You certainly can't accuse the PSP of having a dearth of racing games for launch. V8 Supercars Australia 2 joins the likes of Ridge Racer, Wipeout Pure, Need for Speed Underground Rivals and Midnight Club Racing 3 in the launch stable, but it will probably trump the others locally because of two factors -- its more serious 'simulation' aspects and the V8 Supercars license.
To deal with the latter first, that V8 Supercars license makes this game almost mandatory for PSP owners who are fans of the Australian racing scene. All of the tracks in the V8 series are represented, as are the teams and drivers. So racing fanatics can quickly get onto Bathurst as Mark Skaife for the Holden Racing team in a Commodore VY V8 or as Craig Lowndes for Ford Performance Racing in a Falcon BA V8.
V8 Supercars Australia 2 also eschews the arcade sensibilities of other PSP racing titles to focus more on simulation. As such, vehicles in the game feature a comprehensive damage model, while racing off a track results in the expected slowdowns or crashes. It's still not a pure simulation a la Gran Turismo, but it's getting close.
The PSP version of V8 Supercars Australia 2 is generally an excellent port of the console game released last year, and features all of the same game modes. If you're an Aussie racer, your first port of call should probably be the simulator mode. From here you can access the V8 Supercars series straight away, as well as dozens of other races from around the world (many of which have to be unlocked).
Simulator mode allows you to set a decent number of parameters, including which tracks you want to race in a series, race length, qualifiers, pit stops and grid positions. Players can also choose to be more hands-on with their vehicle, with the ability to change settings like suspension, ride height, tyres, brake bias and more.
Things are very different in the game's career mode. Just like the console versions, the career mode is a story driven piece that follows your character's rise through the driving ranks. You're accompanied by your mechanic and agent (who appear in cutscenes after every series), and are tasked with winning races or a set amount of money in a wide range of vehicles. You'll be racing many different tracks and cars types -- everything from trucks and high performance vehicles to formula racing and rally cars (there are 15 vehicle types and more than 50 tracks in the game). Each vehicle type has its own quirks -- just because you know a track back to front with one type of car doesn't mean you can race well on the same track in a different vehicle.
This is one of the most frustrating bits of the game while simultaneously being one of the best. To proceed in the career mode, you're forced to race in all of the vehicle types, so you may find yourself stuck in a class you're not particularly good at for a while. The flip side to this, of course, is that the game forces you to become better at a wider variety of races.
Another thing that'll force you to become a better driver is the game's damage system. Not only does it adequately model structural damage -- windows will get broken, bumpers will fall off, bonnets will dent and wheels will fly off -- it can also affect your vehicle's performance significantly. Everything from gears, suspension, steering, wheels and engine can be damaged, which in turn will affect your top speed, handling and acceleration. Practically every bump you make will have some damage, so skillful driving is essential. This will frustrate those who prefer the crash and bash method of racing, but those who prefer racing realism will lap it up.
While you're forced to race conservatively, it seems your opposition is not. Computer controlled cars will stick to their line regardless of your position, meaning they'll often bump into you around corners. It can get frustrating, especially near the end of a long race when an AI driver's clumsiness sends you off the track.
The only other downside is the game's load times. Every time you enter a new race, there's quite a lengthy wait of at least 30 seconds as the game loads. Luckily, race restarts are instantaneous.
Graphics are generally impressive -- they're not to the level of the console versions but they're still a joy to see on a handheld system. The cars themselves show plenty of detail, even if some of the decals are a little light on detail. There are plenty of nice touches throughout the game, such as excellent real time reflections and being able to see roll bars and the driver inside the car. The tracks are generally impressive, but some of the background stuff can look a little 2D. But overall V8 Supercars Australia 2 is quite an achievement, particularly as there are usually at least 21 other cars on the track and there's very little slowdown to be found in the game.
Sound is another high point-- not the least of which is an upgrade that you can download from the Codemasters site that lets you put in custom soundtracks, allowing you to play any MP3s stored on the PSP while racing.
V8 Supercars Australia 2 has successfully made the jump from console to PSP, and is one of the must have racers for the handheld, particularly for Australian racing fans.
Keep up to date with the latest games news, reviews and features by signing up to CNET.com.au's free Games Spotlight weekly newsletter. Sign up now!