Review by Harvard L.
Most developers would dread to have someone say their gameplay “feels like work”, but the opposite is true regarding any manager simulator. Developer Playsport Games and publisher SEGA have crafted a veritable empire in the sports management genre, spanning Football, Hockey, and now competitive racing. Motorsport Manager is a complex game, with lots of strategic decisions offered to players while still being fairly accessible to newcomers. Fans of the sport will delight in Motorsport Manager’s eye for detail, but there’s so much customisation available that I’m sure this game will satisfy the hardcore strategy market as well.
Playsport’s Motorsport Manager first saw release on iOS and Android two years ago, but don’t be fooled into assuming this PC release is just a dolled up port. There have been significant amounts of content added, from tracks, strategic options and scenarios – so much so that it’s better to consider the PC release as a separate release by itself. While the smartphone game felt like a streamlined, portable experience, Motorsport Manager for the PC is a title which encourages long play sessions and some serious overthinking.
One of the most striking visual choices Playsport takes with Motorsport Manager is its graphics style. With a simple black design and tabs for each department within your racing company, the menu screen looks a lot like commercial business management software rather than a game. You’ll spend a lot of time in these menus customising your cars, maintaining a good relationship with your drivers and reading emails from fans and competitors. Once you’re satisfied with fine-tuning your cars and your drivers, it’s time to head to race day.
The racing graphics have taken a sharp bump in quality from Playsport’s smartphone origins. With each course rendered carefully to reflect the track’s real world location, the races themselves look fantastic and really draw the player into the action. The game is presented from a top-down point of view, which begins to make sense after a few races are under your belt: you’re expected to make a lot of key decisions in each race to ensure your drivers end up on top.
One of the first things the game teaches you is the pit stop – on any lap, you can call your drivers into the pit where they can have their tyres changed, their car refuelled and their damaged parts serviced. Of course, pit time is counted into total race time, and fans of Formula 1 racing will know: taking an extra second to fuel up a car might be the difference between 1st place and 5th. The player also needs to decide which tyres to use for the occasion as well. Will you pull your drivers in early to anticipate rainy weather in the next few laps? Will you use the aggressive, super-soft tires which go faster, or the intermediates which last longer? Making the right choices about pit stops at the right times is just as important as car design and driver training when it comes to winning in Motorsport Manager.
Furthermore, you’re able to manage the driving strategy of your racers. Asking them to make riskier turns to shave off a few milliseconds of time will cause their tires to wear out faster, while pushing for higher top speeds will consume more fuel. There’s always going to be an appropriate driving strategy and the best of players will surely be micromanaging these settings to get the most out of their drivers. Before each major race, you may also take your drivers on a practice run of a course in order to pick up some information which might benefit you on race day.
The racing segments of this game are anything but passive, so Playsport have decided to limit the playback speed of the races and forgo an “auto-race” option. Even on the fastest setting, a single race could take upwards of 30 minutes to complete, and for casual players who aren’t interested in micromanaging their cars, it’s an arduous wait. The flipside is that it’s very easy to become emotionally invested in the race: if your driver’s been in pole position for ten minutes only to fall down to 6th, it’s so much more devastating than if you could have skipped playback entirely to see the results straight away.
In between all these considerations, players will also need to manage their team’s finances. Buying new parts and hiring new drivers all costs money, which is earned through car sponsorships and won races. In most campaigns you won’t have enough money to make all the car adjustments you would like, so careful choosing of sponsors and clever racing will keep your pocketbook in the black. Playsport Games has done a great job of using monetary constraints to keep the game interesting and to limit the player’s choices.
Thus forms the core feedback loop of Motorsport Manager: scroll through dozens of menus trying to perfect your drivers and your cars to get ready for the main event, and then spend time micromanaging driver strategy in order to gain an edge over the competition. If it hasn’t been made clear already, Motorsport Manager is deep, and it is hard. AI drivers will ruthlessly punish incorrect decisionmaking, and at times it’ll feel like your drivers and your fans are against you as well. Depending on the team you decide to manage, you might step in as the underdog team’s glorious saviour or a paragon of incompetence amongst the reigning champions.
The game is divided into a series of campaigns, each based upon a collection of racecourses visited across one season. Players can choose which team they wish to start with, so no two campaigns are ever quite the same. Little random events will also keep players on their toes – sometimes your drivers might get injured, other times the opposing teams might lose one of their star racers. These are all little touches, but they make the game feel more real, as if the player were managing real people rather than statistics on a grid.
Interestingly, Motorsport Manager is not licensed with Formula One at all, which means some creative liberties needed to be taken with course and car design. While this might be a downside to fans who follow the sport, it also helps open up the fantasy component to the game. With this change, players are able to have full reign of the competition rather than being bound by real world events – and there are definitely some moments built into the campaigns where players can make decisions to change how the sports association itself operates.
For strategy gaming veterans, Motorsport Manager will just feel right. There are a myriad of meaningful choices embedded into each part of the game, meaning that lovers of micromanagement will find themselves at home in Playsport Games’ take on the manager genre. Even if you’re not a big racing fan, it’s hard not to find the game’s competitive atmosphere appealing. It does take a particular kind of player to enjoy something like this however – there is a lot of reading and the tutorial doesn’t shy away from forcing all the necessary information to you at once. Prepare to lose the first few races, and lose them badly.