Announced at the height of Project CARS‘ post-release popularity, Slightly Mad Studios have taken to the skies – quite literally – by working on an officially licensed Red Bull Air Racing game for both next generation consoles, as well as modern personal computers. A drastic departure from the company’s roots – traditional race cars – and the first flight sim ever attempted by the controversial development studio, Red Bull Air Racing is a title many are keeping their eyes on, even if they aren’t all that interested in Flight Simulators to begin with. After the disastrous launch of their flagship title in 2015, one which spent a whopping four years in development, fans and critics alike are curious to see if the team can finally push out a satisfactory product for an entirely different genre of simulators.
When this Red Bull game was first announced during the summer of 2015, users who were highly critical of Project CARS immediately flocked to various online message boards mocking the potentially disastrous outcome of this Free to Play flight simulator, and that’s completely understandable. Project CARS released in a significantly less-than-stellar state, and those who attempted to sink long hours into Project CARS, only to be met with an endless supply of technical issues, have every right to be skeptical about this upcoming Air Race title. Cars sunk into the ground, tire behavior was all sorts of broken, garage menu options could be exploited with relative ease, and the game’s collision detection needed a serious overhaul. A collective groan could be heard from skeptics once the first trailer for Air Race dropped; several avid sim racers wondering how in the world this game would be broken.
We now have our answer. While I still genuinely applaud Slightly Mad Studios for attempting to venture out into the unknown – after all, this same approach bred smash hits such as Euro Truck Simulator – impressions from the Closed Beta are now live, and feature some interesting remarks. Given that the entire thing was labelled a Closed Beta, I’m not sure whether these guys are under Non-Disclosure Agreements or not; only a lone gameplay video exists (with barely 30 views), but for the time being, let’s appreciate the fact that everything is out in the open at the Red Bull Hangar.
We start by learning you can’t actually crash the plane. I’m not the biggest flight simulator enthusiast, but I’d think this would be a key part in any game involving airplanes – if you smack the ground at any rate of speed during your journey, it’s more or less game over. With Air Race set to release in just a few months, Slightly Mad Studios appear to have no option to crash at all in the game, instead allowing you to freely bounce off the terrain at your own discretion. Some will undoubtedly make the argument that Microsoft Flight Simulator X technically doesn’t let you crash either, but that particular piece of software comes to a complete halt and gives you an extremely rudimentary CRASH dialogue at the top portion of the screen to at least let you know you’ve fucked up. With no possible way to destroy the plane, what’s exactly the challenge of these treacherous obstacle courses? How long until people are strategically bouncing off buildings for ridiculous speed boosts and other various shenanigans?
A few members have mentioned that the checkpoint transponder zones for each upright pylon are fairly erroneous. What’s happening to some of the more experienced pilots, is that they’re receiving completely unnecessary time penalties because the game doesn’t detect that they’ve successfully cleared the checkpoint despite flying right in the goddamn middle of it. The entire game revolves around flying through giant inflatable pylons in the world’s most insane time attack challenge, and currently, Slightly Mad Studios cannot get checkpoints to register as hit or miss correctly. This exact same problem plagued Project CARS, where sim racers would receive track limit violations at seemingly random intervals, despite staying well within the confines of the racing surface. This problem has made the jump to the sky.
Along with further complaints about the inability to destroy the plane, some users have discovered “jerky” or “twitchy” flight behavior; roughly describing the same odd vehicle dynamics which often sent Prototypes rocketing into the stratosphere in last year’s title, Project CARS. An underlying problem of the Madness engine? Possibly, but given the speeds that will inevitably be reached in the higher power output planes, and how much time was allegedly spent refining Project CARS, now’s not the time for shortcomings in the physics engine – you’ll need a lot more precision at 450 km/h in the sky than you will at 230 km/h on the ground. This stuff should have been ironed out long ago, considering the Madness engine has appeared in no less than four games dating all the way back to 2009.
But the biggest issue of them all, one which is quite hypocritical of Slightly Mad Studios, would be the upcoming reliance upon micro-transactions. This is the second Free to Play title currently being worked on by Slightly Mad Studios, the first being World of Speed, which was initially scheduled for a 2014 release. Staff members of Slightly Mad Studios can be found outright boasting about how “truly free” World of Speed will be back in 2014, including Andy Tudor outright stating “we’re not going to do that, ever”, but closed beta participants have already found areas of the game asking for Gold or Real World Currency. There’s a chance Red Bull themselves could have specifically asked for micro-transactions to be implemented, but that doesn’t take away from the blatant hypocrisy on display here.
Red Bull Air Race: The Game is gearing up for a summer 2016 release, but with the inability for Slightly Mad Studios to release any game on time – Project CARS suffering three delays, World of Speed missing in action, and even Test Drive: Ferrari Racing Legends being pushed back – it’s hard to pinpoint exactly when we’ll get to try this game. However, if the Closed Beta feedback is anything to go by, it’s shaping up to be a classic Slightly Mad Studios product, warts and all.