A few short days ago, I outright blasted the existence of SimRacingSystem, an organized online racing plugin created by the fellows over at SimRacingPortugal. I didn’t feel there was much of a need for another team to try their hand at producing an iRacing-like online experience for something that wasn’t iRacing, as Tim MacArthur had built a phenomenal service within Race2Play.com that worked even better than the massive entity it had been designed to compete against – sim racers just weren’t flocking to it for whatever reason. While I didn’t have a problem with SRP’s efforts to prove they could make their own program in the style of iRacing, I felt that it would have been more beneficial in the long run to just let Race2Play do its thing, and hope MacArthur and company would make a better effort to spread awareness about his domain – as two rival online racing organization applications essentially fragments an already minuscule userbase.
But with not a whole lot planned for a Friday night, there was no harm in checking out SimRacingSystem for myself. It was free, after all. And upon wrapping up an evening’s worth of events using SimRacingPortugal’s brand new application, my thoughts on the whole project are still a mixed bag. From a stability and functionality standpoint, SRS is phenomenal. No, I’m not bullshitting you on this one. Very rarely do programs in an early beta state work this well. However, the primary racing simulator SRS was intended to be used in conjunction with, leaves you with a very underwhelming experience when the checkered flag flies. Make no mistake, SimRacingSystem was built for Assetto Corsa, and Assetto Corsa is what ends up holding the application back.
The official message boards for Assetto Corsa have seen Kunos Simulazioni bombarded with hundreds of complaints regarding the game’s clunky online interface and subsequent racing experience, leaving the door wide open for a third party modding team such as SimRacingPortugal to show up and unfuck the whole thing. Joining a server in the vanilla version of Assetto Corsa sucks. Finding a room that isn’t intended for casual lapping of the Nordschleife or drifting with shitty rFactor conversions is the sim racing equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack. Signing up for a league isn’t something everyone has the time for, and with iRacing being that fucking popular, a server browser rooted in 2005 no longer serves the community’s needs in 2016. People want iRacing, even when they’re not playing iRacing. And I can’t really blame them, the format is awesome.
So SimRacingPortugal went out and more or less copied the exact format and style of iRacing’s online browser. The small download creates an additional option within the game’s main menu, where you can click a green Register button and sign up for an upcoming race. The GT2 races take place every two hours, while the lower classes are twice as frequent. Five minutes before the event is set to kick off, the page reloads and you’re allowed to join the session for a quick pair of practice laps until things flip over to Qualifying.
The whole process works flawlessly. If a shitload of people are signed up for event, you may have to wait an extra minute or two while the group of 45+ are split into two smaller packs, but on a functionality level, it’s as reliable as iRacing. The entire ritual of sitting on the iRacing member site waiting for the join button become available… It’s the exact same over here. Basically, if you’re an iRacing member, yet you prefer how Assetto Corsa drivers, this is 100% what you wanted.
But then you’re hit with a swift reminder that you’re playing Assetto Corsa. I know the fanboys will groan at PRC.net making yet another unjustified swipe at their favorite racing simulator, but hear me out on this one:
The first time I was presented with the Select Car screen within the SRS app, I got genuinely excited. Here I am, sitting in front of my PC after close to two decades of virtual racing experience, and a fucking car select screen has me jacked up. Kunos Simulazioni gave plenty of excuses as to why they couldn’t implement this into the online portion of Assetto Corsa, but a few random sim racers from Portugal had that shit figured out in no time – and they even let you pick your livery! It makes you wonder what’s going on in Vallelunga, especially with the recent console version delay. Should they just outsource the entire goddamn game to random third party modders at this point? Because after years of Kunos crying “we can’t implement X” and proceeding to ban anyone who dared to question what was going on with the direction of the game, modders just sort of appeared and found a way to implement X, Y, and Z.
My only disappointment with the overall interface and functionality of SRS, would be the interesting selection of advertisements that display on the right hand side of the screen. I can’t say I’m too fond of the Asian Singles ads, as I tend to prefer nutty polish girls.
Is the racing an obvious step up in quality from public lobbies? Absolutely. The only people who are downloading this application, are Assetto Corsa owners who willingly want to be a part of close, competitive online racing. Yes, there were a few turn one pileups in the lower classes at Vallelunga, but from what I observed in my rear view mirror, the incidents were a result of honest mistakes rather than a total lack of incompetence. In time, we’ll be sure to see more and more people checking out the service out of sheer curiosity, and maybe that will lower the overall driving quality, but from what I personally got to experience, I was satisfied.
I was able to partake in two twenty-minute GT2 events, and two significantly smaller eight lap events at the short Vallelunga club layout. All four events had mammoth grids, and I truly do mean mammoth. We brought over 20 cars to the dedicated server during each of my first three events, while the final late-night stop at Silverstone saw an adequate ten car field – a number Race2Play has been struggling to achieve as of late. There were some seriously good drivers in all four race sessions, and while I was indeed able to hold my own at the front of the pack, it was nice to see that the Assetto Corsa online community is more than just PC hardware snobs and drift kiddies. So to all whom I battled with on Friday afternoon, thanks for showing up and making this shit a whole lot of fun.
But having fun doesn’t mean the overall experience is objectively good, and unfortunately for how functionally tight of a service SimRacingSystem appears to be – even in beta – the underwhelming performance of the software it relies on may cause teething problems in the long run. If you happen to be coming over from a more established simulator, most likely powered by either an isiMotor or Papyrus engine, it will become immediately apparent that Assetto Corsa kind of shits the bed online.
The online interface is not aesthetically pleasing, and it’s really clunky to navigate if you’re used to other racing simulators. The in-game heads up display doesn’t fare much better, as it’s a mess of random boxes of all shapes and sizes, with an art style that would be more at home in a perpetual beta program such as BeamNG’s Drive. The fact that I would sometimes have to physically click around the screen while driving at speed was absolutely ridiculous, as the standings box wouldn’t even tab over to the current session automatically. The chat applet is woefully small, displaying only a single line of text, and if you aren’t keen on filling up your screen with floating displays at the start of the race, you’ll literally be clicking through the app list with your mouse in the middle of an event to spawn the correct information. I’m obviously aware that this is how Assetto Corsa handles their heads up display, but with how streamlined other sims are, and how enjoyable it was to race in a competitive environment within Assetto Corsa, you notice it a whole lot more. As we outlined in Black Flag, managing these display tabs over the course of a race is important, and you basically can’t do it in AC.
Another thing you can’t do in Assetto Corsa’s online component – and it’s an issue that is magnified by the purpose of SimRacingSystem – is drive in a pack with other opponents for an extended period of time. If this is what Kunos Simulazioni believe is acceptable for online netcode in 2016, they can keep it. I did my share of following other drivers over the course of Friday afternoons trial runs with SRS, and it’s the exact opposite of playing a Papyrus or isiMotor product.
Opponents oddly hover around the racing surface, and the direction their cars are facing doesn’t always correspond to their physical trajectory. I found that I genuinely couldn’t look at some of the cars I had been trailing, as they would be exiting corners with the nose almost pointed towards the wall. On some occasions, I would lift off the throttle, believing a competitor was about to spin out in front of me, only for their car to shudder and realize it was all just a result of lag. Other times, I thought the car in front of me was exhibiting a bad case of understeer due to how the vehicle was pointed at the apex, only for him to snap towards the proper line and magically gain speed. It was tough to tell what was going on in the race around you.
And it didn’t get any easier when you were forced to drive alongside people.
The talent level of users in SimRacingSystem means you’ll be spending a lot of time dogfighting, and while I’m not saying you outright can’t do it in Assetto Corsa, you’re definitely made aware that you’re playing an inferior product. In isiMotor or Papyrus-powered simulators, you can literally beat the shit out of your opponents fenders for several laps at a time, provided both of you are still making a conscious effort to hold your line and go for the corner.
On no less than four separate occasions, I saw two cars enter a corner side-by-side, only for Assetto Corsa’s awful netcode to send both cars flying. In my first GT2 race, I tried a pretty banzai pass on a Corvette in the esses at Silverstone, and what would have been a highlight-reel overtake in Stock Car Extreme instead sent me flying through the infield due to slight contact with an opponents car. During my second GT2 race, I inherited the lead from a Corvette & Ferrari 458 when they made incidental contact in front of me and were promptly sent flying. Neither driver did anything to warrant an accident that big.
And when they finally caught up to my ass in the pathetically slow BMW M3 E92, as you can see in the picture above, minor contact on corner exit sent my ass flying. I have no hard feelings towards the driver of the C7; as he barely even nudged me, and it was as if my right rear quarter panel exploded. When you make contact with another car in Assetto Corsa’s online environment, you have no fucking idea what’s going to happen. This truly sucks when SRS funnels you into a room with competent drivers, as you’re walking on eggshells just to complete a lap and avoid contact with drivers you can’t easily pull away from.
Then there’s the truly hilarious shit as seen in the above on-board shot, where soft compound tires were literally cooling down on me over the course of a ten lap sprint, and how North American prime time rooms on SRS are a desolate ghost town, but these are issues not really related to the SRS software itself.
So how do I feel about SimRacingSystem so far? I have to give credit where credit is due: SimRacingPortugal built iRacing for Assetto Corsa, and its overall functionality exceeds what most people would expect from a service still listed in beta. The service works as advertised, which is a pretty stunning accomplishment for what was a fairly ambitious project. My biggest issues have not been with SimRacingSystem, but Assetto Corsa itself, as problems with the software are immediately brought to the forefront while driving in a pack of talented human opponents.