GT5’s B-Spec mode is a curious animal. A curiously thick animal.
So what is it? For the uninitiated, B-Spec is essentially a very basic manager mode in which you have to play the whole game over again, only this time instead of driving, you get to watch the AI pootle your hard-earned cars around races that are twice as long as the originals while you tell your robot driver how fast or slow to drive.
So you don’t have to bother with it, right? Wrong! To complete the game, GT5 requires the user to complete B-Spec mode as well as A-Spec mode – you know, the one you bought the game for – the actual game. The one where you drive all the cars. That one. So rather like having a second helping of Christmas dinner – you don’t have to, but you feel you should.
Because B-Spec drivers have the intellectual capacity of a particularly thick two year-old you are required to feed regular commands to them at the wheel. For example, should your driver be in second place on the last lap of a race, you would need to tell your driver to ‘overtake’, as he wouldn’t be able to work that out for himself. You have four commands in total – ‘decrease pace’, ‘maintain pace’, ‘increase pace’ and ‘overtake’. You must issue these commands at appropriate moments and hope your driver takes notice. SOUND FUN? No, you’re right.
B-Spec drivers also have the driving skills of badly-trained monkeys behind the wheel. In a race and car in which A-Spec mode would see you streaking away into the distance after the first corner, B-Spec drivers can struggle to stay in the midfield. Even in a vastly overpowered car, an inexperienced B-Spec driver will drive away into the distance before spinning out and waiting for the entire field to pass him again before re-joining. He’ll never go for a gap. In fact he’ll never see the gap, just drive patiently in line behind the vastly inferior car in front, regardless of whether or not that car is a Toyota.
All the while you must maintain your driver’s progress bar between ‘cool’ and ‘hot’. Too cool and he’ll drive so slowly he may be overtaken by stationary tortoises. Too hot and he’s more likely to lose control than a horny teenage boy lets loose in the Playboy Mansion.
B-Spec drivers do get better over time, and I admit that sometimes you can just stick your driver in a Bugatti Veyron and leave him to it, but in evenly-matched races progress can be painstaking. And when races are so long (did I mention they were twice as long as usual? Yes I did) and your B-Spec driver messes up a big lead on the final laps it can be infuriating.
So the races are too long, you can’t pause the game for whatever reason, and all the drivers have silly names which you choose from an endlessly disappointing list of pre-defined options. The whole feel of B-Spec to me is unfinished, and I wish they had used however much time it took to programme B-Spec mode into making the proper game better. Playing it feels like you have been appointed manager for the day of some sort of special needs race driver training school and you have to keep explaining what to do to somebody driving that can drive a car but has never even heard of motor racing. Kind of like level 2 of the Stig Farm.
The B-Spec drivers feel to me like badly-programmed robots, but hey – what do I know? Maybe watching remote-controlled racing drones from your living room is the future of motorsport. Maybe we’ll all be phoning and texting in our votes from home telling our favourite robot drivers to up their pace and overtake others like a weird robotic motorsport-based X-Factor. After all, virtual horse racing exists so this might be the next natural step, although it feels unnatural and not particularly enjoyable.
You’ll never wake up in the morning and want to play B-Spec, or care about your virtual driver’s progress, but it’s an interesting thing to have on in the background while you do other things. Like vacuuming, or trimming your toenails, or writing this article. Level 10 now.
(Incidentally, there’s one possible reason for playing B-Spec. That’s the chance to win a Mercedes if you own the signature edition. We should also probably point out that AI drivers existed in Forza Motorsport 2 and that they could be trained up to race for you, based on your driving abilities – Dan)