I last touched rFactor 2 in late 2013, when Chris of PRC.net would throw up a GT3 room for us and our extended family. We’d always inflate the online player count by 300% (I can count the number of outsiders who joined the room one one hand), and after a few hours of making laps at Sebring, we’d call it quits for the night. Yeah, the RealRoad technology where the track dynamically rubbered in worked as it should, and the weather effects kicked all kinds of ass, but the game constantly ran like shit, installing mods (most of which were shoddy rF1 conversions) were unnecessarily complicated compared to the original game, and the smeared pastel graphics palette really drove the point home that rFactor 2 wasn’t going to be touched any time soon. Assetto Corsa came out a few months later to put the nail in the coffin.
Yet despite other games completely blowing the doors off of rFactor 2 in terms of popularity, a very vocal, autistic minority will spend every waking moment claiming that rFactor 2 is the best sim available on the market, and has several features that other titles don’t have. Assetto Corsa has, in my opinion, the best feeling driving model and force feedback available, but lack several features required for league racing and offline racing. Game Stock Car Extreme pushes the original rFactor to it’s limits, but the Brazilian-centric content makes it hard for all but the most dedicated of sim racers to jump in and familiarize themselves with tracks and cars they’ve never heard of before. Race Room Racing Experience’s content and track list is second to none, but the pricing model is beyond confusing, and as Sector 3 spends time re-doing all of the gMotor engine’s features to their liking, some stuff is inevitably missing. And for those on consoles, Project CARS is bugged to shit and you’ll be banned from the official forums if you dare to bring up any issues with the game.
So does rFactor 2 live up to the rabid fanboys preposterous claims?
Installing this game is a fucking pain. I stuck with the Lite installer and just downloaded the relevant IndyCar friendly content from the game’s official site, and found a nice 2014 Skin Pack on RaceDepartment. Unlike the original game, where mods are extracted into the main directory and that’s literally the only step, rFactor 2 forces you to use a mod manager of sorts. You get these huge RFCMP files, you drop them into the appropriate folder inside My Documents, boot up the mod manager, and click install on everything you want injected into your game.
Now because I didn’t want the track selection cluttered with the short layouts of Silverstone or Sepang, nor did I want the ugly fictional liveries the default Dallara DW12 download comes with to shit up the car selection screen, I had to use the MAS2 tool to basically create my own custom mod. This is all totally optional, but as most people’s rFactor and rF2 installs inevitably balloon with entire carsets and trackpacks for specific series, it’s more shit you need to learn how to do, and it isn’t very user friendly. Not to mention, your own personal mod filter creates mismatches online, and opens up a whole other can of worms that you have to learn how to work around. The inclusion of a mod manager was never needed to begin with, as rFactor’s file structure was idiot proof. I don’t know why ISI took this route.
Now call me retarded but I didn’t know you had to click the little cloud icon beside session settings to open up a hugely detailed menu, and my first 20 minutes or so with the game was spent finding out where ISI have hidden familiar options. Yet once you learn where everything is, this interface is about a thousand times easier on the eyes than the god awful orange crush of rF1, and reminds me a lot of DiRT Rally. The hybrid between traditional and metro is really nice, and the car selection screen is significantly less clunky than rF1. It too, has received a really nice upgrade.
The best thing about the revised menus is that they allow you to watch practice at all times, no matter what screen you’re on. Even as you’re tweaking your setup or adjusting your force feedback, a portion of the screen is always dedicated to what’s happening on track. The setup menu has been split into multiple pages and is a simple list of options instead of laid out alongside a picture of a car, but I for one welcome this change. I sorta get Grand Prix Legends vibes from the whole thing now.
At first, I took the IndyCars to the Historic version of Monaco, something that you’re really not supposed to do as time travel hasn’t been invented yet. This unrealistic, highly implausible combination was actually a lot of fun and only slightly more dangerous than the Baltimore Grand Prix. The car was really lively over all the bumps and the Force Feedback gave me a clear indication as to how the car was handling the circuit. We’re at a point where it’s not going to get much better for the next three or four years until a major leap in consumer steering wheels is made, or direct drive wheels become affordable.
The Force Feedback effects have been improved in all the right places. While I feel Assetto Corsa does a much better job of Force Feedback overall, the FFB in rF2 is still really good; a notch under what the Kunos guys have done with their sim, and a notch above the most recent modern sims such as Game Stock Car Extreme and R3E. Assetto Corsa really nails each specific type of murmur a steering wheel exhibits and gives you an indication what’s happening at all times, even in a straight line, while rF2 is more in line with the sims of a previous generation. It will feel exactly like Game Stock Car Extreme or R3E for the 80% pace moments, but there’s a lot more depth to the severe jolts and bumps that occur when you’re pushing the car to knock tenths off your PB. Overall, AC still does it better, but switching between both games won’t be the huge culture shock it was during the previous generation of driving games.
Tire behavior, on the other hand, is pretty damn awesome. rFactor’s big new feature was the RealRoad dynamic track surface, and coupled with what ISI have done with the tire model, oh man it’s good. On cold tires, the car understeers, but you can clearly tell it’s because the tires aren’t sticky enough yet, and not because you fucked up the setup. Once the tires get heated up, the understeer from cold tires gradually wears off, and when the track rubbers in, it becomes increasingly easier to push harder and get as much as you can out of the car. It’s fun, fresh, innovative, and a feature that works every bit as well as it should.
But that’s on the road side. rFactor traditionally hasn’t done oval racing all that well. There was no better way to check out the improvements by taking the 2014 IndyCar to totally not Charlotte Motor Speedway. It’s kind of like Texas, right?
I was really happy that the game gave me a great default setup out of the box, requiring only two wing adjustments, a small change to sixth gear, and stiffening up the right rear spring. But Goddamn the AI was shit to begin with, and a lot of tinkering was required to get them up to speed. At first they seemed timid around me, routinely backed off when they shouldn’t have, and didn’t utilize the draft effectively. Similar to Project CARS, which also uses gMotor under the hood, unless I treated the AI like special needs children who needed a personal space bubble several times what you’d give even your best mate in an online brawl, they were woefully incompetent at basic oval racing manners. I think I had them up to 110 strength and turned a new AI buffer setting completely off to get them on pace with me.
When we got up to speed though, this shit was awesome. Far too many racing sims make IndyCars on an oval out to be NASCAR for idiots with a death wish, with an abundance of grip that prevents even the most brain dead n00b from looping the car. rFactor 2 instead cloesly resembles what I’d seen from onboard footage since the DW12 was introduced – it’s kind of sketchy over bumps, and there are a lot of bumps. With a combination of really good force feedback, a good baseline setup, and a sim car designed by a group who had access to proper data and knew what they were doing, it was incredibly fun to click off laps either alone or in traffic.
The biggest test was to put the car along the high line and see if I could get proper runs on the AI, who had been programmed to run the low line and only the low line. It was hella sketchy at first, the car understeering and sliding oh so close to the retaining wall, but as the tires heated up and the groove I’d been running rubbered in, all I could think was “damn, it sucks my online subscription has expired and there’s like nobody who plays this online.”
On cold tires, without any rubber up by the wall, you had to roll the throttle on entry and really wheel the car to keep it from knocking the wall down. When the tires gained heat, you still had to roll onto the throttle to maintain a trajectory that wouldn’t scrape off the right side of the car, but the understeer evaporated in favor of a neutral handling car that was a bit twitchy on exit. After I laid down a patch of rubber, it was all about nailing the line without lifting, and I could get these huge runs on the 28 car that you see above. This was awesome with the shitty rFactor AI that has never been able to handle oval racing properly, so I’d imagine it only gets better alongside actual people.
It still costs too much, though. The online subscription, a by-product of the EA Sports titles with online passes, has no place in a genre where you’re lucky if there are a few hundred people playing the game at any given time. The graphics, save for one or two really nice screenshots above, have gone from smeared pastels to washed out PS4 game, and the game’s default HUD options are dreadful, leading me to once again venture over to RaceDepartment and find a really simple third party HUD that would get the job done. Assetto Corsa is objectively better in how it feels to make laps, but rF2 is the most feature-complete game on the market right now, and I could see myself signing up for a league provided they stick with the default content. The version of not Charlotte and other tracks ISI have put out are so far ahead of what modders are currently able to do, running older rF1 conversions to flesh out the track roster would nullify the point of upgrading to the new platform at all.
Little things like this keep rFactor 2 from fully living up to the hype, but for all twenty seven people who still have it installed, it’s a killer sim that improves on the original in all the right areas.