Now that we have 'Dave', that free digital channel, it's impossible not to have seen every episode of Top Gear at least five times through. Every other Sunday, households across the UK are known to chant: "Oh no, not the bloody caravan one again." And no matter how many times you see some smug celeb tear around the track, it's inevitable that you'll think, 'I could do better than that'.
Five minutes with GTR Evolution, the expansion pack for SimBin's realistic touring car simulator Race 07, is guaranteed to humble you. Even grand champions of arcade racers such as Need For Speed and Gran Turismo will find themselves well out of their depth the first time they take to a circuit. In fact, if anyone makes it even a single lap on their very first go, without smashing into a concrete barrier or ending up on their roof, they deserve a lollipop the size of the Taipei Tower.
Be warned - this game really doesn't screw around. Make a single mistake and it'll tear your lungs out and feed them back to you. The physics are amazingly realistic, to the point that spinning out becomes a common occurrence. Cars handle differently in dry conditions to wet, as you'd expect. During a rainstorm your car feels lighter on each bend, making every turn a nerve-shredding experience. Smash into a barrier and you won't just ricochet off and continue merrily on your way (unless you've turned damage off). It's possible to blow out your tyres, or destroy your chassis, or even just run out of petrol, all of which require a visit to the pit-stop. On top of that are the penalties, which are dished out for overly-aggressive driving or cutting corners. It's a harsh world out there, and most definitely survival of the fittest.
In case it isn't already apparent, let's spell it out: this game is not for racing novices. GTR Evolution is aimed squarely at car lovers, who want a true-to-life touring simulation. This much is obvious just from a quick scan of the car setup screen. Click on the tyres and you can fiddle with the camber and caster, change the packers, alter the rebound...and that's on each individual tyre, not just the whole set. There's a host of other configurable settings and options - far too much to go into here, and definitely more than will ever be used by the vast majority of players.
For less experienced racers, there are a couple of options to help out a little, although nothing to the extent of a turtle on a cloud who puts you right you when you spin off the road. Firstly, there's the turn indicator which warns you of upcoming bends and their severity. Although it's no replacement for local knowledge, and the indicator can sometimes flash up a little too late, it'll help you survive until every turn is embedded in your brain. Also, you can turn off damage and other potential pitfalls, and up the traction control and stability of each car. It won't prevent you from skidding off the track in a highly lethal and embarrassing manner, but it might just ease the frustration enough for your keyboard to survive another day.
In terms of game modes, there are three main choices:
'R-Cade Extreme' puts you straight into a race on one of the original Race 07 tracks, or the three new Evolution tracks, which are variants on the crippling 14-mile Nurburgring course. Choose your car, then the length of the race – either in number of laps, or overall time. Masochists can go for up to two hours, if desired.
'Race Event' is similar to R-Cade mode, except you choose a car class and then alter the rules of the event before getting stuck in. The Mini event is as much fun as it sounds, and of course brings back happy memories of The Italian Job every time.
'Championship' is the real stamina test of the three modes. The default tournament throws you into 11 races, each in a different country. The driver with the most points at the end is declared the winner, if you actually make it that far. Just in case 11 races isn't enough, you also get the chance to do a practice session before each one, followed by qualifying and warm-up sessions. If that still doesn't satisfy, you have the option to create your own tournament – because sleep is for wusses, right?
The cars themselves are obviously an important aspect of GTR, and SimBin have done an excellent job in accurately recreating a wide variety of vehicles, ready for you to trash at the nearest U-bend. Each car handles distinctively, based on a huge number of factors such as their size and power. The feedback from each one is incredible, to the point that you can actually believe you're behind the wheel. They even sound real, with the engines of the newly-added Extreme cars giving off a growl that would make your granny wet herself.
Finally, the graphics are everything you'd need and expect. You won't be gazing in wonder at inspiring scenery, because there is none, and rightly so. Take your eyes from the track for a second and you'll be a filling for the nearest kebab shop's doner special. However, the cars all look sleek and sexy, especially in the highly-configurable replay mode, where you can really admire every curve (if you're that way inclined). As for in-game viewing modes, there's plenty of choice. The 'cockpit' view comes as default, and works a charm, but you can swap to all kinds of crazy overhead and side-on views too.
If you have the patience and determination for a punishingly realistic touring car simulator, then GTR Evolution is a must-buy. For racing novices, and anyone who thinks that braking is for losers, we recommend you pick up a demo and try it out before you commit your cash.