If you’ve spent any amount of time on any driving game message board, from the big ones like RaceDepartment and GTPlanet, to the small ones like r/simracing on Reddit and /ovg/ on 4Chan, you’ll see a word tossed around in every single thread that seems unique to driving games – simcade. I don’t know who first coined the term, but they should have tried to copyright it, as anytime a new driving game comes out, it will be described as simcade by someone, somewhere. And I don’t think anyone has a clue what it means.
Simcade refers to a driving game that has a mixture of both simulation and arcade elements – a game designed to be challenging and technical to drive like a real car, but not punishing for all but the most dedicated of driving game enthusiasts. This “label” describes a game like DiRT 3, which has fairly solid driving physics even by my insanely pessimistic standards, but features wide, forgiving rally stages, game mechanics designed to help new players (such as the rewind feature), and driving assists that you would never see implemented on real rally cars, such as traction control, ABS, and a visual driving line floating above the track. The game combines realistic physics, the simulation side of driving games, with arcade elements, hence why people will refer to a game like DiRT 3 as simcade.
Another good example of a simcade title are the two Forza Horizon games. You still need a decent understanding of racing lines and proper performance driving techniques to even compete with the AI on the highest level; the game doesn’t let you ride walls nor give you boost for wrecking other drivers, but at the same time, it doesn’t stop you from street racing historic trans-am cars through rural Colorado as part of a giant music festival.
And you’d think people would understand this concept of what a simcade title is, but suddenly, this definition gets applied to all but the most brutal of racing simulators, and sometimes, it doesn’t even make sense when a game is considered a simulation, and when it’s considered simcade.
The three Forza titles on the Xbox 360 all featured a Nordschleife that was artificially widened by Turn 10 for “raceability”, and you can see that in the picture above. Forza 3, as well as Forza 4, included a rewind system similar to Codemasters games, and career mode events were insanely short in Forza 4. Tire wear was virtually non existent, pit stops were simplistic, and the game allowed for some pretty absurd car upgrades, such as dropping a Nissan Skyline R34 engine into a lowly Datsun 510. My personal gripe with the game was how the handbrake was available in every car, and this totally changed the way you drove the game – not to mention the shift glitch. All of these little issues and intentional design choices are why you’ll see Forza described as simcade – in places that a sim would be unforgiving and ruthless, it’s instead been dumbed down for the masses. I myself enjoy the Forza series and really wish Forza 4 had been lazily ported over to the PC, but it’s not because the game is a hardcore driving simulation and we need another one of those, the game elements, like the storefront and auction house really make up for what it lacks in physics and functionality.
One title that wrongly deserves the simcade label is the Gran Turismo series, particularly Gran Turismo 6. I was lucky enough to spend some time with GT6 and a Logitech G27 last year, and recently picked up the game again to try out all the new updates. GT6, as badly as it’ll make some of the PC elitists freak out when reading this, is definitely not simcade. With a wheel, this game is very close to Assetto Corsa with all of the driving aids turned off. Yes, the sound is awful and yes, people abuse the many driving aids for ridiculously quick lap times, but there is a really fantastic auto racing simulation underneath. The game’s online mode, down to how sessions are created, managed, and viewed through the “Race Monitor”, is a carbon copy of rFactor. It’s really impressive what Polyphony Digital has shat out for an aging console.
Of course, like Forza, Gran Turismo has its own set of issues. Some of the car models simply haven’t been touched since the PS2 days, and they make up a bulk of the games 1200+ car roster. Camber is still broken in the garage menu. Some of the drafting physics, especially on the high speed test facility, allow speeds that are unattainable in real life. But, and this is a huge “BUT”, you can play it like a hardcore simulation if you chose too. Driving aids can be forced off online. Grids can be set by open qualifying. Engine power restrictions can tone down some of the Generation 6 Sprint Cup cars which are a bit too quick for Daytona. The host online has a choice between standing and rolling starts. Pit stops, endurance racing, day/night cycles, and weather changes are all present in what’s now a $40 PS3 game. Even tire compounds can be restricted.
Oh, and about the tires.
Yes, tires in Gran Turismo 6 are too grippy. In my time playing the game with a wheel, a bunch of us from 4Chan went to Mount Panorama in the 2000 Ford Falcon V8 Supercar, a PS2-era car that has seen much better days. Despite a laser-scanned Bathurst that provided unprecedented accuracy, on the game’s hard racing slick compound, I was able to bust out a 2:03.6xx with a car that at the time was fourteen years old. The real life V8 Supercar track record is a 2:06. If that bothers you, nothing is stopping you from throwing a different tire compound on the car that takes the ridiculous grip away (and there are a huge amount of tire compounds to choose from), or putting the in-game equivalent of a restrictor plate on the engine – which you can force the entire field to use. The only thing better than spending $40 on this type of experience is knowing that after you’ve driven one car to death, whether it be in the horrid single player campaign, or online in a league, there are 1199 more to pick from.
Yet, because some people are too lazy to change tire compounds and put a restriction on engine output for some cars that didn’t receive all the TLC that you’d see in Assetto Corsa, or the simple fact that somebody was faster than them and they were using a controller, Gran Turismo 6 is labelled as simcade.
So if we’re going to label games with incorrect tire behavior as simcade, we should talk about…
Praised as the most accurate and most hardcore racing simulation available, iRacing’s tire behavior is behind even the “simcade” console franchise we discussed above. As someone who’s won championships on iRacing’s oval side here’s what it gets right: Nothing. iRacing’s current tire model doesn’t allow for multi-groove racing, a big part of why stock car racing is so exciting – each line varies in entry and exit speed, and drivers strategically adapt to different racing lines based on who’s around them and the airflow disturbances their competitors create. iRacing doesn’t simulate any of this, it’s just a bunch of people hugging the bottom line until someone in the train misses their braking point. On short tracks, this issue is magnified.
So if Gran Turismo 6 is considered simcade for having tires that are too grippy and can be driven with a standard PS3 controller, does that mean iRacing is simcade as well for having tires that aren’t grippy enough and has support for tilt sensitive steering?
Nah man, they’re both full-on sims. Come on now.
Now we’ll turn our attention to four new games that receive the simcade label for absolutely no reason.
I love this game so I’m going to be biased as hell, but some people still have the nerve to call this simcade, and that’s just wrong. I think part of the reason is that Richard Burns Rally was so goddamned hard, that anything not keyboard-smashing levels of frustration will be seen as lesser. With my own experience being a shithead kid and driving things where I wasn’t supposed to, I’d say DiRT Rally does a lot of things very well when it comes to rallying. So far, my only genuine complaint about the physics has been that the tarmac sections of the Monte Carlo stages are a bit too grippy. But everything else, including the snow and ice stages that we’ve seen so far, are spot on. I should know, we have eight months of winter up here and snow days aren’t a thing.
With the new approach dev teams are taking to realistic tire models, you’re seeing a lot of games that are incredibly easy to drive, because purpose built race cars shouldn’t be difficult to drive to begin with. And DiRT Rally is one of those games where people gotta learn to drop the simcade label just because the game doesn’t try to kill you every corner. Look, my
car truck is a rusted out piece of shit that will probably die on me any day now, and it doesn’t try to loop itself three different times on the way to work each morning. I would hope a $100,000 WRC car does everything to keep me pointed in the right direction at 140km/h on a dirt road.
But the lack of an RBR-like difficulty, mixed with the fact that it’s Codemasters, and you have dudes crying that it’s simcade. Nah bro, it’s a full-on sim, we’ve just had more advancements in tire models since 2004 and we get that race cars aren’t deathtraps.
I’m going to blame Kunos for this one, as the default weather and surfaces settings in Assetto Corsa are mineshaft conditions, a term drag racers use to describe track conditions that would never occur during competition. We’ve broken this down in an article a few months back – the absurd times you’re seeing on YouTube from guys with only a moderate set of skills are because they’re driving on a track surface practically made of rubber, and with an air temperature that guarantees the most amount of horsepower produced. In some cases, guys are even turning off engine damage in cars like the Lotus 98T, allowing them to run the entire lap at maximum boost, when this would grenade the engine in real life.
So what you’re seeing is guys who have never bothered to adjust the track settings from Optimal to something realistic, proceeding to go out and slaughter lap records and cry that Assetto Corsa is simcade. Other users complain that since controller users can drive Assetto Corsa without any issues, and are sometimes insanely competitive, the game must have been dumbed down in some way. No, they couldn’t have been a competent dev team and implemented rock-solid controller support! No way!
As much as I dislike what Slightly Mad Studios have done to the greater driving game community with the World of Mass Development experiment, you have to give credit where credit is due. While their 1990 Winston Cup Lumina was underwhelming, I gotta hand it to them, I actually really enjoyed both the Radical SR8 and RUF RT 12 in Project CARS. The discrepancy between cold tires and warm tires was heavily exaggerated, and at some points the SR8 felt a little too on rails, but in the end I liked what I drove and it was comparable to how the same car drove in Race 07. Would I have preferred to shut down the game and drive the Radical in Race 07, a title without several game-breaking bugs, glitches, and omissions? Yes.
But that doesn’t automatically mean the Radical in pCars is a horrible piece of garbage. The RUF RT 12 also surprised me, it felt like a really well-done Assetto Corsa mod I got to try a while back. Even though the game has been marketed to a mass audience and a large portion of players will be playing with a gamepad (or trying to, given recent reports), and even though there are a huge amount of bug reports that have rapidly caused the title’s hype to deflate, that doesn’t mean it’s suddenly simcade.
RaceRoom Racing Experience (R3E)
You can tell who hasn’t played R3E or given it a fair shot, because they’re the first to say it’s simcade. Listen, even though the atrocious micro-transactions and content packs have all but destroyed the game’s reputation, you are going to have to come to terms with the fact that this is GTR3 and it’s actually really good. Yes, the corner markers were stupid. It’s not like that anymore. It’s not anywhere near like that anymore.
R3E feels like Sector 3 tried to inject as much of their own code as possible into the aging gMotor2 engine to get their sim to feel like Assetto Corsa. Personally, I think they’ve succeeded, as the game not only runs well, but looks phenomenal and feels familiar, as if the gMotor2 engine has grown up since you’ve last messed with it. Even though online races are restricted to fifteen minutes, and the Offline AI still exhibits some of the issues that are now commonplace for all gMotor games, R3E is on the same level as Game Stock Car Extreme – pretty damn awesome.
It’s a shame that online is a literal ghost town and the game is classified as a “lesser” sim – strangely enough I haven’t seen anyone explain why this game often gets the simcade label in forums aside from EmptyBox describing it as one in a video a while back. We’ve already went over that GT3 cars can be bought by just about anyone, I’m sure they don’t make ’em that difficult to drive, and as a result, you’re damn right they should be planted in a sim.