Race Driver: Create & Race

Somehow, building sporting venues is harder than it seems. Just thinking about how long it took to finish the new Wembley Stadium is already giving London council tax payers butterflies about the 2012 Olympics. As for the Silverstone racing circuit, despite Lewis Hamilton, we all know F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone has being try to dump it for more exotic (and advertising-friendly) locations for years.

For what it's worth, our proposals for the revamp include a triple hairpin and 'Pocket Gamer' spelt out in oak trees – definitely better than the current set-up. Alas, it looks like the design we drew in crayon and faxed to the National Lottery committee will be rejected. But that's okay. Codemasters has given us the next best thing, in the form of Race Driver: Create & Race.

As the title suggests, the game includes some additions to the typical racing formula, such as a nifty track designer that enables you to fulfil all of your Silverstone-modernisation fantasies, as well as the ability to share your creations with friends. Or even any DS-owning National Lottery committee members.

The focus remains on the racing, however. There's a whole host of game modes packed into Create & Race, most of which are initially locked, only becoming available as you complete challenges and competitions. Similarly, the World Tournaments introduce you to the dozens of available car types – everything from a Nissan 350 Z to Pontiac Firebird and Racing Renault Clio. Vroom, vroom. In addition, there are 31 real-world circuits, including the Nürburgring, Spa-Francorchamps and that well-known racing track, Nashville, Tennesse.

The supplied circuits are just the tarmac on the racing cake, though. Once you've completed a few challenges and tournaments, you'll want to turn your hand to making tracks of your own. The track designer makes it possible to place scenery and pre-made track elements or you can dive right in and draw your own grid-based route using the stylus. The grid isn't huge, but it's big enough for all but the most ambitious circuit designs.

After a few attempts with the designer you'll probably find yourself wanting more to play with, and that's where Race Driver's Rewards Shop comes into play. Here you can spend the points earned by winning championships and completing challenges, buying extra pieces for the track designer, as well as bonus tournaments and challenges. It adds a nice incentive to keep getting better, as well as encouraging you to try that time trial for the 50th time.

Getting better isn't simple, however, so you'll find the Challenges mode a useful feature, as it offers reward points for additional skills such as manoeuvring and overtaking.

Create & Race is a far from easy game. The TOCA Race Driver series within which it resides rightly has a reputation for being tough (over the years we've enjoyed wrestling with its PSP outings), and though an attempt has been made to be kinder in this edition in terms of more arcade-based gameplay, you're still going to come last relatively often.

The biggest challenge isn't actually realism. Stray too far off the track and you'll find yourself spinning into last place, but the hardest part of a race is surviving the other racers. Your opponents have a tendency to be glued to the road at all times and they follow a predictable racing line so when you get between them and their favoured piece of tarmac things start to go wrong. Pile-ups frequently happen at corners and the rather unfair penalty system assumes collisions are your fault. Despite the lack of graphical damage, this often punishes you with a forced pit stop that can cost you the race win.

Still, although it's difficult, Create & Race is great fun, too. You'll get stuck frequently but there's always something new to accomplish, and so even when you're discovering the Honda GT has a turning circle the size of Lake Geneva, there will be two or three other tournaments to try out.

If the single-player finally turns you off, though, Create & Race also offers a generous array of multiplayer modes, including full Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection support and Download Play for up to three other players, meaning that four people can enjoy themselves with just one copy of the game. That makes it easy to get racing with friends, although they'll need their own copy of the game to experience your hand-crafted tracks.

So, Race Driver: Create & Race isn't for everyone. Its difficulty means younger gamers will be better off with something simpler and cheerier such as Mario Kart DS. But for the seasoned racer, Codemasters' effort offers a great combination of challenges and creativity, while the superb multiplayer means that even if you can't conquer the artificial intelligence, you'll always be able to find someone to beat. Whether you're at your own special version of Silverstone or not.

Race Driver: Create & Race

Difficult but rewarding, Race Driver: Create & Race earns a place on the winner's podium, even if it doesn't play fairly all of the time