame to find it not backed up by an official licence. Part of Football Manager’s charm and appeal, after all, is taking familiar names or unsung local heroes and propelling them to the very top – so the entirely fictional teams, drivers and circuits in Motorsport Manager are a serious blot against an otherwise pleasingly authentic game.
That’s not to say the fiction here doesn’t come without its own charm and its own character – through small thumbnail portraits and biographies briefly sketched out in statistics as well as the occasional radio outburst you’ll soon find personalities emerging within your team, and it’s helped along by colourful representations of each race through an overhead camera with a tilt-shift lilt that gives everything the flavour of an expensive toy set.
Such an approachable veneer disguises an otherwise complex, sometimes cruel and a little too often abstruse experience. Managing the strategies of two cars – and micromanaging each driver to boot – can prove to be a taxing task, and while it’s satisfying to execute the perfect strategy there aren’t quite enough tools at your disposal to balance out the frustration that often accompanies raceday. The feedback you’re given by drivers is a little too obscure, the ability to read lap times and deltas a little too sparse to make chasing the perfect set-up anything other than a dark art.
It’s perhaps the one area where the iOS origins hold it back and some friction begins to show – an emoticon being used as feedback from a driver after a practice session is no substitute for a proper data logger, something that’s lacking here, as is the ability to save or copy set-ups which means there’s often too much guesswork going on for any sense of strategy to truly bed in. A small shame, but as a foundation this is impressive stuff. Motorsport Manager’s a couple of tweaks away from greatness, then, but it’s far from a disappointment.