This week, the sim racing community will be split into two very distinct groups of people, as it is with each passing year at around this time. There will be those who brave the “mass market bells and whistles” of Codemasters’ officially licensed Formula One game, F1 2017, discovering a very modern, well-rounded racer that’s already receiving rave reviews from fans & critics alike, and there will be those that scoff at the title, unwilling to accept anything other than a bland, boring piece of software in the pursuit for unparalleled authenticity.
While brands like Electronic Arts experiment push the envelope with each new iteration of their yearly sports franchise, this year giving Madden fans three distinct gameplay styles and a narrative-driven piece on top of seemingly endless features and refinements that reflect an authentic game of professional football, the sim racing landscape is the only sub-genre of video games in which members actively call for new releases to remain stale, dated, and lifeless, while criticizing showcase elements that actively engage the user within the virtual world. These gentlemen do not want unlockable vehicles, they do not want elaborate single player career modes, they do not care for modern visual fidelity – though this is probably down to their outdated computer specifications being unable to handle it – and the thought of a car that isn’t trying to kill them in every corner, at least in their eyes, places the game into the same category as Need for Speed; a distraction for children and teenagers.
As if there has been some sort of hidden contract signed by a portion of the community, no matter how genuinely good Formula One 2017 ends up being when the routine patches stop and we’re left with a game that is considered “complete”, sim racers are not allowed to like anything that doesn’t fit the status quo of being a bland, uninspired package with some cars and tracks that are somewhat realistic. Just look at the responses from sim racers after Liberty Media revealed there would also be a small Formula One eSports championship taking place during the back half of this season, with bigger plans obviously in the pipeline for next season and beyond. I wouldn’t call it a complete meltdown, but it’s obvious the community takes offense at the mere thought of a racing game that goes against the established norm of what a simulator has traditionally been composed of in the past, being called a simulator by the biggest racing series in the world.
Very few of us sim racers have driven a Formula One car (hi Max, care for an interview?), so we can’t really sit here and give a definitive answer. But it’s certainly plausible Codemasters have sat there during the game’s development and said, you know what, the average consumer needs just a bit of assistance that we’ll code into the game’s tire behavior. Not a lot, but a little. And that’s perfectly understandable, because this game is not advertised but as a hardcore simulator that’ll crush your balls and force you to donate a portion of your paycheck to some financial dominatrix in Russia, but instead a reasonable virtual representation of the pinnacle of motorsport – and the surrounding activities as well.
And does Formula One 2017 offer a set of distractions that maybe pull you in a different direction and serve to entertain you rather than encourage you to focus on perfecting your speed, car setup, and racecraft?
But does that give hardcore sim racers a justifiable reason to scoff at the title?
Not at all. And they won’t like the answer as to why.
Above, I have compared an iRacing qualification lap from Esterson Motorsports in preparation for the 2017 24 Hours of Daytona, versus the qualification charts provided by IMSA.tv for the real deal. In a simulator that advertises itself as the absolute pinnacle of authentic, accurate motor racing from the comfort of your own sim rig, the lap times produced within this software were profoundly inaccurate – the virtual Mercedes running a blistering five seconds faster than the quickest real-world team campaigning the same car. Yes, there might be some balance of power going on, and yes, the weather conditions within the simulator may have been a touch different than the real event, but five seconds is still five seconds. For the absolute top of the food chain to produce such a massive discrepancy, after years upon years of the marketing department – and other sim racers – parroting this elaborate pretense that all of the world’s best drivers use iRacing to practice for upcoming events, the discrepancy between the real thing and the virtual counterpart is equivalent to that of a Codemasters game, if not more so.
And this isn’t even an alien time, with Esterson’s YouTube account not appearing to display any sort of footage that indicates they’re at the peak of the virtual racing ladder. This is one of the more talented average Joe’s in the community, who maybe race for fun and because they’re good at it, but do not have an elaborate Facebook fanpage conducting mock interviews with their drivers.
We now move on to Automobilista, a game many including myself believe to be the best commercial usage of the isiMotor engine and the absolute best “traditional hardcore” simulator you can buy with little aside from an active Steam account, eclipsing ISI’s own rFactor 2 in the process. Several weeks ago, as part of a community-wide competition, Reiza challenged all owners of Automobilista to attack the Suzuka Grand Prix circuit with their knock-off 2002 Formula One entry, code-named the Formula V10. Michael Schumacher’s pole time for the 2002 Japanese Grand Prix, set during what was arguably his prime years behind the wheel, was blown away by four seconds by a flock of nerds sitting in their basements – one hundred and thirty one nerds, to be exact. The other nineteen professional race car drivers on the grid (give or take a few pay drivers) wouldn’t even be in the ballpark if their real world laps were to be submitted to the Reiza leaderboards.
This is a game that sim racers recommend if you’ve exhausted basically all of the “mainstream” simulator options, and want something that offers maximum simulation value, though with it comes maximum obscurity as well. And yet Schumacher’s impeccable speed – which should be absurdly difficult to match for all but the most talented of sim racers – is a lap time that any moderately talented driver can obliterate.
To me, that sounds like an arcade game.
And then there’s Studio 397’s rFactor 2, which has recently partnered with McLaren themselves to hold some kind of elaborate eSports competition – the ultimate reward being a job as McLaren’s in-house simulator driver. The audience, admittedly, has been very nice – surpassing what genre front-runners iRacing have been able to do with their championship series – but the authenticity aspect is up for debate. rFactor 2 was chosen partially for it’s status as an ultra-hardcore PC racing simulator, yet the top drivers – and many more that follow in the extended leaderboards – are turning laps three seconds faster than the Blancpain GT series pole time. Yes, again there’s balance of performance that we maybe don’t see in rFactor 2, and maybe some track conditions at play as well even though these sessions are held in a public server that can’t be manipulated to produce insane grip levels…
But three seconds is three seconds, and this is a leaderboard full of professional race car drivers. To be blown out this badly by computer nerds who in some cases don’t actually possess valid drivers licenses, is not simulating much of anything. Either the real world drivers should all be fired; their jobs given to names such as Enzo Bonito and Risto Kappett, or maybe the whole thing is no more or less accurate than a Codemasters game.
Lastly, we get to Assetto Corsa, again a game with it’s own flock of followers who praise the indie racing simulator to high heavens, and during the game’s on-going botched console release, can actively seen belittling those who do not understand what the fuss is about as “console children” who cannot appreciate authentic car physics as the game’s bread and butter.
I have not chosen to consult the popular RSRLiveTiming leaderboards to compare lap times, as these laps are often completed in what drag racers call “mineshaft conditions”, in which users manually opt for insane track grip and temperature settings outside what would occur in reasonable competition.
In a SimRacingSystem GT3 event, Polish sim racer Jakub Charkot posted a qualification lap almost three seconds faster than the Mercedes AMG GT3 pole time set during the 24 Hours of Spa earlier this season. Kunos have already balanced the cars among one another, and this lap was set under authentic race variables; imperfect track grip, other traffic to contest with, and realistic fuel consumption.
Give Jakub a ride? Or re-consider your perception that these hardcore simulators that boast unparalleled levels of authenticity and realism are really no better or worse than a Codemasters Formula One game.
Though everyone will obviously have different tastes when it comes to the precise way they enjoy their pretend race cars, the elitism that a portion of sim racers hold in regards to titles like Formula One 2017 is simply not justified.
On top of having Formula One cars that are marginally accurate, the F1 series from Codemasters has an actual game built around the experience. There are stunning visuals that you can show off to the general public and they won’t crack jokes about it – as per the Visa Vegas eRace stream – there are practice training regimes, a team of mechanics that can respond to voice commands and have a simple conversation with you, there are unlockable bonus cars, dynamic racing lines, a full TV-style presentation, animated paddock area with individual characters who act out a predefined role, research and development arcs, cooperative championship play against a field of AI bots, and last but not least an artificial intelligence that’s compelling to race against.
Hardcore racing simulators, on the other hand, have marginally accurate cars and confusing menus. And then the excuses come.
- It’s not supposed to look nice, it’s a simulator, think X-Plane but with cars.
- I don’t care for good AI, I just like to test drive the different vehicles and better my lap times
- The developers don’t have enough money for flashy gimmicks, but I don’t care, I just want to drive, those other modes are a distraction and take away from the driving anyways.
So if they both provide the same objective experience behind the wheel – the same marginally accurate vehicle performance that can be deconstructed with a quick trip to the results sheet of any major racing series – why is the complete game scoffed at, whereas the elaborate tech demo praised?
Enjoy Formula One 2017. For those who are unwilling to, ask yourself why you put up with this abomination when the on-track product is the same.